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Regional Interests

Thousands March for ‘Free Palestine’ in San Francisco as Airstrikes and Rocket Attacks Continue

Sabreen Imtair rallied in San Francisco for her people’s freedom more than 7,000 miles away.

Imtair was born in Palestine. Her mother and siblings live in the Kalandia refugee camp in East Jerusalem, a place rife with overcrowding, unemployment and “frequent incursions by Israeli Forces,” according to the United Nations. Imtair’s grandmother has oft-spoken reverently of caring for the land, like the olive trees her grandfather used to nurture.

On Saturday, as Imtair joined more than 5,000 others at a rally and march in the city, violence continued in Israel and Gaza, disproportionally hurting Palestinian lives.

“I am worried about them,” Imtair said of her family.

The march in the Mission District took place in solidarity with similar demonstrations across the world.

Like Imtair, many at the demonstration in San Francisco were from across the Bay Area and other parts of the state, but trace roots back to Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Many of them called on President Joe Biden to reduce aid to Israel because of its military assault.

Thousands march in solidarity with Palestine in San Francisco’s Mission District on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Beginning with speakers and poetry at 16th and Valencia Streets, the swelling crowd later marched down Mission Street, shouting “free, free Palestine!” and waving Palestinian flags, blanketing the street in red, black, white and green.

For days, Israeli airstrikes have leveled buildings in Gaza, and Hamas rockets have rained down on Israeli cities. Violence has erupted in mixed communities were Jews and Palestinians live.

After close to a week of violence, 188 people in Gaza have been killed, and eight Israelis killed, according to the Associated Press, as of Sunday morning. More than 900 have reportedly been wounded.

The rally’s date, May 15, was also Nakba Day — which to Palestinians means disaster or catastrophe — and describes the day 73 years ago when Israel was created.

Thousands marched in the Free Palestine protest in San Francisco, Saturday, as seen in the citizen video footage above. 

Back in San Francisco, Eman Ghaith, a Tracy resident, said she marched to push for the liberation of her people.

Ghaith says her family live in a small village just ten minutes away from Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which has seen Israeli police raids last week that left hundreds of Palestinians and police officers wounded, inflaming tensions between Hamas and Israeli forces. Ghaith says her family is under constant police surveillance. It can take two hours for them to cross through barricades to reach the mosque to pray.

Thousands march in solidarity with Palestine in San Francisco’s Mission District on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Ghaith’s father was pushed from his home in the Six-Day-War of 1967 and came to the United States, she said. Laws regarding who is allowed to return home — and who is not — after other such battles partly sparked the latest violence, as Palestinians living in areas settled afterward say they’re victims of discriminatory housing laws that favor Israelis.

Ghaith said just who has power, and who doesn’t, makes a difference.

“I don’t like calling it conflict. It’s not a conflict. It’s a colonized apartheid that has been going on since the 40s,” Ghaith said. “You can’t call that conflict when one person is oppressing class and one person is an oppressor. And we all know the rest is history.”

Mahmoud Shaqqour was also at the rally, who traces his mother’s roots back to Ramallah, and his father’s to Nablus, both cities in the West Bank, Shaqqour said his family was displaced to Jordan, and he eventually moved to Belmont. While the U.S. has given billions of dollars to Israel for decades to stave off threats from neighboring countries, Shaqquor says the money also goes toward violence against his former home.

“I wish U.S. is more responsible when they are giving aids to Israel,” he said. “I wish they look at fact and see that they used this money to kill children, and women.”

Thousands march in solidarity with Palestine in San Francisco’s Mission District on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The Israeli consulate in San Francisco calls Hamas, the militant group fighting from Gaza, a violent terrorist organization responsible for attacking Israel.

“As long as we see rockets fired, killing Israeli civilians and targeting the Israeli population, it is very difficult to talk about ceasefire,” said Matan Zamir, deputy consul general of the Israeli Consulate to the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s not only our right, I think it’s our duty our citizens,” Zamir said. “It’s our obligation to make sure that we don’t see 1,100 rockets fired at our civilians. I don’t see any other country in the world allowing such a thing to happen.”

The United Nations Security Council met Sunday to discuss the ongoing violence.

Copyright 2021 KQED