Israel-Hamas conflict prompts pro-Palestinian demonstrations

DEARBORN, Mich. — While the United States is lining up behind its ally Israel in the wake of the deadly Hamas attack, there was also a surge of support for the Palestinian cause on the streets of some of the nation’s biggest cities.

In New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, small but passionate groups of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered Sunday and demanded that Israel end its decadeslong blockade of the Gaza Strip, and said that the Palestinian story was being drowned out by the unfolding tragedy in Israel.

But amid the cries of “Free Palestine,” there were also some who condemned Hamas’ deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians.

“We are against killing civilians,” said a Palestinian American in Chicago, who asked not to be identified by name. “We’re against that.”

The outcry from the Palestinian emigre community came just before Israeli officials ordered a “full siege” of Gaza and as the world was digesting horrific videos and accounts of Israelis being taken hostage and gunned down in their homes by masked Hamas gunmen.

As of Monday, at least 700 people have been killed in Israel, including 73 soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces reported. Meanwhile, some 560 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

And at least nine U.S. citizens have been killed, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Ayah Tomaleh, a Palestinian American in Chicago, said Palestinian civilians trapped in Gaza were also in danger as Israeli forces launched aerial assaults on Hamas positions in the densely populated territory.

“We won’t lose hope, but it’s something, especially with the Western media in America, it’s something we’re used to at this point,” he said Sunday. “Like seeing the one-sided conversation and how people support Israel all the time.”

So Tomaleh said he was heartened to see so many people showing support for their side.

“We can’t get hurt over that anymore, because it’s kind of the norm now,” he said. “But we get happy and we have hope when we see someone siding with us.”

In Dearborn, which has one of the largest concentrations of Arab Americans in the U.S., there were no organized demonstrations. But in interviews with reporters, residents said they wanted the violence and civilian killings to stop — and they wanted their side to be heard.

“We just want both countries to resolve their issues and come to peace,” said Nathan Al, 37, an Iraqi native who moved to Michigan in 1996. “Israel is being supported and Palestine is considered a terrorist and not being heard.”

He said that was not fair.

“I don’t see how Israel is not labeled a terrorist country when they’ve taken over Palestinian land and forced them out,” Al said. “How is that not terrorism?”

More than half of Dearborn’s population is of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry, according to NBC affiliate WVID in Detroit. It is also home to the Arab American National Museum, the only museum of its kind in the U.S.

The attack on Israel by Hamas caught many Dearborn residents by surprise, forcing them to once again contend with the decadeslong struggle over Gaza since Israel seized the territory from Egyptian control in 1967. The battle between the Palestinians and Israel dates back even further to 1948, when the Jewish state was founded.

Abdullah H. Hammoud, who was elected Dearborn’s first Arab American mayor in 2021, said in a post on X that the violence was predictable.

“Israel’s decades of illegal military occupation and imprisonment of Gaza made peace impossible and tragic violence inevitable,” he said. “Israel has trapped millions of Palestinians in Gaza in what is recognized by the international community as the world’s largest open-air prison.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza estimated Sunday that more than 313 Palestinians were killed and almost 2,000 injured.

Other Dearborn residents echoed Hammoud’s remarks.

“I don’t think it’s right attacking civilians and shooting down buildings on either side,” said Ahmad Imgoter, 26, a Dearborn native of Iraqi descent.

The “only solution,” he said, is for Israel to hand over complete control of Gaza and other territories it controls to the Palestinian people.

While Hamas rules inside Gaza, Israel controls its northern border, as well as its territorial waters and airspace. The southern border of the Palestinian enclave in which 2.4 million people live in crowded conditions is controlled by Egypt.

A 23-year-old Lebanese woman who lives in Dearborn and, fearing reprisals, asked to be identified by her first name, Nour, said that many of her Arab American neighbors have mixed feelings about the latest war with Israel.

“We don’t want the violence,” she said. “A lot of Arabs here want to free Palestine because we feel like Israel took it from them. We don’t want bloodshed, but at the end of the day, it’s what needs to happen.”

A 40-year-old Michigan man, who is from Iraq but now lives in Dearborn, said he wants the killing to end but doubts it will happen soon given the historic tension.

“Every year, they’re fighting with each other, he said. “They’ll be fighting again next year.”

Deon Hampton reported from Dearborn, Maggie Vespa from Chicago and Corky Siemaszko from New York City.

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