Palestinian-American candidate is source of West Bank pride

BEIT OUR AL-FOQA, West Bank (AP) — The Michigan primary victory of Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who is expected to become the first Muslim woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, triggered an outpouring of joy in her ancestral village on Wednesday.

Relatives in Beit Our al-Foqa, where Tlaib’s mother was born, greeted the news with a mixture of pride and hope that she will take on a U.S. administration widely seen as hostile to the Palestinian cause.

“It’s a great honor for this small town. It’s a great honor for the Palestinian people to have Rashida in the Congress,” said Mohammed Tlaib, the village’s former mayor and a distant relative. “For sure she will serve Palestine, for sure she will serve the interests of her nation. She is deeply rooted here.”

Rashida Tlaib, a former state lawmaker, defeated five other candidates to win the Democratic nomination in her Michigan district in Tuesday’s primary. She will run unopposed, setting her up to take the spot held since 1965 by John Conyers, who stepped down in December citing health reasons amid charges of sexual harassment.

Tlaib, 42, is the eldest of 14 children born to Palestinian immigrants in Detroit. On her website, she advocates progressive positions associated with the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, such as universal health care, a higher minimum wage, environmental protection and affordable university tuition.

As a state lawmaker, she sought to defend Detroit’s poor, taking on refineries and a billionaire trucking magnate who she accused of polluting city neighborhoods. On the campaign trail, she criticized the influence of “big money” on politics and took aim at President Donald Trump, whom she famously heckled in 2016 while he was delivering a speech in Detroit.

While noting her Palestinian heritage, her website makes no mention of her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a 2016 op-ed explaining why she disrupted then-presidential candidate Trump, she described herself as an “American, parent, Muslim, Arab-American, and woman.”

In western Michigan, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican, is the son of a Palestinian refugee father and Syrian immigrant mother. He is Christian.

In the West Bank, family members were jubilant as news of Rashida Tlaib’s victory came in early Wednesday. Relatives served baklawa, a sweet pastry, and grapes, figs and cactus fruits from their garden to visitors celebrating her win.

Tlaib’s uncle and aunt were speaking on an iPad with her mother, Fatima, back in Michigan.

“Thank God. Thank God,” her mother said. “This is for the Arabs and Muslims all over the world.”

She said her daughter detests Trump and that “God willing” she will defeat him and become the next U.S. president. “She stood up to him during his campaign. God willing, she will do it again and win.”

The first visitor was Mohammed Tlaib, the former mayor, who predicted his 5-year-old daughter, Juman, will grow up to be like her famous American relative. “Look at her. She is beautiful, smart and strong like her. From now on, I will name her Rashida,” he said.