DEARBORN, Mich. – Close to 1,000 Arab-Americans and others marched through the Detroit suburb of Dearborn on Tuesday evening, waving Palestinian flags and shouting slogans to protest Israeli military strikes against the Gaza Strip.
Protesters braving 30-degree weather filled eight blocks of a major thoroughfare in Dearborn, widely seen as the heart of Arab America. Hundreds more gathered in New York City and Los Angeles outside the Israeli consulate, with rallies also reported in two cities in Florida.
Since Saturday, 374 Palestinians have died in the Israeli air onslaught against Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers. Most of the dead were members of Hamas security forces but the United Nations says at least 64 civilians have been killed.
The offensive came shortly after a rocky six-month truce expired. Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets and mortars at Israel before and during the Israeli offensive.
Marchers in Dearborn waved flags and carried signs condemning Israel and showing pictures of casualties of the fighting. One group of protesters carried a mock coffin decorated with pictures of dead and injured children and labeled "U.S. Tax Dollars at Work" and "Victims of Zionism."
Some marchers chanted in English, "Gaza, Gaza don't cry, Palestine will never die" and "Israel is a terrorist state."
Others chanted, in Arabic, "God is Great" and "a martyr is beloved of God."
One protester carried a sign saying "Dearborn, take your shoes off!" a reference to the action of an Iraqi protester who threw shoes at President George W. Bush during his recent visit to Iraq.
Southeastern Michigan is home to around 300,000 people with roots in the Arab world, the result of more than a century of immigration.
About 50 people gathered Tuesday on the University of Michigan-Flint campus to protest the Israeli attacks, The Flint Journal reported.
The Tampa Tribune reported that University of South Florida sophomore Jehad Saleh, 19, started a group on social networking site Facebook on Sunday, encouraging Palestinian supporters to gather for the protest.
Demonstrators lined a Tampa highway Tuesday, waving Palestinian and American flags and yelling through megaphones.
"I've had cousins in the Gaza Strip who died," Saleh told the newspaper. "If their voice can't be heard, mine will."
Further south in Fort Lauderdale, at least 200 pro-Palestinian demonstrators and a smaller group of pro-Israel protesters lobbed charges at each other Tuesday evening at an intersection, according to the Miami Herald.
Palestinian supporters yelled: "You kill our children!"
"No! You kill your own children!" Israel supporters responded.
Outside the Israeli consulates in Manhattan and Los Angeles, protesters Tuesday waved Palestinian flags and chanted "Free Palestine."
New York demonstrator Dalia Mahmoud said she was "shocked" at Israel's actions and that it was "punishing an entire population for the actions of a few."
Police barricades separated the protesters from a smaller pro-Israel rally across the street, where one demonstrator carried a sign reading "Israel must defend itself."
A few miles south at City Hall, Israeli Consul General Asaf Shariv met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, displaying for reporters an exploded rocket that killed an Israeli woman out for a walk.
"We are obligated to defend our people, and that is what we are doing," Shariv said.
Bloomberg voiced his support.
"I can only think what would happen in this country if somebody was lobbing missiles onto our shores or across the border," he said.
On Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, one pro-Israel sign read, "Hamas, stop using children as human shields." A Palestinian supporter's sign declared, "End the siege, end the bloodshed."
The Dearborn protest was organized by the Congress of Arab American Organizations. Group spokesman Osama Siblani, who is also publisher of the Arab American News, said it was the first in a series of actions being planned in response to the Gaza fighting, including a candlelight vigil for peace and a petition calling for a cease-fire.
"There is disappointment and anger in our community and we need to express it toward the current U.S. administration that has given a blank check to the Israelis," Siblani said.
A memorial service for victims of the fighting scheduled for Tuesday was delayed because the reception hall could not fit all the protesters.