Why did Israel ban Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib?
US congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been barred from entering Israel after an 11th hour decision by Israel's interior minister, according to media reports.
Israeli television station Channel 12 reported on Thursday that Interior minister Arye Deri moved to bar the two Muslim lawmakers.
The decision comes a day after Israeli media reported that the pair were planning to land in Israel on Friday instead of the announced date of Sunday. The planned move was reportedly designed to surprise Israel's government, who were known to be considering banning the pair.
An executive Palestinian Liberation Organisation Member, whose organisation Miftah planned Tlaib and Omar’s trip, lashed out at Israel for banning the pair.
“Israel, being the illegal occupying power of Palestine, has no right to impose such a ban on Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar, who wanted to visit Palestine and see, first-hand, the reality of occupation under which Palestinians live. This trip was their right and duty as members of Congress, who oversee US policies and actions that affect Palestine, Israel, and countries worldwide”, Hanan Ashrawi said.
But why exactly were they banned from Israel?
Just 40 minutes before the decision was announced, US President Donald Trump lashed out online against allowing the two congresswomen into Israel.
"It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!", he tweeted.
Later on, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claimed Israel "is open to all visitors and all criticism," but will bar entry to the congresswomen over their support for boycotts.
Netanyahu's office issued a statement Thursday saying that based on Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar's itinerary for an upcoming visit to the West Bank and Jerusalem, "it became clear that they are planning a trip whose sole purpose was strengthening the boycott and negating the legitimacy of Israel."
Neither Tlaib nor Omar hate Jewish people. What Trump really is referring to is their contempt towards Israel and its systematic racism against Palestinians, including imposing brutal sieges and illegal occupations on Palestinian land.
Palestinians have over the last seven decades used countless methods to resist Israeli occupation and to raise awareness for their plight to freedom. One of the ways is a nonviolent global movement called Boycott Divestment Sanctions.
The movement’s leaders say BDS is inspired by the campaign that targeted South Africa's apartheid regime and is seeking an end to Israel's brutal occupation.
Israel sees BDS as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism - a claim activists firmly deny, calling it a smear attempt to discredit the peaceful movement.
Conflating criticism towards Israel with anti-Semitism is a weapon that is commonly used against pro-Palestine activists to silence them. In the case of Tlaib and Omar, they said their main intention to go to Israel was to learn more about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
This led to many believing the Israeli government’s barring them from entry being because they will want to witness and speak out against the injustice against Palestinians.
A hashtag in support of them and their right to find out more about Palestine emerged: #LetThemWitness.