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Protesters gather in front of Dearborn Hotel during meeting with White House officials

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Posted at 5:23 PM, Feb 08, 2024

DEARBORN, Mich. (WXYZ) — On Thursday, senior advisors from the White House met with Dearborn-area leaders to discuss U.S. policy and the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

The meeting took place at the Dearborn Administrative Center on Michigan Ave. and comes after months of pressure from community members for the U.S. to call for a ceasefire.

Several dozen protesters, who received word that there was another meeting taking place at the Henry Hotel in Dearborn, gathered on the business's front lawn for hours Thursday afternoon.

"We’re not going to budge. We’re not going to continue to let America think our voices aren’t important," said activist Misydah Ghanem as she stood with a megaphone and sign in hand.

Ghanem says as a Palestinian American, it has been very difficult to watch the war taking place overseas.

"I have a friend who lost 83 family members. That’s 83 people in one family that are gone and I can’t even fathom that. How do you bury 83 people? How do you say goodbye to 83 people," said Ghanem. "Sometimes I can’t look. I can’t look for my mental health."

Protesters say their demands are simple: Ceasefire now.

"The ask is very clear. I am from the West Bank. One of my relatives was murdered. 37 years old. She was shot in her car while her husband was driving. Her son was in the back. She leaves eight children behind. What do you think my ask is," said Imran Salha who is the Imam of The Islamic Center of Detroit.
"I want the killing to stop. I want Israel to be held accountable. That’s it."

Protesters say the demonstration today was not only to raise awareness of the situation on the ground in Gaza but also to shift U.S. policy as civilians are still actively dying as a result of the bombings.

"It’s not our campaign or our people that are costing this election. We are citizens of this country and our president has a responsibility to our people and our demands," said community activist Lexis Zeidan. "We are demanding that we recognize that human lives are on the line. We’re demanding that we do something as a country to save these lives cause this is our moral and ethical responsibility and that’s simply our message. How Biden and his administration choose to respond will determine whether Trump will get back in office."

While some community leaders like Dearborn Heights Mayor Bill Bazzi declined to attend the meeting with WH senior advisors, several state reps and the mayor of Dearborn were there.

"It is unconscionable to engage in diplomatic discussions while innocent civilians are being torn apart and killed by this senseless violence," Bazzi wrote in a statement to 7 Action News. “Our priority must be to end this and ensure the safety and well-being of all civilians, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. I cannot in good conscience sit down today to discuss the dire humanitarian crisis with President Biden’s officials, on the same day that conversations continue to take place in Washington to further fund the distribution of yet more armaments that will be used against civilians."

Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, who attended the meeting, sent the following statement:

"At 10 a.m. this morning, we represented the voices of Dearborn in a two-hour-long policy discussion with senior advisors - not campaign staff - from the Biden Administration.

For the last several months, it has become increasingly clear that our position and viewpoints on the ongoing conflict have not been accurately captured by mainstream media and have failed to reach the highest office in our government.

This meeting was held to ensure that the White House and those with the ability to change the course of the genocide unfolding in Gaza very clearly hear and understand the demands of our community - directly from us. We remained uncompromising in our values and our demands for a permanent ceasefire, ending unrestricted military support to the State of Israel, and expediting humanitarian aid and funding to UNRWA, among others.

When I ran for mayor three years ago, it was to ensure the delivery of essential city services, not to be involved in foreign policy discussions. However, when foreign policy decisions directly impact the well-being of Dearborn residents, it is irresponsible to walk away from difficult policy conversations that can lead to saving the lives of innocent men, women, and children.

As citizens of the United States of America and representatives of the City of Dearborn, we have done our duty; now it is incumbent upon the President to do the same.”

Deputy County Executive Assad I. Turfe was also in attendance and released the following statement:

"In our pivotal meeting with White House officials, I stood together with other leaders from the Arab American and Muslim community in unwavering determination, pressing for an immediate and irrevocable ceasefire.

It's critical to understand that our decision to engage in dialogue with the administration was not taken lightly. We entered this conversation because of the necessity for our voices to be heard. Our community's pain must be acknowledged. This was about ensuring the administration sees the real impact of its policies, not just on foreign soil but right here, affecting our people, our families.

We made it clear that any future engagement with the administration is conditional upon real action. The developments in Gaza will serve as the benchmark for evaluating the effectiveness of the administration's actions. The Biden administration must act swiftly and decisively to end this violence, honoring the principles of justice and human rights.

Our commitment is steadfast, our demands are clear. We stand united in our call for action and peace."

- Assad I. Turfe, Deputy County Executive

Protesters say if they don’t see action now, Biden will not see their votes in November.

"This is not a Muslim cause. This is not an Arab cause. This is a cause for all of humanity. For Jews, Muslims, Christians, people of conscious. Whatever their ethnicity whatever their beliefs are. Many people are coming to see what the reality is of the situation on the ground," said Salha.

7 Action News reached out to the White House for comment Thursday but did not hear back.