Tlaib, a US-born Palestinian-American from Michigan, had also planned to visit her aging grandmother in the West Bank. Israeli officials later relented and said she could visit her grandmother after all.
“It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has apparently taken a page out of Trump’s book,” Tlaib said, moments after tearing up as she described the “dehumanising” conditions she saw as a girl visiting her Palestinian grandmother – known as a “Sitty” in Arabic – in Israeli-occupied territory, including “shaking with fear” when she’d see the tanks and soldiers with guns.
“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?”
Tlaib and Omar were joined on Monday, US time, by Minnesota residents who said they had been directly affected by travel restrictions in the past. They included Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian-American, who lamented that she has never been able to visit her parents’ homeland.
Barkawi said she had a chance to visit her father’s village in the West Bank near Nablus during a family visit to Jordan about 25 years ago, but her parents decided not to risk crossing the border.
“My father could not put himself to be in a position where an Israeli soldier is the person with control over his entry into his homeland,” Barkawi said. “This is an enduring trauma that he and my mother live.”
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 Middle East war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley kept up the administration’s criticism of the two women.
“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.”
Supporters say the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a non-violent way of protesting Israel’s military rule over Palestinians, but Israel says it aims to delegitimise the state and eventually wipe it off the map.
The two congresswomen are part of the “squad” of four liberal House newcomers – all women of colour – whom Trump has labelled 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 American – Tlaib was born in the US and Omar became a citizen after arriving as a refugee from war-torn Somalia.
“There is no way that we are ever, ever going to allow people to tear us down, to see us cry out of pain, to ever make us feel like our [citizenship] certificate is less than theirs,” Omar said.
“So we are going to hold our head up high. And we are going to fight this administration and the oppressive Netanyahu administration until we take our last breath.”