Arab Americans, supporters rally over Gaza fighting in Dearborn

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Fighting in Gaza that has flattened buildings and killed nearly 200 Palestinians is creating tensions in Metro Detroit ahead of President Joe Biden's visit Tuesday.

On Sunday, several hundred people gathered for a Justice for Jerusalem march at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians as Israel's prime minister signaled the fourth war with Hamas as Hamas also pressed on, launching rockets toward civilian areas in Israel.

Hamas is the militant group that rules Gaza. 

Many at the rally booed loudly at the mention of Biden, who has backed Israel's right to defend itself.

"We are not only here to say 'Free, free Palestine,' we are not only here to make sure that they hear our voice but we're here to make sure they know that we are watching," said New Generation for Palestine president Amer Zahr. "We are watching which politicians stand with us and which politicians don't stand with us."

► RELATED REPORT:  Israel kills 42 in Gaza as Netanyahu warns war will go on

The sun beamed down on red, white, green and black Palestinian flags as they flew in the slight breeze during the rally.  A plane flew across the sky with a banner that read "End Israeli apartheid."

"I'm extremely happy to be seeing this support," said Rochester Hills resident Nisar Ahmed. "It's extremely important for us to show support for the fellow human beings of Gaza in Palestine. ...  As a human being it's our moral obligation to support them."

Hamas began firing rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.

A plane pulls a banner overhead during the demonstration Sunday afternoon in Dearborn.

At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed in some of the 3,100 rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, spoke before the march Sunday.

"They can never take away our dignity because we are seeing it around. We are growing to a movement that will not look away towards the truth," Tlaib said. 

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, left, is interviewed by What's Up Media Network reporter Hussein Hachen before she speaks at the march Sunday.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, blamed Hamas for the outbreak of hostilities in a statement while mourning the "loss of innocent lives" on both sides.

"I strongly condemn the rockets fired by Hamas into Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and southern Israel and call on the international community to promote peace, calm and security," said Stevens. "Israel is an unequivocal ally of the United States and I support its rights to defend itself against terrorist attacks."

After the speeches Sunday, demonstrators marched down Michigan Avenue yelling chants such as "From Detroit to Palestine, occupation is a crime" and holding signs that read "Free Palestine."

University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole  said mediators are attempting to restore the status quo.

The area is "inherently unstable" from what he called an illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory.

Noran Alsabahi of Dearborn holds a sign and joins the March for Jerusalem demonstration Sunday.

Some in the Metro Detroit Jewish community say they support Biden and “understand the frustration of Palestinians.”

“A growing tendency among American Jews is to distinguish between the policies of Israeli government and the attitude of Israeli or the state of Israel,” said Howard Lupovitch, associate professor of history and the director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies at Wayne State University. “The state of Israeli is less problematic, and we recognize the necessity to exist as a Jewish state.

“We understand the frustration of Palestinians. We differentiate between Palestine independence and Hamas. Hamas is problematic. They endorse and engage in violence ... It doesn’t change the fact that they fired all those missiles ... it’s scary and it unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, demonstrators criticized Biden, with some saying he wasn't welcome in Dearborn, home to one of the largest contingents of Arab Americans outside of the Middle East.

On a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, Biden expressed “strong support” for Israel’s strikes in Gaza in retaliation for Hamas missile attacks on its territory, but raised concerns about civilian casualties and the protection of journalists.

Biden also held his first call since taking office with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the violence, in which he called for Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel. 

Biden is expected in Dearborn on Tuesday to tour the Ford Motor Co.'s Electric Vehicle Center that will build the F-150 Lightning, the electric version of the F-150 pickup.

Abdulhakem Alsadah, a government and political science professor, said America's involvement in the conflict is only making things worse. 

"There is no peace process going on, and America is not part of the solution, but is becoming the main part of the problem. The unlimited, unconditional economic, military, and political support this administration, and previous ones, are, and have given, to Israel will not bring about peace to the region," Alsadah said. 

"The Israelis have the right to defend themselves as much as Palestinians have the same rights."

A driver displays a Palestine flag during demonstration Sunday.

The latest violence began in east Jerusalem last month, when Palestinians clashed with police in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. 

Hamas began firing rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday, triggering the Israeli assault.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.