WASHINGTON - Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the two members of Congress who were refused entry into Israel last week, held a joint press conference on Monday, during which they denounced the Israeli government for its decision, and gave the stage to Palestinian-American activists who have also been denied entry into Israel.
Omar said during the press conference that the trip she and Tlaib were planning was supposed to include meetings with “members of the Israeli Knesset” and Israeli activists who work against the occupation. She said that “we cannot allow Trump and Netanyahu to succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us.”
Omar encouraged people to go to the West Bank and see that “the occupation is real,” and that “barring members of Congress from seeing it will not make it go away.” She also mentioned the fact that the United States provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, and said that “denying visits from dully elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally.”
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Omar said that the United States can use the aid money as leverage to ensure that “the Netanyahu government does not expand settlements on Palestinian land” and “gives full rights to Palestinians.”
Speaking after her, Congresswoman Tlaib said that "all Americans should be distrubed" by the decision not to let them enter.
The Michigan lawmaker teared up as she recalled visiting family in the West Bank and seeing her mother have to "go through dehumanizing checkpoints – even though she was a United States citizen and a proud American."
Tlaib got emotional as she told how her "Sitty" — an Arabic term of endearment for one's grandmother that's spelled different ways in English — urged her during a tearful late-night family phone call not to come under what they considered such humiliating circumstances.
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"She said I'm her dream manifested. I'm her free bird," Tlaib recalled. "So why would I come back and be caged and bow down when my election rose her head up high, gave her dignity for the first time?"
At the urging of President Donald Trump, Israel denied entry to the two Muslim representatives over their support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement. Tlaib and Omar, who had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on a tour organized by a Palestinian group, are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and support the Palestinian-led international movement boycotting Israel.
The two freshman House members said they would discuss "potential policy responses" to Israel's decision during a news conference on Monday.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley kept up the administration's criticism of the two lawmakers Monday.
"Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have a well-documented history of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Semitic social media posts and anti-Semitic relationships," he said in a statement. "Israel has the right to prevent people who want to destroy it from entering the country — and Democrats' pointless Congressional inquiries here in America cannot change the laws Israel has passed to protect itself."
Before Israel's decision, Trump tweeted it would be a "show of weakness" to allow the two representatives in. Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 Mideast war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
Trump's request to a foreign country to bar the entry of elected U.S. officials — and Israel's decision to do so — were unprecedented and drew widespread criticism, including from many Israelis as well as staunch supporters of Israel in Congress. Critics said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision was a reckless gamble that risked turning Israel into a partisan issue and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies.
Tlaib and Omar support "boycott, divestment and sanctions," or BDS, a Palestinian-led global movement. Supporters say the movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel's military rule over the occupied territories, but Israel says it aims to delegitimize the state and eventually wipe it off the map.
Last week, Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Tlaib had requested and been granted permission to enter the West Bank to see her aging grandmother. Deri's office released a letter that it said was from Tlaib, which promised to respect travel restrictions during her visit. But after the announcement, Tlaib tweeted she wouldn't allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to "bow down to their oppressive & racist policies."
The two congresswomen are part of the "squad" of liberal newcomers — all women of color — whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for reelection. The Republican president subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to "go back" to their "broken" countries. They are U.S. citizens — Tlaib was born in the U.S. and Omar became a citizen after moving to the United States as a refugee from war-torn Somalia.