Palestinian Americans in Dearborn say they 'will never forget' Biden's stance on Gaza

In the Arab capital of America, two Palestinian Americans vow not to vote for the US President again

How a broken promise made by Joe Biden cost him a Palestinian American's vote

How a broken promise made by Joe Biden cost him a Palestinian American's vote
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Amid a bout of Covid four years ago, Mohammad Qazzaz, a Palestinian American who lives in Dearborn, Michigan, got a phone call from then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, who was running against Donald Trump.

What should have been a five-minute call as part of a campaign effort to reach out to Americans during the pandemic turned into a 20-minute conversation about Palestine, Israel and US efforts to broker peace in the region.

Mr Qazzaz spoke about his family who, for the past 800 years, have been the muezzins of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, while Mr Biden spoke about his Irish ancestry.

Later that year, Mr Qazzaz enthusiastically checked the box with Mr Biden's name and he was pleased when he won.

But Mr Qazzaz, like many Arab and Muslim Americans in Michigan, says he will not be casting a vote for Mr Biden this year due to his handling of the war in Gaza.

“I really had hope that things towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were going to be different,” Mr Qazzaz, who owns a coffee company in Dearborn, tells The National.

“I'm extremely disappointed and I will not vote for him again.”

On election day, he will be writing “Free Palestine” on his ballot, he added.

Since October 7, many Arab Americans in Michigan have become increasingly furious with Mr Biden over his support for Israel and have vowed not to vote for him again.

A vote for presumed Republican candidate Donald Trump, who banned travellers from several Muslim-majority countries, is also unthinkable.

The situation could prove consequential for Mr Biden in the battleground state he narrowly won last time.

Amid concerns he could lose the must-win state, Mr Biden sent senior administration officials last week to meet elected officials and local leaders to try to win voters back.

Dearborn is a sprawling suburb on the outskirts of Detroit and is home to the Ford Motor Company.

The city and the wider Wayne County area is also home to the highest concentration of Arabs and people of Arab descent in the US, earning it the nickname “the Capital of Arab America”.

Restaurants and shops with signs in Arabic and in English line both sides of the main street, and the city is home to the only Arab-American museum in the country. Dearborn has an Arab mayor and an Arab chief of police.

More than a century ago, lured by jobs in the car industry, mainly Christian Lebanese immigrants began settling in Dearborn. Palestinians, Iraqis and Yemenis followed.

Officials say the city has not only the largest but also the most diverse Arab community in the US.

While the Israel-Gaza war’s massive civilian death toll has ignited international outrage and demands for a ceasefire, in Michigan, Mr Biden’s staunch support for Israel has incensed Arab and Muslim Americans on a personal level.

Alaa Ali, who grew up in Gaza’s Al Rimal neighbourhood, is an emergency physician in Woodhaven, a city in Wayne County.

He says he has lost more than 100 relatives in the war, including his youngest brother Mohammad, who never returned from a trip to get water.

The family suspect he was shot by an Israeli sniper after friends said they had seen him in hospital a few days later. His body was never recovered.

“At the moment I learnt about what happened, I wished I was the one who was killed,” Dr Ali tells The National from his clinic.

“I felt it not just because I lost a brother – of course, this is the worst feeling – but I felt that I killed him.

“I paid for the bullet or the bomb from my taxes.”

Dr Ali says his five siblings and their families remain in Gaza, where they have been displaced several times and are struggling to find food and water.

He is part of a group of more than 100 Palestinians from Gaza who live in Michigan – and all have lost relatives there, he says.

They all share a sense of betrayal by Mr Biden, whom they accuse of complicity in the killings of loved ones back home.

Most in that group, including Dr Ali, voted for Mr Biden last time around.

“We will never forget,” he says, alluding to recent remarks by Mr Biden that the election is still a long way away.

Like many Palestinian Americans, he points to Mr Biden’s bypassing of Congress to approve weapons sales to Israel and his playing down of the number of Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza.

He says he is gripped by fear and worry for his siblings, his nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles back in Gaza who have scattered to different locations, in constant flight amid incessant Israeli strikes on the coastal enclave.

With limited connectivity and access to power there, days often go by without news of their whereabouts, causing him to fear the worst.

“Every single night is worse than the other,” Dr Ali says.

“I'm a body without a soul. My soul has been buried in Gaza.”

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Updated: February 20, 2024, 11:21 AM