As a Palestinian-American Congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib should be working to build, and not destroy, bridges between her people and the US. Her fierce attacks on Israel and the US administration, however, embolden Palestinian hardliners and fuel hate against Israelis and Americans. (Photo by Christ Chavez/Getty Images)
Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib is apparently upset because she was not able to agitate against Israel during a proposed visit to her grandmother there.
"I would like to request admittance to Israel," she had written, "in order to visit my relatives, and specifically my grandmother, who is in her 90s and lives in Beit Ur al-Fouqa. This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit. Thank you, Rashida Tlaib."
When her letter was leaked to the media, however, Tlaib quickly backtracked:
"Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother's heart."
Her trip was to have been co-sponsored by Miftah, a not-for-profit organization founded by Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Miftah promotes destroying Israel through economic strangulation, such as boycotts, has referred to a suicide bombing as "Palestinian women dedicated to sacrificing their lives for the cause," and has promoted the medieval blood libel that Jews kill Christian children to use their blood to bake matzoh. The itinerary Miftah had planned included "no meetings planned with Israeli officials of any political persuasion, including Arab lawmakers." As the journalist Charles Sykes noted, "Praising suicide bombers and pushing blood libel is not 'criticizing Israeli policy.'"
Tlaib's retraction came after many Palestinians had criticized her for requesting permission from Israel and for "complying with Israeli pre-conditions."
Tlaib and her colleague, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, have since been attacking Israel for banning them from entering the country simply because of their anti-Israel activities.
While Tlaib is using the controversy surrounding her visit as an excuse to launch scathing attacks on Israel, Palestinians seem to be more worried about failed leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This concern is not something that Tlaib seems to share with Palestinians because for her the only wrong-doing is coming from Israel.
Palestinians are more worried about the continued power struggle between their Fatah and Hamas leaders than Tlaib's grievances over not seeing her grandmother. The Fatah-Hamas dispute, which has resulted in the creation of two separate Palestinian entities -- in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- is seen by many Palestinians as proof of their leaders' incompetence and failure to improve living conditions in the two areas.
As everyone was talking about the cancellation of Tlaib's trip, the leaders of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas were still busy fighting each other. The latest controversy between the two parties erupted over visits by non-Palestinian Arabs and Muslims to Jerusalem, particularly the holy sites in the city.
The PA and Hamas have been at each other's throats ever since Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip and removed the PA from power there in the summer of 2007.
Since then, the two parties have been quarreling over just about everything – including, remarkably, time. If, for example, the PA announces that Palestinians will switch to daylight saving time on a certain date, Hamas is quick to make it clear that it will not follow the announcement and will change the clocks on a different date.
It would have been helpful had the Palestinian-American Congresswoman made an effort to persuade PA officials to resume their relations with the US administration and explore ways of boosting the Palestinian economy and improving living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As a Congresswoman, she should be working to build, and not destroy, bridges between her people and the US. Her fierce attacks on Israel and the US administration, however, embolden Palestinian hardliners and fuel hate against Israelis and Americans.
If Tlaib really cared about the Palestinians, she should be campaigning against the Palestinian Authority and Hamas leaders engaged in a power struggle over money and power. Moreover, she should be calling for reforms and democracy under the PA and Hamas. The least she could do is demand an end to human rights violations by the PA and Hamas or demand that they hold long-overdue presidential and parliamentary elections. She could also demand an end to crackdown on freedom of speech under the PA and Hamas.
As Tlaib was strongly condemning Israel and the US administration, Palestinians boasted that they managed to foil a conference in Ramallah organized by the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
The planned conference was supposed to bring together alumni of US educational and cultural programs, including dozens of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who received permission from Israel to attend. The US Embassy was forced to call off the conference after Palestinians called for boycotting the event and warned the manager of a hotel in Ramallah against hosting the event.
As a Congresswoman, Tlaib should have been worried that a US Embassy was forced to cancel an event to help Palestinians because of threats and calls for a boycott.
Back to the dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which has now hit the issue of Arab and Muslim visits to Jerusalem while it is under Israeli sovereignty. The same debate has also divided prominent Muslim scholars, who seem to endorse contradictory positions on this topic.
Recent tensions between Palestinians and Israel over Jewish visits to the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif in Arabic, in the Old City of Jerusalem have retriggered the debate among Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims about the meaning and consequences of such visits.
The PA argues that visits by Arabs and Muslims to Jerusalem are important, mainly because they emphasize the "Arab and Islamic identity" of the city. Hamas and its allies, on the other hand, claim that non-Palestinian Arabs and Muslims who visit Jerusalem are in fact promoting normalization with Israel.
The PA and other Arabs and Muslims, however, maintain just the opposite point of view: they argue that such visits will be seen as a show of solidarity with Palestinians residents of Jerusalem and "strengthen the Islamic and Arabic identity" of the city.
The PA and Hamas, however, are in agreement when it comes to totally opposing visits by Jews to the site, which is holy to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The leaders of both Palestinian rival parties claim that Israel is seeking to divide it between Muslim and Jewish worshippers.
As part of their campaign against the Jewish visits, PA and Hamas officials are continuing to urge Palestinians to converge on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to "foil" the purported Israeli scheme (to allow Jews to pray there). These appeals are made almost on a weekly basis.
In a number of public statements in the past few years, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has called on Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem and its holy sites to show solidarity with its Palestinian residents.
"Visiting Jerusalem is not considered normalization with Israel or recognition of its sovereignty," Abbas said in a recent speech. Addressing Arabs and Muslims, he added: "I call on everyone to visit Jerusalem and not leave the Palestinians there alone." Abbas went on to argue that Israel is the only party that benefits from an Arab and Islamic boycott of Jerusalem.
In another speech, Abbas was quoted as saying that the Quran and Islamic religious law, Shari'a, do not prohibit Arabs and Muslims from visiting Jerusalem.
He was responding to a fatwa (Islamic religious opinion) by Egyptian Islamic theologian Yusef al-Qaradawi banning non-Palestinian Muslims from visiting Jerusalem while the city is under Israeli control. "There isn't any word in the Quran indicating such a ban," Abbas said.
On another occasion, Abbas strongly condemned al-Qaradawi and called him a "dishonorable man." Abbas pointed out that while al-Qaradawi, now based in Qatar, was calling on Muslims and Arabs not to visit Jerusalem, he himself had visited the Gaza Strip a few years ago in 2013, after receiving permission from Israel.
Al-Qaradawi entered the Gaza Strip through the border crossing with Egypt, not Israel. Abbas and other Palestinians maintain, however, that the visit could not have taken place without Israel's approval.
They are saying, in other words, that al-Qaradawi is a hypocrite because he allegedly received Israeli permission to enter the Gaza Strip while banning Arabs and Muslims from visiting Jerusalem just because it is under Israeli control.
During his visit to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, al-Qaradawi stated that Israel has no right to exist. "This land has never once been a Jewish land," he said. "Palestine is for the Arab Islamic nation."
Al-Qaradawi, who is considered the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, is famous for fanning the flames of religious hatred and promoting violence. He has justified suicide bombings, especially against Israel, has repeatedly spoken out against Jews as a community, and has issued fatwas that demean women.
In January 2009, al-Qaradawi said in an interview with Al-Jazeera:
"Oh God, take Your enemies, the enemies of Islam ... Oh God, take the treacherous Jewish aggressors ... Oh God, count their numbers, slay them one by one and spare none."
In addition to al-Qaradawi, a number of Islamic clerics and organizations have also ruled that it is forbidden for Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem while it is under Israeli control. Their main argument: such visits promote normalization with Israel and may be interpreted as recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Despite the ban, several Arab and Muslim officials and individuals have visited Jerusalem in recent years, only to discover that, under Israel, they have free access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and other holy sites in the city. The visits, of course, have enraged al-Qaradawi and his friends in Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Arab and Muslim officials who visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound actually discovered that the real threat to them was from Palestinian extremists there who attacked them with shoes and chairs and even spat in their faces and hurled insults at them. The most recent incident took place last month, when a group of Palestinians attacked Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud when he arrived to pray in the mosque.
Last week, a Moroccan Muslim scholar again sparked the controversy over visits to Jerusalem by Arabs and Muslims when he came out in support of such visits. The scholar, Ahmed al-Raysuni, ruled that Arabs and Muslims visiting Jerusalem were not engaging in the promotion of normalization with Israel.
In 2013, the Hamas-affiliated Palestine Scholars' Forum issued its own fatwa banning non-Palestinian Arabs and Muslims from visiting Israel altogether, including Jerusalem. The group argued that by boycotting Israel, the "ember of jihad (holy war) will continue to exist among Arabs and Muslims until the liberation of Al-Aqsa Mosque."
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are unlikely to resolve their visitation dispute anytime soon. In fact, they seem determined to pursue their fight to the bitter end, at the rather high expense of ordinary Palestinians.
Palestinians, it is becoming clear, are not the only Muslim victims of the PA-Hamas rivalry: non-Palestinian Arabs and Muslims who wish to carry out a religious trip to their holy sites in Jerusalem are now caught in the capricious power struggle between two Palestinian parties -- both of which continue to display total disregard for their people and anyone who dares to disagree with them.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.