DEARBORN – Chanting “Free Free Palestine”, more than 1,200 Arab Americans jammed an auditorium at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn on Tuesday evening to show their support for Palestinians as the death toll increased in Gaza after Israeli strikes.
Speakers at the Dearborn rally focused on decades of suffering among Palestinians and ripped into politicians for supporting the right-wing Israeli government.
The Arab American rally in Dearborn did not include political heavyweights like Gov. Whitmer and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who had campaigned last year in Dearborn at the Arab American Political Action dinner, but avoided the large gathering Tuesday night. Whitmer, Sen. Gary Peters and Benson were booed when their names were mentioned by Dearborn businessman and U.S. Senate candidate Nasser Beydoun. Speakers attacked President Biden, who was also criticized in May 2021 in Dearborn during an Arab American protest when he visited a Ford auto plant during an Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Don’t vote for Democrats or Republicans, Osama Siblani, a longtime Arab American leader and publisher of the Dearborn-based Arab American News, told the crowd. He said Hamas was “not a terrorist organization.”
“They say Hamas is a terrorist organization,” Siblani told the crowd. “…The terrorist is (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Siblani told the Free Press afterward there are some groups even more radical than Hamas. If Hamas and other Palestinian groups keep getting attacked, it will lead to further radicalization and more violence, he said. He argued that attacks on Gaza hurt both Palestinians and, ultimately, Israel also.
Imam Imran Salha of the Islamic Center of Detroit, a Palestinian-majority mosque, gave a fiery speech, warning that Israel will burn and saying it has committed atrocities against Palestinians.
The elected officials who attended the Dearborn rally included State Rep. Alabas Farhat (D-Dearborn), who spoke to the crowd; Wayne County Deputy Executive Assad Turfe, who blasted the media for what he said was inaccurate coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun; State Rep. Erin Byrnes (D-Dearborn), who called for an end to occupation of Palestinians, and State Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit), whose district includes part of Dearborn.
Other imams also were on stage in support, including Imam Husham Al-Husainy of the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn and Imam Mohammad Mardini of the American Muslim Center in Dearborn.
The Dearborn rally was emceed by Amer Zahr, a Dearborn attorney and Palestinian American activist who often helps lead protests for Palestinians in the Detroit suburb where 54 percent of the residents are Arab American and often has rallies in support of Palestine.
“‘Please help us defeat Trump,’ Democratic leaders asked Arab American voters in 2020,” Zahr told the crowd. “Joe Biden sits in that White House because of Arab Americans. They asked us to save America from Donald Trump. And now we’re asking everybody to save Palestine from Joe Biden.”
Zahr said that civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks would support Palestine today.
“And make no mistake: If Jesus were here today, he would say, ‘Free, Free Palestine,’” Zahr said.
Turfe, who recently traveled to Lebanon with Wayne County Executive Warren Evans to meet with some Lebanese officials, spoke at the rally, trying to give context to the conflict by highlighting the suffering of Palestinians.
“The Gaza strip has 2 million people living in an area that is about 140 square miles, about the size of Detroit,” Turfe said. “Imagine 15-feet walls with barbed wire that prevents from leaving or even entering. You’re in prison. It’s the largest open-air prison in the world. The Israelis control what goes in… they control how much water goes into Gaza, they control how much electricity goes into Gaza, they control much food goes into Gaza.”
Siblani told the crowd their concerns are not motivated by hate.
“We don’t hate anybody,” he said.
Other rallies and news conferences in support of Palestinians are planned in Dearborn and Detroit this week, including a Saturday rally at Ford Woods Park in Dearborn.
— Excerpts from a Free Press report by Niraj Warikoo.