US midterm elections 2018

Michigan primary victory of female Palestinian-American candidate is source of West Bank pride

Rashida Tlaib will run unopposed in November and is expected to become the first Muslim woman to serve in the US Congress

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 5:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 5:32am

The Michigan primary victory of Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who is expected to become the first Muslim woman to serve in the US Congress, triggered an outpouring of joy in her ancestral village in the West Bank on Wednesday.

Relatives in Beit Our al-Foqa, where Tlaib’s mother was born, greeted the news with a mixture of pride and hope that she will take on an administration widely seen as hostile to the Palestinian cause.

“It’s a great honour for this small town. It’s a great honour for the Palestinian people to have Rashida in the Congress,” said Mohammed Tlaib, the village’s former mayor and a distant relative. “For sure she will serve Palestine, for sure she will serve the interests of her nation. She is deeply rooted here.”

Tlaib, a former state lawmaker, defeated five other candidates to win the Democratic nomination in her Michigan district in Tuesday’s primary. She will run unopposed, setting her up to take the spot held since 1965 by John Conyers, who stepped down in December citing health reasons amid charges of sexual harassment.

Tlaib, 42, is the eldest of 14 children born to Palestinian immigrants in Detroit. On her website, she advocates progressive positions associated with the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, such as universal health care, a higher minimum wage, environmental protection and affordable university tuition.

As a state lawmaker, she sought to defend Detroit’s poor, taking on refineries and a billionaire trucking magnate who she accused of polluting city neighbourhoods. On the campaign trail, she criticised the influence of “big money” on politics and took aim at US President Donald Trump, whom she famously heckled in 2016 while he was delivering a speech in Detroit.

While noting her Palestinian heritage, her website makes no mention of her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a 2016 op-ed article explaining why she disrupted then-presidential candidate Trump, she described herself as an “American, parent, Muslim, Arab-American and woman.”

In the West Bank, family members were jubilant as news of the victory came in. Relatives served baklava, a sweet pastry, and grapes, figs and cactus fruits from their garden to visitors.

Tlaib’s uncle and aunt were speaking on an iPad with the candidate’s mother, Fatima, back in Michigan. “Thank God, thank God,” her mother said. “This is for the Arabs and Muslims all over the world.”

The first visitor was Mohammed Tlaib, the former mayor, who predicted his 5-year-old daughter, Juman, would grow up to be like her famous American relative. “Look at her. She is beautiful, smart and strong like her. From now on, I will name her Rashida,” he said.

The family’s story is typical of many Palestinians, with relatives scattered across the West Bank, Jordan and the United States. Mohammed Tlaib said some 50 people from the small village have immigrated to the US and now have children in schools and universities in America. Relatives said Tlaib’s late father was from East Jerusalem.

“They are Americans, like other Americans, and have deep roots here. So we expect them to serve their occupied and embattled country there,” he said.

Trump is widely loathed by the Palestinians after his decision last December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinians, who seek the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for an independent state, see Trump as unfairly biased toward Israel. They have cut off most contacts with the Trump administration and pre-emptively rejected a peace plan expected to be unveiled by the White House in the near future.

The Tlaib family home in the West Bank is located near Road 443, an Israeli highway cutting through the territory that is largely off limits to Palestinian motorists. The home is near a towering military checkpoint, and relatives said that like many Palestinians, they are unable to build on their property because Israel will not give them a construction permit.

Triumph of 28-year-old over incumbent is seismic shift for US Democrats

Rashida Tlaib’s uncle Bassam, 54, said the family always believed she had a bright future and has high hopes for her career in Washington.

“She told the family that she wants to run for election to defend human rights, women rights, immigrant rights and the Palestinian rights,” he said, adding that the Democrats are much better for the Palestinians than the Republicans. “There is a space in the Democratic Party to defend Palestinian issues” he said.

Her aunt, Fadwa Tlaib, who was visiting from Jordan, said Rashida Tlaib was part of a new, more powerful and politically involved generation of Palestinian-Americans who are better educated and integrated than their immigrant parents.

“Our kids are having better opportunities, better educations, here and in the US, and they have a much brighter and more influential future,” she said.