West Bank kin cheer first Palestinian-American woman in U.S. Congress

The uncle of Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, shows her picture on a tablet, in Beit Ur Al-Fauqa, in the occupied West Bank November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

BEIT UR AL-FAUQA, West Bank (Reuters) – Tuning into the news at dawn on Wednesday, the extended family of Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, celebrated her victory in their home in the Israeli occupied West Bank.

Tlaib, a Democrat, ran virtually unopposed in Michigan’s 13th congressional district, which encompasses southwest Detroit and its suburbs west to the city of Dearborn. She previously served in Michigan’s state legislature.

She has become “a source of pride for Palestine and the entire Arab and Muslim world,” her uncle, Bassam Tlaib, said in the small village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa.

With her win, Tlaib, 44, will become the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. Alongside incoming Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, she will also be one of the first Muslim women to join the congressional ranks.

“I’m going to speak truth to power,” Tlaib told the Detroit Free Press on election night on Tuesday. “I obviously have a set agenda that’s not going to be a priority for the current president but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to push back.”

Tlaib’s district is home to one of the largest Arab-American populations in the United States. Her win highlights a wave of Palestinian diaspora candidates and activists who have embraced the Democratic Party’s progressive wing at a low point in U.S.-Palestinian relations under Republican President Donald Trump.

In California’s 50th district, Ammar Campa-Najjar, a Palestinian-American who spent part of his childhood in Gaza and whose father served in the Palestinian Authority, was in a close race with incumbent Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, early results showed.

“The success of [Tlaib and Campa-Najjar’s] progressive messaging on a wide range of issues, including Palestine, is reflective of a shifting public discourse that Palestine activists have played a role in shaping,” said Omar Baddar, deputy director of the Washington-based Arab American Institute.

CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM

Under Trump, Washington has alienated Palestinians by recognizing contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American embassy there, and by slashing U.S. funding of the U.N. body that aids Palestinians.

Palestinians have broken off contact with his administration, which has promised to announce a peace plan soon for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah and throughout the territory, Palestinians took a cautious view of the election news.

“Change is incremental, and Palestinians in Palestine are intimately aware of that,” said Salem Barahmeh, executive director of the Ramallah-based Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy.

“That said, Tlaib’s election is seen as a glimmer of hope in a very dark chapter in the Palestinian people’s history,” Barahmeh added.

Bassam Tlaib, the candidate’s uncle, said she had “stood against Trump” at a time when “even our Arab leaders are unwilling to face (him).”

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