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Pro-Palestinian Protesters Gathered For Biden's Dearborn Ford Plant Visit

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Joe Biden visited a Ford electric vehicle plant in Dearborn, Mich., today. As he toured the plant, several groups held protests to oppose his administration's policies in the Mideast, including U.S. support for Israel. WDET's Eli Newman has more.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Free, free Palestine.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Free, free Palestine.

ELI NEWMAN, BYLINE: One of the protests was held at a neighborhood park a few blocks from the Ford Dearborn plant. Nadeen Hamad's family are Palestinian refugees.

NADEEN HAMAD: My great-grandfather and my grandfather were kicked out of their homes. And ever since then, you know, the Palestinian pride has been - we were built on it. We were grown on it. So I brought everybody that, you know, feels the same with me to fight for the cause.

NEWMAN: Many protesters here feel the fighting in the Middle East is part of what they call a decades-long campaign of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel. Israel says the conflict is about stopping Hamas rockets from terrorizing its civilian population. Hamad has family in Lebanon and Yemen, too. Her sister Sarah says many people like them who live in Dearborn have family or know people who have suffered because of U.S. foreign policies in other parts of the region.

SARAH HAMAD: We have cousins who have been shot and murdered. It's hard, you know, that we live here and we get to, at least, be able to speak on it. So that's what we're choosing to do.

NEWMAN: Both sisters voted for President Biden during the last election, but they say they regret that decision.

N HAMAD: I thought I was doing the right thing by voting for Biden. And it turns out I ended up hurting my family back home more than when there was a Republican in office even though it was as bad as Trump, you know?

S HAMAD: Everything is - you can never win in politics. There's always evil. But it's the promise of, I'm going to be better, and you're not better. You're just as bad as him.

NEWMAN: Sarah Hamad points to the speakers and says rather than picking between Democrats or Republicans, she'd rather elect somebody totally different.

S HAMAD: Somebody like one of these leaders that see that everybody is equal, you know, that see that even though you can't make a huge change, you can make a change.

IMAN SALEH: So we know that Joe Biden is in the neighborhood right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

NEWMAN: Iman Saleh helped organize today's protest. She led a 23-day hunger strike in Washington, D.C., earlier this year to draw attention to the Saudi Arabian blockade of Yemen. She says the people who have gathered here today are united in what many here see as a shared struggle.

SALEH: When we talk about police here and Black lives here, we're also relating that to Palestinian lives in Palestine. We're seeing a lot of the same tactics that they used to oppress the people in these villages or in these cities overseas being used here on the streets in Detroit.

NEWMAN: Saleh and her groups have been using social media to organize protests. That's how Sham Al Alem found out about today's gathering. The 16-year-old was born in Syria and remembers the conflict there.

SHAM AL ALEM: I used to close my ears when I, like, hear the bombs. It was, like, a disaster, you know, and it was not good for me. And I know what kids is going through, and that's why I want to reach their voices. I see kids right now on Instagram crying and telling, Dad, please don't leave me. They don't have parents, you know? And that's why we want to come here.

NEWMAN: During his visit to the Ford plant in Dearborn, President Biden called out Palestinian American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and offered his prayers for her family in the West Bank.

For NPR News, I'm Eli Newman in Dearborn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.