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Palestinian Activist On Rep. Tlaib: Nobody Should Be Humiliated For Visiting Homeland

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program with a story that's been playing out over the past few days. Two members of Congress, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, both Democrats, had plans to visit Israel and the West Bank. Then, following a tweet from President Trump saying Israel would look, quote-unquote, "weak" if the two were allowed entry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barred the congresswomen, citing their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement directed at Israel.

The next day, Israeli officials said Congresswoman Talib could visit her 90-year-old grandmother in the occupied West Bank if she agreed to certain conditions. But she passed, saying, quote, "visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother's heart" - unquote.

Now, the so-called BDS movement is one part of a controversy. There's been extensive reporting on that elsewhere. But another aspect of this conflict has to do with the lawmakers' plans to meet with Palestinian leaders to raise awareness of conditions on the West Bank. One of the leaders is Fadi Quran. He is a campaign director at Avaaz - that's a nonprofit that promotes progressive online activism worldwide on issues ranging from human rights to climate change. And Fadi Quran is with us now from Al-Bireh in the West Bank.

Mr. Quran, thank you so much for joining us.

FADI QURAN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Could I just get your perspective of the back-and-forth over this trip? What does this mean to you? What do you think it's about?

QURAN: I think American citizens need to ask Israel, what do you have to hide? And although Israel's claiming that it specifically targeted Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib for their policies, the truth is the hundreds have been banned. So there's an attempt by Israel to chill any forms of dissent and to prevent anyone willing to bear witness to the oppression it commits against the Palestinian people from entering. That's why, although just came as a surprise to U.S. citizens, here in Palestine, it was met with a shrug because we've seen it happen so often.

MARTIN: Give us a sense, if you would, about what you hoped to show the congresswomen or what you hoped to speak with them about.

QURAN: One of the things that we were hoping to do is to introduce them to two children who had recently been released from Israeli detention - a child named Ahmed (ph) and another child named Adan (ph). And these children were in the middle of the night taken out of their beds by the Israeli military, who broke through the doors of their houses. And they were then detained and beaten on their way to the military detention center. And then they were held for weeks without being allowed to see their parents, without getting proper legal representation.

We were hoping that those children could tell that story as the congresswomen viewed one of the detention centers from afar because it would - they wouldn't have been able to enter it. But that's one of the key things which we wanted to show and tell a story about what's happening here.

MARTIN: What do you make of representative Tlaib's decision not to come? How do you feel about that?

QURAN: I think Representative Tlaib made the right decision. Nobody should accept humiliating requirements in order to come and visit their family, in order to come and visit their ancestral homeland. Now, Israel's policy towards us here, the Palestinian people, has always been either surrender your basic rights or leave, or we will erase you from this land. And the decision that Representative Rashida took is key because she did not set a precedent that anyone coming to Palestine has to give up certain rights to enter here.

MARTIN: It's playing in a - very differently here. I think it's being seen by critics of her as sort of she wants to make a political point more than she wants to visit her family. And others are saying that this is indicative for them of the Palestinians' unwillingness to compromise. And what do you say to that?

QURAN: Well, I say to that is it's in fact the exact opposite. American values supposedly stand for freedom, stand for defending human dignity, stands for ensuring that no one is silenced because of their beliefs. Those are at the core of what it means to be an American. And for congressmen and decision-makers in the U.S. to say the Representative Tlaib defending her basic rights to freedom of expression is wrong is quite the opposite.

MARTIN: That was Fadi Quran. He's a campaign director at Avaaz - that's a nonprofit that promotes global activism. We reached him at Al-Bireh in the West Bank.

Fadi Quran, thank you for speaking with us.

QURAN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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