Members of the greater Lansing community gathered for a demonstration outside of Rep. Elissa Slotkin’s Lansing office on May 18 to show solidarity for Palestinians on strike in Israel and the occupied territories.
The Greater Lansing Democratic Socialists for America (DSA) organized the demonstration to show solidarity with Palestinians and to encourage Slotkin to vote for House Resolution 2590, a house resolution conditioning U.S. aid to Israel, Alexander Sahouri, one of the organizers of the event, said.
House Resolution 2590 was introduced to support the human rights of Palestinians and ensure that all American aid sent to Israel will not be used to “support the military detention of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.”
The collective strike by Palestinians follows weeks of air raids and bombings in Gaza and Israel between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas, a militant group within the State of Palestine. The nonstop violence began after Palestinians protested the eviction of 13 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, a contested neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
The bombings have led to a devastating death toll for Palestinian citizens in Gaza, which includes many women and children. According to a report from The New York Times, Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 213 people in Gaza between May 10 and May 18, dozens of which have been Palestinian children.
Israel has said that they have not initiated any violence and only retaliate against air attacks from Hamas. However, according to a BBC article, Hamas officials stated they did not begin the violence until the forced removal of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah and the raid of the Aqsa mosque by IDF on May 7, the third-holiest religious site in Islam.
“We're here in solidarity with the Palestinian Civil Society and their call for a global day of action on May 18th,” Sahouri said. “So, we're following the Palestinian people's lead on the ground, resisting occupation and apartheid. And that's really important. It's really exciting that we're showing that support.”
Protesters gathered in the parking lot of Slotkin’s office at the corner of Saginaw Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Lansing. The protesters lined up on the side of the road to display Palestinian flags and signs of support for Palestinian people and condemning the U.S. and Israeli government to the passing traffic.
Sahouri and other protesters led chants on a speaker that rang loudly and clearly over the traffic such as “Free Free Palestine” or “From the land to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The chants continued throughout the entire demonstration.
In between chants, they played Palestinian music such as Mali Huriye by DAM as well as riveting poems about the struggle for freedom from Palestinian poet Rafeef Ziadah.
Sajedah Yousef, a Palestinian immigrant, said she attended the protest with her three sons because she was forced to leave her home country, and her friends that could not leave are under constant threat.
“We came here to protest against what's happening in our land, our holy land Palestine,” Yousef said. “So, we are against occupation. We are against the killing that's happening in Gaza and Jerusalem, against killing the innocent, the children, the women.”
Yousef and her sons stood at the front of the group facing the road, proudly displaying their Palestinian flags and chanting loudly for drivers waiting at the red light.
Yousef's pain was common amongst demonstrators who were Muslim. Belal, a 17-year-old Lansing resident that asked for his last name not to be published, said that the pain in Palestine can be felt throughout the Muslim world.
“The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘When one part of the body, when one part of the Muslim Ummah (community) is hurt, it's like the whole body is hurt,’” Belal said. “So, we see Palestine as one of us, one of like the Muslim leaders, a Muslim country. And when it gets hurt, it hurts us as well.”
Protesters also made signs condemning the United States’ role in the violence as Israel’s closest ally. The United States blocked a joint statement from the United Nations calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and President Joe Biden has been hesitant to speak about any of the attacks committed by the IDF.
“You have two blue-chip organizations, B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch, both calling Israeli society apartheid,” Sahouri said. “When you have two blue chips saying that sort of thing, it's important that as Americans, we don't support that kind of stuff.”
Other demonstrators echoed Sahouri’s remarks and called for more action from the United States government. Sam Burton, a 2019 Michigan State graduate with a master’s degree in mathematics, said that he would like to see more support for Palestinians from the American Jewish community as an American Jew himself.
“Now, as someone of Jewish background myself … it's something that I can't allow to be done in my name,” Burton said. “And I mean, I like to think that I couldn't anyway, but especially in the United States with American Jewish identity, there's such a concerted effort to tie it to the State of Israel. Israel is an apartheid state.”
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Burton said that he would like to see more American Jews serve as an ally to Palestinians and support a one-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
“I think that they should support a one-state solution, a full democracy with equal rights across the board,” Burton said. “I think that the idea of a Jewish state is connected in a lot of people's minds to the memory of the Holocaust. But like a Jewish state is an ethnostate and the memory of the Holocaust should, for American Jews, lead them to oppose this categorically.”
Many people that passed by the gathering honked or raised a fist out of their window as a sign of solidarity with the demonstration.
A lone counter-protester, 20-year-old Okemos resident Ethan Golde, arrived a half-hour into the protest and stood on the opposite side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in an IDF sweatshirt with an Israeli flag and a sign that read, “Israel: Winning wars started by Arabs since 1948,” along with a drawing of the Star of David.
Golde said that he wanted to come to show people that there are two sides to this issue and he believes that the narrative has been distorted to color Israel in a negative light that could lead to antisemitism.
“So, I've spent almost a cumulative two years in Israel and you kind of know what it's like to live under the terror of Hamas,” Golde said. “And I am a little bit uncomfortable with the distortion of the narrative that's happening this week in a lot of the news and on this corner.”
Golde said that he follows Lansing DSA on Twitter and wanted to ensure that both sides were visible during the demonstration for people who saw.
“I'm a very hard democrat and often progressive but was uncomfortable with their take on this issue and so I felt like there needed to be someone here,” Golde said. “So, it's just to make sure that everyone who drives by knows that there is another side of the story and there are people who don't believe that Palestine as a whole is oppressed by Jews.”
Protesters were perturbed by Golde’s presence and increased the volume and frequency of their chants, but it did not escalate beyond that point and remained entirely peaceful throughout.
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