Biden visits Michigan vehicle plant, prompting protests in Dearborn | Michigan Radio
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Biden visits Michigan vehicle plant, prompting protests in Dearborn

May 18, 2021

Credit Caroline Llanes / Michigan Radio

Dearborn's Arab and Muslim communities organized an array of pro-Palestinian protests during President Joe Biden's visit to a vehicle plant on Tuesday.

Imad Hamad is with the American Human Rights Council in Dearborn and is of Palestinian descent. He says Metro Detroit residents like him want to remind Biden that the Arab community voted for him.

Hamad says it seems like his dream of seeing peace during his lifetime is fading away.

"But I can see it in the eyes and the hearts of my kids and my children. And I see it in the eyes and the hearts of the young generations who flooded the streets of Dearborn. Thousands of them."

Indeed, several thousand people marched down Dearborn's Michigan Avenue Tuesday afternoon. The White House posted on Twitter that Biden "reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza" and that Biden "conveyed a commitment to strengthening the U.S.-Palestinian partnership." Biden has said he supports a ceasefire. Protesters expressed their desire for the President to explicitly affirm the human rights of Palestinians.

Former gubernatorial candidate Abdul el-Sayed spoke prior to the march. He spoke about health disparities in the region, and about the recent bombing of the Gaza Health Ministry. el-Sayed was critical of the administration not speaking up for Palestinian rights. 

Abdul el-Sayed spoke at a rally in Dearborn. He criticized the Biden administration's failure to explicitly affirm the human rights of Palestinians.
Credit Caroline Llanes / Michigan Radio

"Today we are standing up to tell the Biden administration that enough is enough, that if you believe in human rights, you better stand for human rights, it doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter for whom, that today, those human rights of the Palestinians are being denied. Who knows who it’s going to be tomorrow?" he asked.

el-Sayed was among many who criticized U.S. military aid to Israel, saying that money would be better spent at home.

Among the several thousand marchers was Zeena Garada, a college student with family in Palestine. She says she wants Biden to know that her family is hurting because of foreign policy.

"You completely failed us as Arab-Americans, and even as Americans, because this is not what any of us should be standing for. You keep sending our hard-earned money over to kill our own families and our own people, and that is just completely disrespectful, it is horrible, and you’ve failed us as a president," she said.

With Garada were her friends Lian Shoukfeh and Reema Salkini. Shoukfeh and Salkini are both Syrian-American, and wanted to stand in solidarity with Garada and other Palestinians.

Lian Shoukfeh was among the thousands marching in Dearborn Tuesday. She's Syrian-American, and wants to show solidarity and support for Palestinians.
Credit Caroline Llanes / Michigan Radio

"Seeing my Palestinian brothers and sisters who we grew up very close to, seeing them suffer... I've seen people in Damascus protest, people in Yemen, and for us to just stay silent, that's not okay. We've been exercising our right to free speech here, this is our second protest and we hope to keep going, and it's not going to end by just marching," Shoukfeh said.

"It's disappointing to see a lot of Middle Eastern movements be silenced by people who are thirsty for power, thirsty for money, and I'm over it," Salkini added. "It's so exciting seeing everyone coming out, whether they're Black, whether they're Muslim or not, whether they're Jewish... it's so exciting to see people actually be supportive of [people experiencing] the horrific things happening in the Middle East."

Garada said she was heartened to see so much support from the community, but ultimately, wanted to see action from those in power.

A sign carried by a protester on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn.
Credit Caroline Llanes / Michigan Radio

"It's great seeing the support, honestly. It's amazing, but at the same time, I know that how no matter how much support we keep getting, it's not going to do anything until there's actual policy changes being made."

Protesters in Dearborn also marched peacefully Saturday and Sunday. 

The Associated Press reported more than 220 people have been killed in the conflict, now in its second week. A majority of the deaths have been Palestinian, and ten deaths were in Israel.   

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