In Tlaib’s Ancestral Village, a Grandmother Weathers a Global Political Storm

BEIT UR AL-FOUQA, West Bank — In a small stone house on the edge of a sleepy Palestinian village near Ramallah, an elderly woman ran a string of wooden worry beads through her gnarled fingers on Friday, silently reciting the 99 names of Allah, almost oblivious to the maelstrom of world politics swirling around her and her granddaughter, Representative Rashida Tlaib.

On Thursday, anticipation in the West Bank had turned suddenly to disappointment and anger, when the Israeli government decided it would block Ms. Tlaib and another member of Congress after earlier indicating it would allow their visit. The turnabout, urged by President Trump, caused an intercontinental uproar.

The dizzying twists continued on Friday, when the Israeli government said Ms. Tlaib could visit her 90-year-old grandmother, Muftiya Tlaib, on humanitarian grounds. She later changed her mind, citing Israeli restrictions.

Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, had announced earlier Friday morning that the congresswoman would be allowed to enter for a family visit, after she wrote to him saying that it might be her last chance to see her grandmother and pledging to “respect any restrictions” and to “not promote boycotts” during her stay.

“I’m happy that Rashida will come,” Muftiya Tlaib said, barely an hour after the interior minister’s announcement. Dressed in a colorful, intricately embroidered traditional Palestinian thobe, she added, “But I hear they won’t let her.”

Her son, Bassam Tlaib, 53, an electrician and the first-term lawmaker’s uncle, explained her confusion: The relatives had not explicitly told the suddenly famous grandmother that Mr. Deri’s announcement had raised their hopes again.

“We don’t want any more unpleasant surprises. Yesterday mother was shocked and upset,” he said.

“Yesterday she was rejected, today they approved her,” he said of his niece. “We wonder why. We lost our trust.”

ImageMs. Tlaib had planned a traditional feast for her granddaughter.
CreditAbbas Momani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As it turned out, the family’s hesitation proved prescient.

A storm of Palestinian criticism on social media denounced Ms. Tlaib for selling out the cause in exchange for a glimpse of her grandmother, and a few hours after gaining Israeli approval, she announced that she would not come after all.

“Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me,” Ms. Tlaib said of “my sity,” using an Arabic term for grandmother. “It would kill a piece of me.”

On Thursday, President Trump tweeted that it “would show great weakness” for Israel to allow the planned West Bank visit of Ms. Tlaib, of Michigan, and Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, both Democrats. Hours later, the Israeli authorities, who control all access to the occupied territory, denied them entry, citing their vocal support for boycotts against Israel.

Late on Thursday, Ms. Tlaib appealed for an exception on humanitarian grounds, promising, in effect, to make the trip purely personal, not political.

After Mr. Deri consented on Friday morning, Mr. Tlaib and other family members here had misgivings about the visit because of the conditions imposed by Israel, though they said they would welcome the congresswoman under any circumstances.

“Rashida has the natural right to visit all of Palestine,” said Mr. Tlaib, the uncle. “In my personal opinion,” Mr. Tlaib said. “I say it is preferable not to come based on these conditions.”

The family sent her messages, but it was still early morning in the United States, and they did not immediately hear back from her. Then came the news that Ms. Tlaib had decided not to come.

Ms. Tlaib’s grandmother, apparently still unaware of the latest reversals, said she had originally planned to welcome her returning granddaughter by slaughtering a sheep for a traditional Palestinian feast. Asked where the sheep was on Friday, she laughed wryly, gestured out the window and said it was still with the flock.

Source: NYT

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