Hundreds gathered in a theater in Dearborn, Michigan, on Tuesday night to share their support for the Palestinian cause and condemn the Israeli government.
Palestinian militants fighting for Hamas stormed into Israel on Saturday, killing over 1,000 people and taking dozens hostage in a multi-pronged offensive. Hamas said the attack was retribution for worsening conditions for Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Israel formally declared war on Sunday and has been pummelling the sealed-off and densely populated Gaza Strip with airstrikes. U.S. Palestinian health authorities in Gaza said on Tuesday that 830 Palestinians in the territory had been killed since Saturday. Israel has also stopped entry of food, fuel and medicine into Gaza, worsening the already abysmal humanitarian conditions in the tiny territory of 2.3 million people—half of them children.
Videos on social media showed supporters waving Palestinian flags and chanting “free, free Palestine” inside the packed Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.
A poster advertising the rally said the event condemned “racist ethnic cleansing” and an “inhumane blockade.”
Speakers at the event said support for Palestinians should not be viewed as antisemitic or extreme, but criticism of Israeli foreign policy and Zionism.
“Now, if you’re expressing support to Palestinians, automatically you’re pro-Hamas, that’s not true,” Imad Hamad, the executive director of the American Human Rights Council. “I’m talking about Palestinians, I’m talking about innocent people. I’m talking about millions of lives.”
Palestinian Americans at the rally said their frustration has grown after not being able to contact family members and after international leaders ignored past and current calls for support, The Detroit News reported.
Mohammed Abdul Salam, who works with the Palestine Aid Society, told the crowd that “we are not here to celebrate anything,” according to the newspaper.
“We mourn this destruction. 900 civilians, including 260 children and 230 women, along with 200,000 displaced living in United Nations Schools. The root cause of all wars and problems in Palestine is the occupation. Therefore, the only solution is to end the occupation.”
Salam also criticized President Joe Biden.
“People of Gaza are human beings, too, with dignity, and not as the Israel prime minister calls them, animals,” he said. “We will hold the Biden administration accountable for the restriction of water, food and medical supplies to Gaza. We condemn death on both sides. We do not accept that Jewish lives are superior. For Mr. Biden, we will remember next November.”
David Finkel, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace-Detroit, told the audience that the group “stands with the Palestinian community in the struggle for justice.”
He said: “Stop the siege of Gaza. End the occupation and Israeli apartheid. Free Palestine.”
On social media, many were critical of the rally.
Gabriel Noronha, a fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, called it “celebratory.”
“A celebratory rally was held in Dearborn, Michigan this evening – they asked children to come on stage,” Noronha wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
Others expressed support, with one person writing: “Dearborn is a wonderful city, this shouldn’t be surprising, I applaud what they are doing and I support the fight of the Palestinian people for freedom.”
Update 10/11/23, 8:40 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to add additional information.