As the death toll in Gaza reaches at least 119 amid Israel’s escalation of its aerial assault, Congressmember Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the first Palestinian American woman elected to Congress, delivered a powerful speech on the House floor Thursday to denounce the violence and attempted erasure of the Palestinian people. “I am the only Palestinian American member of Congress now,” Tlaib said. “I am a reminder to colleagues that Palestinians do indeed exist.”
AMY GOODMAN: The death toll in Gaza has reached at least 119 as Israel escalates its aerial assault and fires heavy artillery at the besieged territory. Israel is also threatening to send in ground troops. Israel has so far killed at least 31 Palestinian children, many under the age of 10. Gaza authorities report 40% of the victims in the Israeli assault have been women and children. Over 830 Palestinians have been wounded so far this week, but Gaza’s hospital systems are on the verge of collapse as doctors face shortages of medicine and recurring power outages. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports more than 24 Palestinian schools have also been damaged in the Israeli strikes.
Eight people have died in Israel as Hamas continues to fire rockets from Gaza. Israel has rejected calls for a ceasefire.
Meanwhile, the United States has blocked the U.N. Security Council from holding a meeting today on the crisis. Earlier in the week, the U.S. twice blocked the Security Council from issuing statements on the violence. On Thursday, President Biden said Israel’s actions do not represent a, quote, “significant overreaction.”
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have arrested dozens of Palestinians living in Israel, in an attempt to quell an unprecedented uprising. Many are being held without access to legal counsel. Jewish mobs have been filmed attacking Palestinians across Israel, some on live television. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Al Jazeera reports more than 40 Palestinians have been injured, both by the Israeli military as well as mobs of Jewish settlers.
This all comes as Palestinians are planning to mark the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, as they call it, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes after the state of Israel was formed.
Later in the program, we’ll be joined by two leading Palestinian figures, the historian Rashid Khalidi and the longtime diplomat and politician Hanan Ashrawi. But we begin with the words of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. She became the first Palestinian American woman to be elected to Congress in 2018. She spoke Thursday on the floor of the House.
REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: I am the only Palestinian American member of Congress now, and my mere existence has disrupted the status quo. I am a — 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.
And, 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 — 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 are, in effect — effect, they erase the truth about 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, 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, quote, “When you tell a people to forget its past you are not proposing peace. You are proposing extinction.” The Palestinian story is that of being made a refugee on the land you call home. We cannot have an honest conversation about U.S. 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 and 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 worshipers kneeling down and praying and 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 the killing of Palestinian children is wrong, well, 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 human rights as they do for Israelis’?
There is a crushing dehumanization to how we talk about this terrible violence. The New York Post reported that Palestinian death row — reported the Palestinian death toll as Israeli casualties. ABC says that Israelis are, quote, “killed,” while Palestinians simply, quote, “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 cut — were cut off from the outside world by inhumane military blockade?
Meanwhile, Palestinians’ rights to nonviolent resistance have been curtailed and even criminalized. Our party leaders have spoken forcefully against BDS, calling its proponents anti-Semitic, 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 that are fighting against 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 extremism, right-wing government will continue to expand settlements, continue to demolish homes and continue to make the prospects for peace impossible. Three hundred and thirty of my own colleagues, Democrats and Republicans here, 75% 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 Falastin, 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, quote, “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 of my country’s policies and funding will deny this mother’s right to see children live — 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 end the apartheid. We must, with no hesitation, demand that our country recognize 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 13 District strong, but also as a proud daughter of Palestinian immigrants and the granddaughter of a loving Palestinian grandmother living in the occupied Falastin. 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 — I can’t stand silent when injustice exists, where the truth is obscured. If there’s one thing Detroit instilled in this Palestinian girl from Southwest, it’s 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 sitty in Falastin, ’ashanek ’iinaa iaquf huna [phon.]. I stand here because of you. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, speaking on the House floor Thursday. She’s the first Palestinian American woman elected to Congress.
When we come back, we’ll be joined by two leading Palestinian figures: the historian Rashid Khalidi and the longtime diplomat and politician Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. Stay with us.