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Rashida Tlaib Censured for Standing Up for Human Rights

Rashida Tlaib speaking on the House floor.
Ilan Omar supports Rashida Tlaib as she addresses the House on Palestinian rights.

Some day, the censure this week of Rashida Tlaib in the U.S. House of Representatives will be seen much like that of Joshua Giddings, in 1842, for proposing the abolition of slavery. In that future time, the dubious nature of Tlaib’s censure will be just as obvious. The censures in both cases were issued to hide the truth. To obscure the obvious truth that slavery, in one case, and that the merciless bombing of defenseless civilians, in the other, are evil. One day, the censure of Rashida Tlaib will be seen as the shameful act it truly is, but that day is not today. So she deserves our support.

The censure states that Tlaib has refused to condemn the Hamas attacks of October 7 and that she supports the destruction of Israel. The first charge is more subterfuge that I will explain. The second is simply absurd, but I will try to break it down too.

Failing to Condemn Hamas

The insistence by supporters of Israel that everyone condemn the Hamas attack of October 7 is disingenuous at best, considering, as the UN General Secretary said recently that the events of that day did not happen in a vacuum. They happened in the context of decades-long occupation, and downright seige of Gaza that has being going on since 2008.

This period has seen the bombing of Gaza in regular intervals since that time, always killing civilians. In what some Israeli officials refer to as “mowing the lawn”, these attacks have included schools, hospitals, shelters and food stores. Israeli attacks have killed UN workers, journalists, ambulance drivers, and other first responders and medical personnel.

The killing of civilians is never acceptable, but in the context of a brutal seige on a civilian population, it has to be expected. Indigenous populations always resist their extermination, if they can, and in any way they can. Native Americans certainly committed atrocities, but no one today, except the most virulent white supremacist, would ever lay the blame for what happened to native Americans on the resistance to their own destruction. Do the Palestinians deserve the right to resist their own destruction today? If they don’t, does anyone?

What Really Happened on October 7

But there is more to it. The story of October 7 is not so clear as the mainstream would have you believe. Hamas did first attack military targets that day, and much of the death toll that day included Israeli soldiers, not just civilians.

Hamas has claimed that the only civilians it shot at were armed with weapons of their own. Though many Israel civilians do own guns, this may or not be true. But what is true is that these fighters were all lightly armed.

They didn’t have the firepower to do the things we saw on television, like the long row of cars bombed out and burned. According the H’aaretz, and Israeli newspaper, IDF helicopter pilots admit to firing at the cars, and even the occupants as they ran from their cars. They admit that they had no idea who they were shooting at, whether they were Israeli or Hamas.

Quotes from a Kibbutz security team member and and eye witness accounts indicate that the military fired into houses where they knew Hamas was holding hostages. Tank shells were lobbed into houses that killed everyone inside, Israeli civilians and Hamas fighters alike. See this story from the Grayzone for more of the details.

So you don’t have to believe that Hamas did not kill any unarmed civilians. I can’t say that I do. But to the number, and the barbarity of their attack, that is all certainly an open question. Strong evidence exists that the IDF is responsible for many, if not most, of the civilian deaths that day.

A Case of Projection

The accusation that Tlaib is calling the destruction of Israel is based on her presence at a rally where people chanted: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Her accusers claim that this phrase calls for the destruction of Israel and expulsion of all the Jews in historic Palestine.

The phrase simply means that all the people that live in historic Palestine, from the Jordan River to the sea, should be free, no matter who they are. It simply means that Palestinians, who are currently being bombed with impunity, should have the same basic rights as Israeli citizens now enjoy. This isn’t radical, it is only calling for what we at one time considered “self-evident.”

What makes this accusation so dubious, though, is that she is being accused of calling for something against Israel, that Israel itself is doing to the Palestinian people. They are committing genocide upon the people of Gaza, right before our eyes, and yet the issuers of this censure project that sentiment upon Tlaib’s as she calls for Palestinian emancipation.

One day, the censure against Tlaib will be seen as the truly depraved act it is. It is a prime example of an attempt to obscure what most people will see as obvious — simply that all people deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and with the observance of a standard set of human rights.

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