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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Rashida Tlaib is dismantling misconceptions of Palestine

In a polarised US, the politician is gently enlightening fellow decision-makers

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. Nasser Nasser / AP
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. Nasser Nasser / AP

When Rashida Tlaib ran for her Congressional seat, she did so as a Muslim, an Arab and a Palestinian – a trifecta of identities that can individually elicit distrust, hostility and outright antagonism in the US. Her victory was all the more heartwarming because she did not play down those roots but actively campaigned on them.

Just weeks into taking up her new role, she is already turning those messages into meaningful action. Ms Tlaib will soon take a delegation of American politicians to the West Bank to counter the destructive narratives spread by the powerful Israeli lobby, which runs its own tours. “I want us to see that segregation and how it has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,” she said. Her tour will include Beit Ur Al Foqa, her grandmother’s village.

That could change the views of more disconnected American politicians, many of whom, sitting in Washington 6,000 miles away, carry preconceptions of Palestinians from what they have heard and read but are far removed the harsh realities of occupation. Politicians and members of the public alike could benefit from seeing the Palestinian territories for themselves to dismantle those misconceptions. Indeed, it might surprise visitors when they experience firsthand, as Ms Tlaib’s delegation undoubtedly will, the true, genuine warmth of Arab hospitality.

The congresswoman is also an advocate of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for consumers to reject Israeli goods and international companies that support Israel. While parallels have been drawn with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, some members of Congress tried – and failed - to criminalise supporting BDS last year. And when Airbnb banned homes in illegal settlements in the West Bank last month, US Vice President Mike Pence said BDS had “no place”, showing just how firmly the mindset of the pro-Israeli lobby has been entrenched at the highest echelons of national politics.

At a moment of great division, when attacks on Muslims in the US have soared and the US president has imposed a ban on certain Muslim-majority countries, Ms Tlaib’s positive action should be welcomed for fostering dialogue and understanding.

The administration of Donald Trump has already made unprecedented concessions to Israel, moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and slashing vital aid to the Palestinians, despite claiming to be devising the ultimate peace plan. Meanwhile, Palestinians are forced to contend with the daily humiliation and brutality of occupation.

By exposing the fallacies of a narrative of Israeli moral authority, Ms Tlaib will not solve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. But she might gently enlighten those with decision-making power and show them a different truth – one which Palestinians experience for themselves on a daily basis.