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Palestinian Journalist Weighs In On Rep. Rashida Tlaib's Canceled Trip To Israel


"The Travel Humiliations That All Palestinians Know About (ph)" - that's the title of an op-ed that Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab sent around today. He was writing in response to the drama over whether Israel would bar a visit from two U.S. congresswomen - Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Both are Muslim, both are Democrats, and both have criticized Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. I asked Daoud Kuttab why the back and forth over the trip has gotten under his skin.

DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, I think it's because of what happened to Rashida Tlaib, this humanitarian request that she has to kind of beg for permission to come and see her grandmother. The freedom of travel, which is so normal, which is so obviously an important right for any human being, is always used as a way to control the population.

KELLY: You nodded to the specific case of Congresswoman Tlaib. Israel's position on her has shifted more than once. They eventually said, as you noted, that she could visit her grandmother in the West Bank on humanitarian grounds if she agreed not to promote boycotts on her trip.

She decided that amounted to oppressive conditions meant to humiliate her, that she wouldn't do it. She canceled the trip. She's come under a lot of criticism for that, including a lot of criticism from Palestinians that she - for looking like she might accept Israel's terms. What do you think?

KUTTAB: It's a very difficult position. I understand that she's an American congressperson who is on a mission to come and see how U.S. taxpayer money is being spent.

KELLY: And I should jump in and note there has been some dispute over what exactly their itinerary was. She has been very clear about saying if she went, she would not promote boycotts. That is not in debate.

KUTTAB: Yeah. The trip was planned, and I was privy to some of the purpose of the trip was to really find out more about what life is like and how U.S. money is being used or not being used in the occupied territories. And I think the - really, the commitment not to promote something really is the problem because it violates the First Amendment in the U.S. and also violates the immunity of members of Parliament around the world have, that they can say anything they want because they are members of a legislative council.

KELLY: Although, let's flip it around, and let me challenge you to consider this from Israel's point of view. Are you at all open to why they might see this trip as a threat? Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu claims that they were traveling to strengthen the boycott against Israel and deny Israel's legitimacy.

KUTTAB: I am not sympathetic to why Israel at all. I don't think Israel is correct in any way in its position.

KELLY: Some people have raised questions about the precedent it might set for a U.S. congresswoman with ties to Palestinian family to visit on Israel's terms and how that might play out for others who maybe don't have the clout of a U.S. congresswoman visiting. What do you think of that?

KUTTAB: You know, we make compromises all the time. We accept humiliation because we want to see our loved ones. So I can understand why she was willing to kind of bite the bullet and - you know, in the Christian terms, bear her cross. At the same time, I totally understand. My daughter and I had a kind of a debate over this because she says it's totally wrong, shouldn't give into the Israelis and their dictates.

KELLY: Is there a generational divide in terms of how Palestinians or Palestinian Americans view the issue?

KUTTAB: There is a generational divide. You know, I'm the generation that believes in a two-state solution. And I think in a realistic way that that's really the only way that Israelis and Palestinians can find a way to basically share the land. My daughter and my son and others are saying, Dad, you're wasting your time. You know, the Israeli settlements are all over the West Bank. In the end, what we want is either a right to share the land with Israelis or share the power. And I think either one is better than continuation of the occupation.

KELLY: Daoud Kuttab, thank you.

KUTTAB: Thank you very much.

KELLY: He's a Palestinian journalist and former Princeton professor speaking with us there from Ramallah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.