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Rep. Rashida Tlaib Cancels Visit To Israel And The West Bank

Updated at 12:40 p.m. ET

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., says she's canceling her visit to Israel and the West Bank.

Israel's interior ministry announced Friday that it would allow Tlaib to enter the country as a private citizen to visit her aging grandmother, after it banned her and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from going on a political trip amid pressure from President Trump.

In a statement Friday morning, Tlaib said that she "decided to not travel to Palestine and Israel at this time. Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother's heart."

Israel's shift regarding Tlaib, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants to the U.S. and who has close relatives in the West Bank, came hours after Israel banned her and Omar, apparently in response to tweets from Trump saying that the two "hate Israel & all Jewish people" and that Israel "would show great weakness" by letting them visit.

On Friday, however, Israel's interior ministry said Minister Aryeh Deri had decided to allow Tlaib to conduct a "humanitarian visit" to her 90-year-old grandmother. According to the statement, Tlaib sent a letter to Deri accepting conditions and limits on her visit and promising not to advance boycotts against Israel while she was there.

Bassem Tlaib, the congresswoman's uncle who lives in the West Bank, told NPR that his whole village had been preparing for her visit.

"We have mixed feelings now; we're happy she didn't accept the Israeli demands but we'll miss her," he said.

"Israel does not want us to show our allies in the US how the Israeli occupation treats us. They want our lives to be a secret," Tlaib's uncle said. He added that the trip would have showed the realities of the West Bank, and that now, "Israel and the U.S. won."

"My family and I have cried together throughout this ordeal; they've promised to keep my grandmother alive until I can one day reunite with her," the congresswoman said in her statement. "It is with their strength and heart that I reiterate I am a duly elected United States Congresswoman and I will not allow the Israeli government to humiliate me and my family or take away our right to speak out."

Nour Odeh, who helped to plan the original trip for the congresswomen, told NPR that Tlaib's experience reflects a reality facing Palestinians.

"Palestinians of all walks of life are put in the impossible situation of having to choose between championing their principles, between defending their cause for freedom, between speaking their mind — and enjoying the basic humanitarian conditions that everybody is entitled to, including having access to their families," she said.

There was no word on whether Israel had changed its position on Omar, a Somali-born American. She had been scheduled to arrive on Saturday in Israel, where she and Tlaib planned to tour the West Bank and visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Tlaib and Omar were to have traveled under the auspices of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, or MIFTAH, a Ramallah-based nongovernmental organization promoting an independent Palestinian state.

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a lengthy statement that the trip sought to "harm Israel and increase incitement against it." Israel initially barred the congresswomen's visit on the basis of a law that allows authorities to ban advocates of a Palestinian-led movement to boycott Israel.

The move elicited a strong backlash from individuals in both parties. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the move "deeply disappointing." Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that while he disagreed "100% with Rep. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel" denying them entry to Israel "is a mistake."

Even AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group, tweeted that "every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.