BEIT UR AL-FOQA, West Bank — Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother says she does not understand what all the hubbub is about — why can’t her granddaughter, an important person in America, stop by for a visit?
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her — five to six years. But sometimes I see her on TV and talk with her on the phone,” said Muftia Tlaib as she sat in the family’s sun-washed garden in territory Israel has occupied since 1967. “Why didn’t they allow her to come here?”
On Friday, Rashida Tlaib announced she was canceling a visit to this small village, just hours after Israel changed its tune by granting the Michigan Democrat permission to go.
“I can’t do anything. I’m really very sad,” her grandmother, who is in her 80s, told NBC News on Saturday. “I hope, inshallah, that she will come back. I’m waiting for her.”
Tlaib’s planned visit to Israel and the West Bank was initially blocked by Israel. The government then granted her permission for the purpose of “a humanitarian visit” on the condition she promised to not promote boycotts against the country. Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, initially agreed to the conditions, but later rejected the offer.
“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter — reflecting just how undemocratic and afraid they are of the truth my trip would reveal about what is happening in the State of Israel and to Palestinians living under occupation with United States support,” Tlaib said in a statement.
Israel controls travel into and out of the West Bank, which it captured during the Six-Day War of 1967 — along with eastern Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Tlaib said on Twitter that traveling to the region under the proposed conditions that would restrict her discussions with Israelis and Palestinians would “kill a piece of me.” The conditions were offered a day after Israel said it was barring her and fellow Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from visiting the country and accused them of attempting to “boycott and negate Israel’s legitimacy.”
Despite the disappointment over having to forgo meetings, meals and ceremonies in Tlaib’s honor, other Palestinians NBC News spoke to said they backed her decision, saying they’d prefer she visited as a U.S. representative than as an ordinary citizen on a family trip.
“We were happy that she decided not to come,” said Hayyat Tlaib, 52, the wife of the congresswoman’s uncle. “She is a valuable person for us and we want her to represent herself as a U.S. congresswoman.”
Jameel Suliman, 52, who operates a plant nursery in the village, said he recognized the power Tlaib would have if she came in an official capacity.
“It would mean a lot and change a lot for the Americans,” he said. “She would see the reality of the occupation, of Palestinians’ suffering, and then she could pass it to Congress and the American people.”
Leaders of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, known as BDS, also voiced their support for Tlaib’s decision.
Under Israeli law, BDS supporters can be denied entry to Israel.
President Donald Trump — a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — defended Israel’s position, saying on Twitter the country had “acted appropriately.”
It’s not the first time Trump has lashed out at Tlaib, who is a member of “the squad” that includes three other newly-elected left-wing Democrats — Reps. Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, all of whom are women of color.
In a series of tweets last month, Trump said the congresswomen should “go back” to the “broken” countries they came from. Trump’s comments drew sharp criticism.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also said he was in favor of Israel’s initial barring of Tlaib given her criticisms of the country. He told reporters in Washington on Thursday, “If you openly joined an international movement to destroy the state of Israel, then you’ll suffer the consequences.”
Lawahez Jabari reported from Beit Ur al-Foqa, and Linda Givetash from London.
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