Thousands of people gathered at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn Sunday afternoon to express their support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. People of all ages sang, danced, wore kufiya scarves, and waved Palestinian flags large and small.
The United Nations says Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 180 Palestinians in the past week, and Hamas missiles have killed at least ten people in Israel.
Tensions escalated rapidly after Israeli police raided the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and cut the cables to loudspeakers broadcasting prayers, as The New York Times reports. The tensions were exacerbated as Palestinian families waited to hear whether the Israeli Supreme Court would uphold evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem in favor of Jewish settlers.
Speakers at the Dearborn rally called the planned evictions acts of ethnic cleansing and apartheid against Palestinians, and described the situation as emblematic of a larger attempt by the Israeli government to remove Palestinians from cities and neighborhoods and across the region.
U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) was among those who spoke prior to the march. Tlaib's the oldest daughter of her Palestinian immigrant parents. At the rally, she asked for a moment of silence for everyone who had died as a result of the violence.
"You be their outlet, you share the humanity and Palestinian voices. Do it as a mother. I'm a mother! Not just Palestinian, I'm a mother. And I would never want any child, nobody, to go through what that mother goes through. You share it as a grandfather, you share it as a father yourself, as a cousin, as a loved one," she said.
"I know you're angry, and you want to be strong, but that's the kind of vulnerability that needs to be shown, is when you can connect your pain to the pain of others. That's the solidarity and intersectional work that needs to happen when it comes to this. Keep it rooted in love, humanity, and anti-apartheid," Tlaib said.
Organizer Amer Zahr spoke about his family, describing his grandmother's forced displacement from Jaffa in Palestine.
"She said, 'they said we could come back in two weeks.' Well, they're all gone, but we're not! And we're going to speak up for them, and we will be loud as we need to be. They said, 'the old will die, and the young will forget.' I see some old people here, they did not die yet. And there are three and four year old little Palestinian kids walking around here today that'll tell you the name of the village that their grandparents got kicked out of. See, we didn't forget," Zahr said.
After the slate of speakers, the marchers left the Ford Center and made their way down Michigan Avenue, chanting things like "Free, free Palestine" and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." The Dearborn Police reported ten thousand people participated in the march.
Saba Saed was born in Palestine, and moved to Michigan in middle school about nine years ago. She just finished up her freshman year of college in Lansing, and came out to Dearborn to support the rally. She said it's been difficult to see images of violence on social media, but appreciates the increased attention.
"I’m just glad they’re out on social media 'cause I’ve like seen them before and I’ve lived through them, and it’s finally the Palestinians’ chance to speak out for what’s going on. They’re getting representation, which is good," said Saed.
Ahmed Ajin is also from Palestine, but immigrated to the U.S. decades ago. He now lives in Ypsilanti with his family. He and his children were one of many multigenerational groups at the rally, and he said he was floored by how many young people were there.
"I did not expect that many people. I received a few messages online, saying please come, please bring your friends, but I did not expect 10 percent of the number I see right now. I feel, I feel like I’m not the only one in this, and I feel like things will be changing. There will be more awareness, and things will change," Ajin said.
It was a sentiment echoed by a lot of marchers, that the increased exposure on social media could turn the tide for Palestinians.
Amira Deebah has family in Palestine, and takes immense pride in her heritage. Though she said it hurts her to see the violence that still affects her family, she's heartened by the outpouring of support she's seen on social media, and Sunday afternoon in Dearborn.
"Speaking about Palestinian liberation is speaking about human rights. Seeing the turnout today and the social media hashtags and sharing is liberating in itself. There was something on Instagram that said 'what is happening in Palestine today is 1948 with cellphones' and for that I am thankful that western imperialist media cannot shift the narrative anymore," she said, referring to when the State of Israel was established, and several hundred thousand Palestinians fled or were forcibly removed from their homes. "Palestinians and our allies around the world are amplifying our voices," Deebah said.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story said that over five hundred people participated in the march. That is incorrect. Ten thousand people marched down Michigan Avenue Sunday afternoon. The story has been corrected above.