Palestinians in the West Bank cheered on Wednesday morning as they awoke to the news that Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat, had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Representing Michigan’s 13th congressional district, encompassing southwest Detroit and its western suburbs to the city of Dearborn, Tlaib, 42, made history, along with Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, as they become the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Tlaib is also the first Palestinian-American woman elected to the legislative body. Both also ran on progressive Democrat platforms.
She has become “a source of pride for Palestine and the entire Arab and Muslim world," Tlaib’s uncle Bassam Tlaib told Reuters in the small Palestinian village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa.
Salem Barahmeh, executive director of the Ramallah-based Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, said, “Tlaib's election is seen as a glimmer of hope in a very dark chapter in the Palestinian people's history.” But Barahmeh also cautioned that “change is incremental, and Palestinians in Palestine are intimately aware of that.”
The Michigan district that Tlaib will represent is home to one of the largest Arab-American populations in the country.
“I'm going to speak truth to power," the politician told the Detroit Free Press on election night. "I obviously have a set agenda that's not going to be a priority for the current president but that doesn't mean I'm not going to push back."
“I'm a different kind of public servant," Tlaib said. "I do activism work here at home. I grew up in a community that founded the labor rights movement.”
Born to Palestinian immigrants in the Detroit area, Tlaib began her political career in 2004, when she began to work for Michigan State Representative Steve Tobocman. Four years later, Tobocman encouraged her to run for his seat. Winning the election, she became the second Muslim to serve in the Michigan Legislature. After two terms, she stepped aside due to term limits and worked at a nonprofit in Detroit providing free legal advice to workers.
Taking more than 90 percent of the vote on Tuesday, Tlaib did not face a Republican challenger in the predominantly Democrat district. However, she faced a write-in challenge from Democrat opponent Brenda Jones, who had previously won a special election to finish out the months left in the term of retired Congressman John Conyers, and two third-party candidates. Conyers had resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.
Tlaib’s election comes as the Trump administration has been seen as taking an exceptionally pro-Israel stance. After the president’s decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and transfer the U.S. Embassy to the city, Palestinian leaders said they no longer saw the U.S. as a neutral negotiator in their conflict with the Israelis.
Palestinians seek to create an official state in the West Bank and Gaza, areas that Israel currently controls while allowing the Palestinian Authority government some degree of autonomy. However, the area’s borders, water supply and other resources are controlled by the Israeli government.
Activists often refer to the situation as “apartheid,” arguing that Palestinians’ human rights are disregarded. Violence between Israeli forces and Palestinians is a constant reality, with both sides claiming they are defending themselves against aggression from the other side.
“The success of [Tlaib’s] progressive messaging on a wide range of issues, including Palestine, is reflective of a shifting public discourse that Palestine activists have played a role in shaping,” Omar Baddar, deputy director of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, told Reuters.