On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “far too many Palestinians have been killed.” Still, despite mass protests in Michigan, Washington, D.C., and around the world demanding a ceasefire, Biden says there is “no possibility” of one being brokered, while in Congress, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle express overwhelming approval for Israel’s extensive military assault, which they see as an exercise of its right to defend itself. Recently, a cohort of Republicans introduced a bill to bar Palestinians from obtaining U.S. residency and revoke certain visas and asylum already awarded; and the House, including 22 Democrats, voted to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the sole Palestinian American member of Congress, for her remarks supporting the Palestinian cause, which many members saw as anti-Jewish.
None of this is sitting well with the citizens of Dearborn, home to the nation’s largest enclave of Arab Americans.
“It’s just astonishing the immorality that we have now,” Shehada says, “that people are seeing this, their governments are seeing this. And nobody’s saying a word.”
These residents here in Dearborn, which borders Detroit-proper, and Farmington Hills, which is a half-hour drive northwest of Detroit, are a diverse lot — young and old, Christian and Muslim, representing a mix of families whose ancestors arrived here almost a century ago from Lebanon and historic Palestine and those who landed here just a decade or two ago fleeing conflicts in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, among other countries.
What unites the Arab American residents in metro Detroit at this moment is a sense of abandonment by their representatives in government. As the official Palestinian death toll surpasses 10,000, residents feel blindsided by what they see as the White House’s apathy towards Palestinian lives and its unconditional material support for Israel’s military operations. According to a new poll from the Arab American Institute, support for Biden’s reelection in 2024 has plummeted by 42 percent among Arab Americans, who typically vote blue. Nationwide, 68 percent of Arab Americans support a ceasefire in Gaza and think the U.S. should stop sending military supplies to Israel.
Many Arab Americans in this swing state of Michigan, who overwhelmingly voted for Biden in 2020, say they are considering sitting out the next presidential election.
“We’ve never experienced something like this before,” says Takween Dwaik, a 53-year-old mental health counselor, who grew up in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Northern Gaza, which was recently bombed. Some of her siblings and their families have been injured by airstrikes while evacuating. Dwaik has also lost a nephew and her husband lost an infant grand-niece to the shelling. “The thing that hurts so bad is that the weapons get paid for with our tax money.
“They’re using our tax money to kill our loved ones.”
Tlaib represents the congressional district neighboring Dwaik’s, but Dwaik is frustrated that members of Congress seemed more hurt by the congresswoman’s words than the “deaths of children in Gaza,” she says. Tlaib “didn’t say those things from a vacuum,” she says. “The Palestinian people have been suffering for so many years. … I don’t know why they choose to [overlook] this.”
The U.S. Census lumps Arab Americans into the white population, which “erases” the many particular challenges this community faces, says Rima Meroueh, director of the National Network of Arab American Communities. With roots in 22 different countries, from Egypt to Lebanon to Sudan, the Arab and Arabic-speaking populations in Michigan are not a monolith; their experiences, beliefs and problems vary based on gender, age, national origin and many other factors. Nor have they remained politically static over time. In 2000, Arab Americans made up a reliably Republican constituency, but shifted to voting Democrat in the post 9-11 years. In 2020, 74 percent of Arab Americans held a favorable view of Biden. Dearborn matched that share with 74 percent of voters casting ballots for Biden in the last presidential election.
Dearborn is, in many ways, quintessentially Midwestern — a company town, a union town, a migrant town. The first Arabs arrived in the Detroit area in the late 1800s. They were Syrians and Lebanese Christians who sought employment in the heart of America’s roaring auto industry. By the time that industry collapsed in the 1960s, the enclave already contained a critical mass of Arab Americans that attracted newcomers. Successive waves of Lebanese, Chaldeans, Iraqis and Palestinians arrived in the post-World War period and settled there seeking safety from conflict, as well as religious and civic freedom — and avenues to prosperity. But they were not always welcome. After 9/11, being Arab American meant being at risk for not just Islamophobic hate but also structural discrimination and government targeting — surveillance, special registries and watchlists. Dearborn bore the brunt of that. Today, the area remains the core of Arab America, its epicenter. Strips of commerce — halal burger joints, chicken shops, hookah bars and Yemeni cafés — are concentrated in corridors between boxy factories and wide roads. Arabic signage is everywhere.
While complexity is an inherent characteristic of the area, the issue of Palestinian rights is a grand unifier for Arab Americans here. An Arab American Institute poll from earlier this year found that when it came to U.S.-Arab relations, the issue of Palestinian rights was the most cited concern among younger Arab Americans (18-49 years old). Older generations (50 years old and above) tended to cite humanitarian crises in Syria and Lebanon. After October 7, however, both older and younger Arab Americans in Dearborn seem aligned.