By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
According to an itinerary that was circulated online during the controversy over Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories, there was one important meeting that is overlooked in most coverage: Afro-Palestinians.
If the itinerary is accurate, it means that the two US Representatives had sought to create a trip that explored some unique voices on the Palestinian side. One of the problems with many trips that come, those seeking “balance” or seeking to understand the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is that there is a cliche-political-tourism route that they tend to take. This means usually meeting some Palestinian elites in Ramallah or in the comfort of Jerusalem, and then a tour of Hebrew with Breaking the Silence and then another one or two tours usually with Israeli-based human rights organizations.
These kinds of tours almost never include much off the beaten track: Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron. I’ve arguedI’ve argued that Tlaib and Omar, if they came (which it appears they won’t) had an opportunity to request unique meetings. I was an assistant professor at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis for five years and I suggested the campus would make a good visit. This is because unlike some educational institutions, it caters to a broader spectrum of Palestinians and it has the Bard program and an American Studies program and has a museum devoted to Palestinian prisoners.
They could have also gone down to Jericho to learn about US Security assistance to the Palestinian Authority Security Forces. And they could have learned about the EUPOL COPPS program training Palestinian police. I would have recommended Sebastia as well, and Mount Gerezim near Nablus, as well as a trip to see Battir, the UNESCO site, and some other areas in the West Bank that are off the beaten path.
Either way, what is striking about their itinerary is that it did successfully seek to stay away from the usual. It is entirely Palestinian-centric, but it also has a meeting with Afro-Palestinians in Jerusalem. This small and unique community deserves to have its views heard. It is like several minority communities that deserve more attention and support and which have their own issues amidst a complex conflict. Too often the voices that are heard are only the privileged and the elite of Palestinian society, which get used to speaking to a western audience with the same talking points, year after year, but which probably reflect less and less the issues Palestinians are facing today.
Listening to a variety of voices doesn’t solve the conflict, but it’s a start. Unfortunately the Tlaib and Omar trip isn’t happening, so it appears this aspect of the itinerary isn’t taking place.