I was thinking about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib today. I was thinking of her because she isn’t going to visit her grandmother, and that makes me so sad.
I’m a grandmother, too. I love my two grandchildren so much that sometimes I think it might be too extreme. I love their smiles, their hugs, their sweet voices.
I love their hair, and the softness of it against my cheek. I love their deep brown eyes and all the emotion those eyes express.
Being separated from them, even for a week, is a pain that tears my heart.
I live because my children and grandchildren breathe and laugh and sing and because they love me almost as much as I love them.
I can’t begin to imagine how awful it would be to be kept away from them.
So I think of Rep. Tlaib. I think of her “sity”, her 90 ish year old grandmother. I imagine how much the old woman craves the embrace of her beloved granddaughter, and how much Rashida misses her grandmother.
The Congresswoman wanted to travel to Israel/Palestine. She wanted to go to see her family, but also to address the desperately important issue of how the USA’s key ally treats its Muslim citizens. She and her colleague, Ilhan Omar, wanted to have some oversight of the country that receives one third of our foreign aid.
That’s their job, after all.
But Israel, with a push from the Donald Trump, denied them entry. The Israeli government claimed that the two Muslim women, who support and promote the idea of Palestinian autonomy, would be coming only to damage Israel.
Two young women.
And the most powerful country in the middle east was afraid of what they might say.
After a strong pushback from Americans of both political parties and many Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, the government of Israel offered a tepid compromise. Rep. Tlaib could go to see her grandmother, but could not engage in any conversations or activities that would promote the cause of Palestinian activists or criticize the Israeli government. Rep. Omar, lacking a local grandmother, would not be allowed in at all.
Ms. Tlaib rejected the offer, saying that it violated her right to free speech and diminished her role as an elected official of the USA.
“Why doesn’t she just accept Israel’s offer to let her visit under a humanitarian visa?” I thought yesterday, as the story of the Congresswoman’s thwarted visit to her ancestral homeland unfolded.
“Why not just go, and hug her grandmother, and thank her for her years of care and guidance? Why not just brush off Israel’s rules about not mentioning the conditions under which the Palestinians are living? Just go, and don’t be so political!”
But then I started to think. I realized that I was thinking like a grandmother, and not like an educated citizen of the world.
And I remembered a moment that happened to me long ago, in the summer of 1973. I was living as an exchange student with a Muslim family in Tunisia. They were open minded, very well educated and as kind as any family could be.
We were talking about the increasing tensions between Egypt and Israel and the threat of war on the horizon. I said something about Israel, and there was a sudden silence in the room.
My sweet, kind, loving Tunisian Papa said to me, very gently, “Karima, ici on dit Palestine.”
“Karima, here we call it Palestine.”
Not Israel, but Palestine.
That simple phrase opened my eyes.
That land is both. It belongs to both. Both have roots in that place. But the needs and wishes of the Palestinians have long been pushed aside as the west tries to make amends for what happened during the Holocaust.
I understand both sides. I support both sides. I think there is room for both peoples to live in that ancient land.
But I also support Rashida Tlaib in her decision not to go there now. Not to visit her much loved grandmother.
I support her desire to go at a time when she can address the governments of both the US and Israel and say, “Here we call it Palestine.”