Hundreds of protestors gathered in front of Larcom City Hall in Ann Arbor on Saturday to express their support for Palestinians. Several protestors waved Palestinian flags in the air. Cardboard cutouts bore phrases like “Free Palestine” and ”End the Occupation,” while others carried the names of Palestinians who lost their lives to the Israeli Defense Forces.
U-M Dearborn Business junior Maha Faisal, one of the protesters, said continuing to protest was important for spreading awareness now that people are paying attention to the way that the actions of Israel are affecting Palestinans.
“We’re putting pressure on the whole world to be doing something,” Faisal said.
Before people began marching from City Hall down East William Street, South State Street and throughout downtown Ann Arbor, several community members spoke to the protestors gathered in front of City Hall.
U-M faculty member Dr. Abdul el-Sayed, a doctor and politician, began his speech saying he came as a “doctor, American and human being.” The former candidate for Michigan governor discussed his work in educating people about COVID-19. He said as a doctor, he was upset that the U.S. set conditions that put the health of Palestinian civilians at risk during the pandemic.
“I’ve watched (as) 3.5 billion dollars of our government taxpayer money (has) funded a military that has destroyed testing facilities for COVID-19, killed some of the leading doctors in Gaza, and kicked off a third wave of COVID-19 in the Gaza strip,” el-Sayed said.
El-Sayed also discussed how he is using his voice as an American to speak out against injustice where he sees it, understanding that the U.S. government has contributed to the plight of Palestinian people.
“Born and raised in this country, I was told … we hold self-evident that all people are created equal, and yet I’m watching my government allow one people to violate the justice and human rights of another,” el-Sayed said. “As an American, I will not stand for it.”
El-Sayed passionately emphasized the importance of recognizing humanitarian crises and advocating for justice.
“As a human and all the things that come with — a father, son, as a brother, as a friend—we’re all sick and tired of watching fathers and mothers tell stories about their dead babies,” el-Sayed said. “I don’t have to be Arab. I don’t have to be Muslim. I just have to be human. … This is a fight that is not about identity. This is about ideas.”
Law School student Rihan Issa began her speech by saying her grandmother is older than the country of Israel.
“Within her lifetime, she was born into a country that was her own and then had it (taken) away from her,” Issa said. “My family’s story is not unique. We see the suffering of our sisters and brothers in Palestine, and yet the country we live in is complicit in the ethnic cleansing of our people.”
U-M alum Amer Zahr criticized U.S. President Joe Biden’s stance on Israel. Recently, Biden defended Israel’s right to self-defense in a statement and encountered thousands of protestors who expressed their disapproval of his stance on Israel-Palestine relations when he visited Dearborn, Mich. on May 18. Zahr criticized American politicians’ reluctance to condemn the Israeli government and said Southeast Michigan is lucky to have politicians like Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who has been a vocal opponent to U.S. involvement with Israel.
“Last year (politicians) walked into our communities and said, ‘Please, vote for (Democrats) — save democracy from President Trump,’” Zahr said. “Today we say, ‘Save Palestine from Joe Biden.’”
Recently, the tensions between Israel and Palestine escalated when an Israeli court ordered Palestinian families residing in Sheikh Jarrah to be evicted by May 6, leading to a clash between Israeli police forces and Palestinian protestors. The case has been appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court, which is set to rule by early June on whether the evictions can go forward. On Friday at 2 a.m., Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire after 11 days of war, destruction and casualties in the Gaza strip. Several protesters held signs stating that a ceasefire was not an end to destruction and war.
Zahr talked about how mainstream media constantly calls the humanitarian crisis a conflict and asked the audience, “Is it a conflict?” to which the audience yelled back “No.” He also criticized how mainstream media outlets use the term “eviction” when describing the recent events in Jerusalem.
“When you get kicked out from where you live because you are of the wrong religion or the wrong race, we have a name for that,” Zahr said. “That’s called ethnic cleansing.”
As the day went on, hundreds of people from the crowd began to march the streets and raised their voices to shout chants including “Free free Palestine”, “Hey hey ho ho, the occupation’s got to go,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
During the pandemic, amid a groundswell of social media activism and protests across the globe, awareness and support for Palestine has grown.
Business graduate student Lexis Zeidan said it is important to inform the world about what is happening in Palestine and to continue to fight for Palestinian liberation.
“This entire world is beginning to see … my people rise up and resist,” Zeidan said. “While they drop bombs in Gaza, we drop seeds of hope.”
Daily Staff Reporter Nirali Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Israeli Supreme Court ordered evictions from Sheikh Jarrah. That order actually came from a lower court and has been appealed to the Supreme Court.