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Rashida Tlaib: “End the Apartheid System”

On Thursday, Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of Congress, delivered an extraordinarily personal and powerful speech from the House floor about the humanity of Palestinians and the urgent need to dismantle Israeli apartheid. We print it here in full.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib delivered her powerful speech on Thursday, May 13, on the House floor. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

This is so personal for me. I am a reminder to colleagues that Palestinians do indeed exist; that we are human; that we are allowed to dream. We are mothers, daughters, granddaughters. We are justice-seekers, and are unapologetically about our fight against oppressions of all forms.

Colleagues: Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much money you send to Israel’s apartheid government.

If we are to make good on our promises to support equal human rights for all, it is our duty to end the apartheid system that for decades has subjected Palestinians to inhumane treatment and racism. Reducing Palestinians to live in utter fear and terror of losing a child, being indefinitely detained or killed because of who they are, and the unequal rights and protections they have under Israeli law: it must end.

One of Israel’s most prominent human rights organizations, B’Tselem, has declared Israel an apartheid state. Human Rights Watch recently recognized it, too. This is what Palestinians living under Israel’s oppression have been telling us for decades.

I have been told by some of my colleagues who dispute the truth about segregation, racism, and violence in Israel towards Palestinians that I need to know the history. What they mean, unintentionally or not, is that Palestinians do not have the right to tell the truth about what happened to them during the founding of Israel. They, in effect, erase the truth about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Israel that some refer to as the nakba, or “catastrophe.”

As Palestinians talk about our history, know that many of my black neighbors and indigenous communities may not know what we mean by nakba. But they do understand what it means to be killed, expelled from your home and land, made homeless, and stripped of your human rights.

My ancestors and current family in Palestine deserve the world to hear their history without obstruction. They have a right to be able to explain to the world that they are still suffering, still being dispossessed, still being killed as the world watches and does nothing. As Peter Beinart, an American of Jewish faith, writes, “When you tell a people to forget its past, you are not proposing peace. You’re proposing extinction.”

The Palestinian story is that of being made a refugee on the lands you called home. We cannot have an honest conversation about US military support for the Israeli government today without acknowledging that for Palestinians, the catastrophe of displacement and dehumanization in their homeland has been ongoing since 1948.

To read the statements from President Biden, Secretary Blinken, General Austin, and leaders of both parties, you’d hardly know Palestinians existed at all. There has been no recognition of the attack on Palestinian families being ripped from their homes in East Jerusalem right now or home demolitions. No mention of children being detained or murdered. No recognition of a sustained campaign of harassment and terror by Israeli police against worshippers kneeling down and praying, celebrating their holiest days, in one of their holiest places. No mention of Al-Aqsa being surrounded by violence, tear gas, smoke, while people pray.

Can my colleagues imagine if it was their place of worship filled with tear gas? Could you pray as stun grenades were tossed into your holiest place?

Above all, there has been absolutely no recognition of Palestinian humanity. If our own State Department can’t even bring itself to acknowledge that the killing of Palestinian children is wrong, I will say it for the millions of Americans who stand with me against the killing of innocent children, no matter their ethnicity or faith. I weep for all the lives lost under the unbearable status quo, every single one, no matter their faith, their background.

We all deserve freedom, liberty, peace, and justice, and it should never be denied because of our faith or ethnic background. No child, Palestinian or Israeli, whoever they are, should ever have to worry that death will rain from the sky. How many of my colleagues are willing to say the same, to stand for Palestinian rights as they do for Israelis’?

There is a crushing dehumanization to how we talk about this terrible violence. The New York Post reported the Palestinian death toll as Israeli casualties. ABC says that Israelis are “killed” while Palestinians simply “die,” as if by magic, as if they were never human to begin with.

Help me understand the math: how many Palestinians have to die for their lives to matter?

Life under apartheid strips Palestinians of their human dignity. How would you feel if you had to go through dehumanizing checkpoints two blocks from your own home to go to the doctor or travel across your own land? How would you feel if you had to do it while pregnant, in the scorching heat, as soldiers with guns controlled your freedom? How would you feel if you lived in Gaza, where your power and water might be out for days or weeks at a time, where you were cut off from the outside world by inhumane military blockades?

Meanwhile, Palestinians’ rights to nonviolent resistance have been curtailed and even criminalized. Our party leaders have spoken forcefully against BDS, calling its proponents antisemitic, despite the same tactics being critical to ending the South African apartheid mere decades ago. What we are telling Palestinians fighting apartheid is the same thing being told to my black neighbors and Americans throughout America that are facing police brutality here: there is no form of acceptable resistance to state violence.

As long as the message from Washington is that our military support for Israel is unconditional, Netanyahu’s extremist, right-wing government will continue to expand settlements, continue to demolish homes, and continue to make the prospects for peace impossible.

Mr Speaker, 330 of my own colleagues, Democrats and Republicans — 75 percent of the body here — signed a letter pledging that Israel shall never be made to comply with basic human rights laws that other countries that receive our military aid must observe. You know, when I see the images and videos of destruction and death in Palestine, all I hear are the children screaming from pure fear and terror.

I want to read something a mother named Eman in Gaza wrote two days ago. She said, “Tonight, I put the kids to sleep in our bedroom, so that when we die, we die together, and no one would live to mourn the loss of one another.” The statement broke me a little more because my country’s policies and funding will deny this mother’s right to see her own children live without fear, and to grow old without painful trauma and violence.

We must condition aid to Israel on compliance with international human rights and an end to apartheid. We must, with no hesitation, demand that our country recognize that the unconditional support of Israel has enabled the erasure of Palestinian life and the denial of the rights of millions of refugees, and emboldens the apartheid policies that Human Rights Watch has detailed thoroughly in their recent report.

I stand before you not only as a congresswoman for the beautiful 13th district strong, but also as a proud daughter of Palestinian immigrants, and the granddaughter of a loving Palestinian grandmother living in the occupied Palestine. You take that, and you combine it with the fact that I was raised in one of the most beautiful, blackest cities in America, a city where movements for civil rights and social justice are birthed: the city of Detroit.

So I can’t stand here silent when injustice exists and when the truth is obscured. If there’s one thing Detroit instilled in this Palestinian girl from Southwest, it’s that you always speak truth to power, even if your voice shakes. The freedom of Palestinians is connected to the fight against oppression all over the world.

Lastly, to my sity in Palestine, aqaf huna bsbbik. I stand here because of you. Thank you.