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Israel's 'humanitarian' offer to Tlaib made me cringe. Here's why

As the director of an organization that promotes the right to freedom of movement in Gaza, when I heard that Israel is offering you the chance to make a ‘humanitarian’ visit to your family, I felt a familiar cringe. An open letter to Reps. Tlaib and Omar.

By Tania Hary

Palestinians wait at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel on July 13, 2014. (Flash90)

Palestinians wait at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel on July 13, 2014. (Flash90)

Dear Representative Omar and Representative Tlaib,

We were meant to meet this coming Sunday evening. I was so pleased when I heard that you had decided to include the Gaza Strip on your itinerary, figuratively if not literally, given that you wouldn’t be able to physically travel there. You had arranged a Skype conversation with young Palestinians in Gaza. As the director of an organization that promotes the right to freedom of movement in the Palestinian territory, Gisha, I was lucky to be invited to offer context for why those young people couldn’t simply cross the relatively short distance to Jerusalem to meet you in person.

Rep. Omar, I am also a naturalized U.S. citizen. I am an Israeli-American. I was born in Haifa, and my young parents, determined to study in the United States, took me and my sister to Los Angeles, where I was raised. At age 5, I helped my parents learn the Pledge of Allegiance when they took their oath of citizenship. Your experience speaks deeply to me as someone who feels at home in America and is proud of its traditions of welcoming the stranger, and who has an eye toward how the U.S. can use its power to lift others up, at home and abroad. I’m so sorry we won’t be able to meet because your travel was banned by the country that I now call home.

The ability to travel shaped my personal history and that of my family. My grandparents and great-grandparents had fled turbulent and dangerous circumstances across Europe and North Africa to come to Palestine, which later became Israel. My parents had searched for better opportunities in America, and then there was me, coming back to Israel in search of meaningful work to promote human rights and be part of a struggle to end the occupation.

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When I arrived in Israel, 12 years ago, my passport granted me easy entrance and I was even praised for having “returned,” privileges granted to me by order of my birth to Israeli Jewish parents. When I arrived, I learned more about restrictions on movement that Palestinians face, about discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and about Palestinians longing for their homeland in the diaspora, with no horizon to actually realize their dreams to visit, let alone return. I learned to not take for granted that I can travel at my will.

Rep. Tlaib, one of the reasons I came to Israel was to be with my grandmothers, both of whom lived in Haifa and welcomed me so warmly. One of my grandmothers, savta in Hebrew, is still alive. We sharply disagree on politics but she teaches me to be tolerant of those with whom I disagree. I love her dearly. I am devastated for you that you had planned to visit your sity and now won’t get to see her. The love of a grandmother is irreplaceable, and shame on both my president in the United States and my prime minister in Israel for denying you her embrace.

Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt through the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip after it was opened by Egyptian authorities for humanitarian cases, on February 7, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt through the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip after it was opened by Egyptian authorities for humanitarian cases, on February 7, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

When I heard that the government is offering you the chance to make a “humanitarian” visit to your family, I felt a familiar cringe. The Gaza Strip has been gradually more and more isolated from the West Bank and Israel over a period of decades, but in 2007, when Hamas took power in the strip, Israel closed the crossings to all but what it calls “humanitarian access.”

In reality, there is nothing humanitarian about the closure of Gaza. To enter and exit the territory, Palestinians need to request permits from the Israeli military. To qualify for a permit, they have to meet one of a stringent set of criteria. Unfortunately, security is far from the only filter, as international law would require.

If you are a resident of Gaza, visiting your grandmother in the West Bank is out of the question. If you wanted to visit your mother, she would have to be dying or dead, sorry to put it so bluntly. The burden to prove she was actually dying, and not just very ill, would be on you. If her funeral had passed before you got a response, the Israeli authorities could tell you that the mourning period had passed and there is no “humanitarian reason” for your travel. These statements are based on the true stories of our clients at Gisha.

This is why the word “humanitarian” in the mouths of my government makes me cringe.

When it comes to young people, who make up the vast majority of Gaza’s two million strong population – in fact 70 percent of the population is under 30 – they have little hope for meeting one of the criteria for traveling out of the strip. Meeting American congresspeople would not be considered a reason to grant young people permits, even if they passed a security screening.

I hope you’ll get to speak to the young people we were meant to hear from on Sunday. They deserve to be heard and seen. Their reality cannot be hidden behind walls and checkpoints. I am almost sure that alongside the tragedy of their circumstances, they will also share with you the vast potential of the Gaza Strip and its residents. I am lucky to hear people’s dreams and the reasons they hope to travel, and lucky to lead an organization that helps them navigate the violent bureaucracy of the Israeli military’s permit regime – and on many occasions, beat it.

American power has been instrumental in leading to policy change here that improved people’s lives. The U.S. long ago articulated a vision for the end of the conflict, and while American power has not stopped human rights violations, which are inherent to the occupation – at times even facilitating it – we can safely assume U.S. influence was a factor in curbing some of the most egregious uses of force.

I’m sorry we won’t be able to meet. I would have liked to talk about how we can work together to unlock Gaza and the incredible potential of its young people. I hope you will continue to use your power and platform to fight for a better future for Americans, Israelis and Palestinians. The change our governments are so afraid of is within our reach.

Tania Hary is the executive director of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      Hopefully the takeaway for Americans from the whole Tlaib-Omar thing is that they’ll realize that the Palestinians in the West Bank can’t simply invite people to visit on their own, they need the permission of their masters; it’s apartheid.

      Reply to Comment
    2. tom

      Palestinians are stripped from their agency and treated as humanitarian cases, even when they manage social mobility in a different region.
      Thank you for exposing the mechanism.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Reality Check

      You seem to ignore the simple fact that they can go to Gaza without stepping foot in Israel. Why don’t they?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        To get into Gaza you need either Israeli or Egyptian permission:

        https://www.welcometopalestine.com/getting-in/gaza/

        In other words, Gaza doesn’t control its own borders, they are controlled by other countries.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Yes, Bruce
          Though it would help Gaza, if it recognized Israel’s right to exist.

          Reply to Comment
          • Talkback

            No it wouldn’t and you know it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Yes, the Hamas thugs are nice, pleasant and liberal people.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Chili Dogg

      Based on the news that I had read elsewhere, the following statement in this article is incorrect:

      “The love of a grandmother is irreplaceable, and shame on both my president in the United States and my prime minister in Israel for denying you her embrace.”

      PM Netanyahu said he would allow Rep. Tlaib to visit her grandmother, as long as she did not speak out against Israel while on her visit. Tlaib’s reaction, showing the real purpose of her trip, declined to go under this condition. IOW, speaking out against Israel while there was her priority, not visiting her grandmother. Also, given the fact that she did not mention her grandmother when she first spoke about her reasons for the visit, show that visiting her grandmother was an afterthought, not the real reason.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Tlaib actually made it known that her decision not to come was made with counsel/advice from her family.

        Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Tlaib should simply committ suicide.
        That would end everyone’s silly debate on whether this JORDANIAN visit her JORDANIAN fascist grandmother.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          I don’t take lectures from sadistic Kahanists.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            No, you take lectures from Hamas & Abbas-supporting Holocaust-Deniers instead !

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            That’s not true. I do NOT take lectures from Benjamin Netanyahu.

            “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now joined the likes of his sworn enemies, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by engaging in Holocaust revisionism to promote his own political interests. The leader of the Jewish state signed an agreement with Poland late last month that absolves Poland of its role in the extermination of its Jewish population during World War II, despite ample evidence of passive and active collaboration — as was the case throughout Europe.”
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/07/13/anti-semitism-doesnt-bother-benjamin-netanyahu-if-it-comes-from-his-political-allies/

            Reply to Comment
    5. itshak Gordine

      She will not be missed in Israel. She first wanted to come in order to mess up, promote the illegal BDS and take advantage of the hospitality offered by her position to denigrate the state of Israel. The evidence, when permission was finally granted to visit her grandmother for humanitarian reasons and under certain conditions, she refused. All this proves that she was attempting manipulation for political ends and that her grandmother was just a pretext.. President Trump was 100% right.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @ Itshak Gordine: By these Orwellian standards, any criticism of Israel and its choke hold on the Palestinians is “manipulation” and “denigration of Israel”–and deserves East German Stasi style silencing of free speech. Of course the glaring question, is what is Israel so very afraid of? What is Israel hiding in its backyard that it is afraid to pull the hasbara curtain and American-mass-ignorance curtain back on? The questions answers themselves. By your own standards, President Obama should have denied entrance to the United States of the greatest manipulator of them all, Bibi Netanyahu, the man who taught Trump himself the art of the manipulation. What the whole business shows, and as any honest observer sees, is that Netanyahu and Trump are weak, not strong. And Israelis know Bibi and can see how Bibi yet again succumbed to his by now classic panic attack mode. And that Bibi’s panic problem is more and more amplified by his fear of the inside of a prison cell. A cornered animal, he gets more and more dangerous to Israelis and Americans.

        @Chilidogg: Isn’t it amazing how some erstwhile defenders of free speech and human dignity suddenly go all soft and runny when it comes to Israel and all of a sudden humiliation, cruel techniques to split one US Congresswoman from another US Congresswoman, and one Congresswoman from her grandmother, and suppress free speech and Article 1 Congressional duties are A-OK and the order of the day and “what’s the problem?”?
        Isn’t it amazing how Israel has absolutely no problem humiliating people and robbing them of their basic freedoms? All in the service of hiding what it is keeping out in the backyard in the occupation. Isn’t it amazing how for the first time in history a US President actually connived with a foreign government to deny US Congresspersons exercising Article 1 duties admission to that country? Isn’t it amazing how that “no daylight” and “bipartisan” pretense, a pretense about a reality long discarded in fact, suddenly went “poof!”?

        To both of you: Isn’t it amazing how Israelis treat others as such a trifle unworthy of basic dignity and expect people to be so weak that they will surrender their principles when they are emotionally blackmailed; and when a US Congresswoman is strong enough to stand up to that cruel blackmail she then gets denigrated as not loving her grandmother enough and “hating Israel”? Isn’t it amazing that some Israelis, their officials included, are so shameless and so sleazy and so manipulative that they can trot out the old canard that Congresswoman Tlaib “hates Israel more than she loves her grandmother”? I don’t think Israelis have any idea how ugly on this issue they appear to decent people everywhere, Jewish and non-Jewish. In this move Netanyhu and his countrymen have alienated many more Americans, much more than they already had prior to this.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ray

          The “they hate us more than they love their children” line (and the whole shoot-and-cry trope in Israeli media) would probably eerily familiar to spouses and children of clinical narcissists. Right after beating them up for whatever offense (real or imagined) set them off, the spouse/parent tells their victim they “made me do it,” or “this hurts me more than/just as much as you!”

          In other words, overt emotional manipulation. And Israelis have the nerve to wonder why so many people don’t buy it.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Ray: Very good point.

            Reply to Comment
    6. itshak Gordine

      This “magnificent democracy” which is in Ramallah has just banned all LGBT activity on the territory it occupies.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Meanwhile the Shin Bet cruelly blackmails gay Palestinians, and the occupation goes on. But don’t worry cuz Israel is so so so so LGBT friendly!!!

        Israel and the territories it occupies, “where pinkwashing the blackmailing is our specialty!”

        Reply to Comment
    7. Lewis from Afula

      Ben:
      Poland was not responsible for the Holocaust – the Germans were.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben

      Richard Goldwasser tweeted:

      I see we’ve completed the circle of hasbara once again.

      1. Months delegitimizing Omar and Tlaib as antisemites

      2. Israel’s vibrant democracy should let them in

      3. Tlaib hates Israel more than she loves her grandmother

      4. Back to no. 1

      All the while the occupation goes on…

      Reply to Comment
    9. Jack Morris

      The emotive bleatings of a social justice warrior that have nothing do with reality.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @Jack Morris: This is propaganda, a transferred-in effete jargon you are using—“social justice warrior”—that in fact has nothing to do with the situation; that is, with reality. It is an attempt by you to trivialize gross brutality and injustice and pretend that what Israel does to the Palestinians is something like some effete PC offense in the U.S. All one has to do is transfer in your effete jargon to other situations to see how absurd it is. Try applying “social justice warrior” to the French Resistance in WWII, or the German resistance to the Stasi, or to the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. You are similarly offensive and don’t know it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Ben’s problem is that he starts his history by:

          1. Assuming the “fakestinyans” existed. Ben ignores that this fake criminal entity
          NEVER had a capital, constitution, borders, curreny, army, king, royal palace, architectural style, archaeological record, etc etc.

          2. Ben ignores the serial transmutations of nomenclature that this joke “nation” has undergone. Over the last 100 years alone, it has claimed itself to be “South Syrian” then “Arab” then “Jordanian” and finally “fakestinyan” (its latest guise).

          3. Ben manages to ignore whatever its alias, the pretend peoplehood continuously murders Israelis and seeks to destroy their country. eg before 1967, there was no occupation yet there were perpetually “fedaheen raids”. Now that was 50 years ago, but Israel left Gaza in 2005 and see how much peace that has caused……

          Ben needs to up his meds to stop him catching G. Levy syndrome, that is if it is not too late !

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            In their repetitiveness, lack of originality, and low content level, your responses have the quality of a screeching parrot. Polly want a troll cracker? Polly has her disease reasoning backwards. ‘G. Levy’ is not a syndrome it is long term recovery from a dehumanizing cult syndrome. That’s enough feeding for you today.

            Reply to Comment
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