Chants of “free, free Palestine” and “resistance is justified when people are occupied” rang out across Dearborn on Tuesday, as thousands of pro-Palestinian protestors returned to the streets, amid President Joe Biden’s visit to Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge plant.
Though Biden came to Dearborn to tout his support for electric vehicles, his administration’s steadfast position in support of Israel overshadowed his domestic agenda during the visit to a city whose population is 47% Arab-American.
The Biden administration has recently come under increased pressure by some Democrats in Congress, like U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell of Michigan, and Ro Khanna of California, who would like to see him take more active measures in negotiating a de-escalation of violence between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.
Among the many issues pro-Palestinian protestors cited is the administration's recent approval of a $735 million precision-targeted weapons sale to Israel. In recent weeks, amid the escalation of violence, Israeli “precision-targeted” weapons have killed 212 Palestinians, 63 of which were children.
Biden, for his part, did little to assuage concerns about his stance on the conflict while he was in Dearborn. During a test drive of Ford’s new all-electric F-150, Biden was asked by a reporter if he would field a question about Israel. “Not unless you get in front of the car as I step on it,” Biden replied, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The protests Tuesday followed this weekend's large pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Dearborn, where as many as 10,000 were estimated to have attended. The protests Saturday marked the 73rd anniversary since al-Nakba, or "the Catastrophe," when 800,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their home in historic Palestine.
Ismail Abdurrahman, 73, told protestors at Lapeer Park about his experience of being displaced from Palestine and sent to Jordan in 1967.
“I remember being 16 years old, and I remember Zionist forces coming into my town and warning everybody, in two hours you have to be lined up on the main street in town,” Abdurrahman said. “They forced us on the busses and drove us all the way across the river to Jordan.”
Two separately organized protests occurred during Biden’s visit the Ford plant: One in front of the Dearborn Police Department, organized by Wayne State’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, New Generation for Palestine, and The Arab American News, and another at Dearborn’s Lapeer Park, organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement, the Yemeni Liberation Movement, Detroit Will Breathe, and Detroit Democratic Socialists of America.
An estimated 3000 people showed up to the protest in front of Dearborn Police Department, which turned into a peaceful march down Michigan Avenue.
“They need to hear us all the way over in the Rouge Plant they will hear us Free Palestine," Amer Zahr, a Palestinian comedian and protest organizer, told the crowd in front of the Dearborn Police Station.
Though the two protests shared the cause for Palestinian liberation, organizers split over their willingness to work with Dearborn police. The Lapeer Park organizers, many of whom were are veterans of last summer’s Black Lives Matter uprisings, cited the relationship between police departments in the United States and the Israeli Defense Force — which offers programs to train U.S. police — as one of the reasons they chose to organize their march apart from the Dearborn Police Department protest.
“There have been a few questions in the crowd about why there are two different protests going on right now in Dearborn,” Yara Beydoun, an activist with the Yemeni Liberation Movement who attended the Lapeer Park protest, said. “We do not support the police, because if you support the police you cannot liberate oppressed people, because we know U.S. police work with Israel.”
Parallels between Black Lives Matter protests and the Palestinian movement were apparent throughout the day during Lapeer Park protest. Organizers there drew direct comparisons between the demands to abolish police and the abolishment of apartheid-like conditions for Palestinians in Israel.
“We understand that not only the majority of our money for our local communities go to the funding of police, which means that they effectively defund life-sustaining community institutions and resources, but that nearly $3.8 billion of our tax money goes to funding the Zionist entity,” Sahar Faraj, the general coordinator for the Palestinian Youth Movement said, referring to U.S. support for Israel. “So we’ve been saying defund the police — right? And what that means is we want to reinvest in our communities. So when we say defund Zionism, what we are saying, really, is reinvest in the world.”
During their march through Dearborn neighborhoods around Lapeer park, protestors oscillated between chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “Free Palestine,” and calls to end the Saudi U.S.-backed blockade on Yemen.
Iman Saleh, the general coordinator for the Yemeni Liberation Movement, told protestors that she believed many of the issues making headlines today — incluidng climate change, to the blockade in Yemen, and the occupation of Palestine — were all interconnected, and could only be addressed by demonstrating power in the streets.
“The U.S. military is not only supporting genocides they are also the biggest polluters in the world,” Saleh said. “They pollute more than 100 countries combined... So when we see U.S. bombs being dropped on Yemen and Palestine, or pollution poisoning the air in our communities, it means someone is choosing profit over human lives, over Black and brown lives. That’s why unity between our movements is everything.”