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Ceasefire protestors pressure elected officials during Lansing rally

Dozens of people gathered outside the Michigan state Capitol and governor’s mansion this weekend to call for a lasting ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli officials estimate around 1,200 people in Israel died during a surprise Hamas attack on Oct. 7. Hamas also seized around 240 hostages during that raid.

In the days and weeks since, Israel has conducted counterstrike campaigns with a death toll that Palestinian officials said approaches 15,000 people. International organizations including the World Health Organization say most of the lives lost have been women and children.

Mohamad Ashry attended the Lansing rally Saturday evening with his family. He said he comes from Egypt but carried a Palestinian flag. He said he feels Palestinians have been treated as less than human during this conflict.

“Every one of them, they are not just numbers. These are human beings. Everyone has a dream, and everyone has a story. But right now, no one cares about them. Even our own government in the United States, they are funding this war sending the weapons, sending the money, sending heavy support,” Ashry said.

During the protest, speakers and attendees lamented the U.S. government’s backing of the Israeli government in the conflict.

That’s despite rising criticism from the United Nations and human rights organizations over the high number of civilian casualties and Palestinians displaced.

The Israeli government and Biden administration have defended the offensive as part of Israel’s right to self-defense in its fight against Hamas.

Organizers of the Saturday event lined the Capitol steps with candles the color of the Palestinian flag, and bloodied figures wrapped up to resemble body bags. A sign that read “human shield” in capital letters stood nearby.

They were representing the children lost during the recent escalation.

“It wasn’t 60, it wasn’t 600, it was 6,000+ children that died. How could I not be here?” attendee Aklima Hossain said, referencing reports of the number of child casualties in Gaza, when asked why it was important for her to come to Lansing.

A temporary ceasefire took effect Friday, allowing for the swap of some captives on both sides of the conflict. But demonstrators said it's not enough.

Sonya Khal helped organize the rally. She and others led chants criticizing elected officials, including President Joe Biden and Governor Gretchen Whitmer for their support of the Israeli government.

“We’re going to push the envelope. And this is to let them we’re not going to stop, no matter what kind of temporary pause you put together. Whatever temporary ceasefire, whatever they want to call it today, tomorrow, the next day, we’re not going to stop ‘til we get a permanent ceasefire,” Khal said.

On both the Capitol lawn, and outside of the governor’s mansion, speakers called on the crowd to stop supporting Democratic candidates that back Israel.

“The Michigan Democratic Party has begun having internal discussions and outreach on how to ease political tensions with the Arab American community and work towards unity among all Democratic constituencies,” a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party said on background.

Meanwhile, a couple dozen state lawmakers sent a letter to Biden last week also calling for a permanent ceasefire.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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