Rarely is something sweet born of something so bitter.
The dispute over US Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s canceled plans to visit her aging Palestinian grandmother has been rife with ugliness. But it has also sparked the #MyPalestinianSitty hashtag, wherein Twitizens have taken a break from cries of racism and anti-Semitism to remember the strength and resilience of their matriarchs.
Sitty is a colloquialism for “grandmother” in Arabic.
Tlaib and her congressional colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar, had planned to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories this month, but the Israeli government banned them over their support for boycotting and divesting from the nation. The Michigan Democrat asked for an exception so she could visit her grandmother, said she would accept “any restrictions” Israel placed on her trip and would avoid promoting boycotts during the visit.
Israel decided to grant Tlaib entry, but under a set of restrictions that the lawmaker later said amounted to an attempt to silence her.
“Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother’s heart,” she said.
The incident was fuel for both sides of the debate. Tlaib’s supporters cited the move as evidence that Israel feared the world knowing the truth about its occupation of the Palestinian territories. The legislator’s critics claimed she staged the entire exchange so she could continue bashing Israel.
US President Donald Trump, who has stood at the center of the fray since he declared Israel would show “great weakness” if it admitted the congresswoman into the country, led the latter charge, tweeting that Israel had shown Tlaib respect by letting her visit her grandmother, only for Tlaib to grandstand once she received permission.
“Permission was quickly granted, whereupon Tlaib obnoxiously turned the approval down, a complete setup. The only real winner here is Tlaib’s grandmother. She doesn’t have to see her now!” Trump tweeted.
The next day, the #MyPalestinianSitty hashtag emerged when Shatha Odeh came to Tlaib’s defense, posting old photos of her grandmother.
Odeh’s tweet was followed by a flood of remembrances, with grandchildren all over the world recalling their sittys’ food, their kisses and embraces, their sacrifices, the lessons they imparted and the pride they took in their heritage. Others shared heartbreaking stories of women forced to leave their homes and dying before they’d have a chance to return.
“Illiterate, but memorized the Quran front-to-back. Married at 13, but made me promise to finish school before settling down. My heroine, my badass,” tweeted Ahlam Chehabi.
“My green-eyed grandmother Halima, a woman whose ferocious love for her nine children outweighed much of the suffering she witnessed in her life, beginning from being ethnically cleansed from her village of Falujah,” wrote Al Jazeera producer Linah Alsaafin.
“She made me bamia for breakfast because she knew it was my fave she hugged so hard it hurt,” writer Hannah Khalil tweeted, recalling a popular stew made of okra, tomatoes and lamb.
“#MyPalestinianSitty use to walk along the Apartheid wall, up and down mountains, carrying a plastic tank of olive oil and fatayir to come see her grandchildren,” said Hadeel Asi, ending her tweet with the transliterated Arabic words for, “May God have mercy on my grandmother Halimeh.” (Fatayir are savory pies.)
“My amazing grandmothers fled Palestine by pretty much walking to Jordan carrying anything they could, one of them raising 7 wonderful children. Missing them both everyday,” Yanal Dahdah tweeted.
“Meet #MyPalestinianSitty Fatma. She witnessed the 48 war, 56 occupation of Gaza,67 reoccupation of Gaza,78 invasion of Lebanon, 82 invasion of Lebanon, 1st & 2nd Intifadas, 3 major Israeli attacks on Gaza, & 13 years of blockade w/6 hours of electricity a day. She still smiles,” Jehad Abusalim wrote.
“#MyPalestinianSitty sacrificed everything she knew to give her children a better life. The sweetest woman and best cook I’ve ever met,” tweeted Elias Hakim.
Reps. Tlaib and Omar also joined in the postings, with Tlaib sharing photos of both of her grandmothers – Muftiyah Tlaib, who the lawmaker had hoped to visit in the West Bank, and her other grandmother, “one fierce woman” from Beit Hanina who nobody messed with.
Omar, who hails from Somalia and whose family sought asylum in the United States when she was a child, simply wrote, “#MyPalestinianSitty is trending and I am overcome with emotions realizing how we are finally humanizing one of the world’s most dehumanized peoples.”