In West Bank town, Palestinians celebrate family member’s ascent to Capitol Hill

Congresswoman-elect Rashida Tlaib has expressed support for a one-state solution and an end to US military aid to Israel, but her Palestinian relatives are more circumspect

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

In this August 8, 2018, photo, Fadwa Tlaib, an aunt of Rashida Tlaib, points to a young Rashida in a 1987 picture with her mother Fatima and brother Nader, at the family house in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Foqa. (AP/Nasser Nasser)
In this August 8, 2018, photo, Fadwa Tlaib, an aunt of Rashida Tlaib, points to a young Rashida in a 1987 picture with her mother Fatima and brother Nader, at the family house in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Foqa. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

BEIT UR AL-FOQA, West Bank — In a small home overlooking a major thoroughfare in the West Bank that connects Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the Tlaib family gathered Wednesday to celebrate their relative’s electoral victory — 6,000 miles away in Michigan’s 13th Congressional district.

Drinking coffee and eating celebratory chocolates with cousins and other extended family in Beit Ur al-Foqa, Bassam Tlaib said the victory of his niece Rashida Tlaib in the US midterm elections was a “great source of pride.”

Tlaib, a 42-year-old Palestinian-American and Democrat, won a seat in the American legislative body on Tuesday after garnering more than 80% of the vote in Michigan’s 13th congressional district, which includes parts of Detroit. She did not face a Republican competitor.

In August, Tlaib beat out five contenders in the district’s Democratic primary. After winning that race, her mother briefly placed a Palestinian flag around her shoulders while she addressed her supporters.

Tlaib is the first female Arab-American and one of two female Muslims to be elected to the US Congress, another first. She was joined in breaking the glass ceiling by Ilhan Omar, a Democrat who won a seat in the US House of Representatives to represent Minnesota’s 5th congressional district.

“As a family, we are very happy Rashida is the first Arab and Palestinian woman to be elected to this position,” said Bassam, 54.

In this Oct. 26, 2018, file photo, Rashida Tlaib, Democratic candidate for the Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, smiles during a rally in Dearborn, Mich. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Rashida, a lawyer, was born in the US to a mother from Beit Ur al-Foqa and a father from Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, both of whom immigrated to America in the 1970s. While her parents raised her in Michigan, her family members said she has visited Beit Ur al-Foqa many times, married her husband Fayez here and almost studied at Birzeit University near Ramallah.

In an interview in August with progressive monthly magazine In These Times, Rashida, a former state legislator in Michigan, came out in support of a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, breaking with the Democratic Party’s platform which backs the two-state solution.

“One state. It has to be one state,” Tlaib told the magazine. “Separate but equal does not work. I’m only 42 years old but my teachers were of that generation that marched with Martin Luther King. This whole idea of a two-state solution, it doesn’t work. Even though we continue the struggle in the United States, we have a better chance to integrate.”

Soldiers checking a Palestinian car at a checkpoint near the entrance of Beit ur al-Foqa on May 28, 2010. (GILI YAARI / FLASH90)

Many Israeli supporters of the two-state solution hold that a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea would spell the end of Israel’s Jewish character and effectively terminate the country’s status as a safe haven for Jews around the globe.

When asked if he supports his niece’s position on the one-state solution, Bassam evaded the question, saying he “does not like to deal with politics.” Several other members of the Tlaib family also said they did not want to discuss politics.

But while 45-year-old Deifallah Tlaib, an extended family member, refrained from taking a specific stance, he said both Palestinians and Israelis should be afforded “basic rights.”

“The important thing is that is we are equal and that everyone is given their basic rights,” Deifallah, a construction worker, said. “We do not want war or problems. We want to live in peace here.”

Rashida Tlaib did not respond to an interview request.

In a televised interview with Channel 4 in Britain two months ago, she strongly suggested she would vote against military aid for Israel.

Members of the Tleib family in Beit Ur al-Foqa on November 8, 2018. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

“Absolutely, if it has something to do with inequality and not access to people having justice,” she said when asked if she would vote against American military aid to the Jewish state. “For me, US aid should be leverage… I will be using my position in Congress so that no country, not one, should be able to get aid from us, the American people… when they still promote that kind of injustice.”

In 2016, the US and Israel agreed Washington would send $38 billion to Israel over the next decade. More recently, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a bill that, if signed into law, would guarantee Israel the $38 billion in defense assistance.

While Bassam reiterated his desire to avoid discussing politics when asked about US military aid to Israel, Deifallah unequivocally stated that he supports cutting it.

“I think America should cut its military aid to pressure Israel to go for peace instead of war,” he said. “God willing, this kind of pressure could bring us peace.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists Israel seeks peace with the Palestinians but that the Palestinian Authority has not proved willing to work for a viable deal that ensures Israeli security.

“The first thing I think about when somebody says you’re going to be the first Muslim is celebrate this moment,” Rashida told CBS after winning on Tuesday. “We changed the course of history at a time we thought it was impossible. And that if you just believe, believe in the possibility of someone like me.”

Back at the home in Beit Ur al-Foqa, members of the Tlaib family said they hoped Rashida would visit them in the near future.

“She promised to come back to visit here,” Bassam said. “But I don’t know how soon she will come. I imagine she will be very busy in her new job.”

Most Popular
read more: