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Regional Interests

Pro-Palestinian Demonstrators Rally at SF’s Israeli Consulate in Lead Up to Cease-Fire

Over 1,000 protesters gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco on Tuesday in solidarity with a general strike staged by Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel in response to ongoing attacks by the Israeli military.

The local action, among scores of similar demonstrations across the United States, comes as pressure grew on President Biden to push for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group fighting from Gaza.On Wednesday, Biden purportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he expects “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” according to a statement from the White House.

Israel unleashed another wave of airstrikes across Gaza early Thursday, killing at least one Palestinian and wounding several others, while Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel.

Later Thursday, the Israeli Cabinet said they have voted for a cease-fire plan after 11 days of fighting. Hamas spokesman Hazem Al Qassem said the militant group is open to a cease-fire if Israel stops its airstrikes on Gaza.

Still, many pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the U.S. insist a ceasefire does not go far enough.

“We will not stop coming out, resisting and raising our voices for Palestinian liberation until Palestine is free from the river to the sea,” said Wassim Hage, 26, a member of the Bay Area chapter of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), a pro-Palestine group that helped organize Tuesday’s rally.

Protester Jahmeih AlJahmi holds a sign that reads, ‘From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free’ during a pro-Palestine rally outside of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco on May 18, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Demonstrators filled an intersection in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, chanting in English, Arabic and Spanish for a free Palestine. Many hoisted Palestinian flags and wore keffiyehs, the colorful fabrics standing out against the grey palette of the city’s skyscrapers.

Dozens of San Francisco police officers were deployed in front of the building housing the Israeli Consulate, with a fence blocking the entrance.

As of Thursday, at least 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, had been killed in the now 11-day-old conflict, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. At least 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes, as Israeli bombs continue to wreak devastation on the densely populated region.

Hamas, meanwhile, has fired thousands of rockets into Israel, killing at least 12 people, including two children.

In a statement released during the protest, a representative of the Israeli Consulate said, “Israel remains committed to peace and stability and has made several attempts to de-escalate this crisis only to be met with thousands of Hamas rocket attacks, killing both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Despite mounting pressure from the U.S., Netanyahu has maintained that Israel will continue to bombard Gaza until it has sufficiently disabled Hamas’ military capability and prevented it from firing more rockets.

“It’s critical that there’s a series of actions over the course of weeks and over the course of time, because the violence and ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is something that is not stopping,” Hage said.

A line of police stand in front of the Israeli Consulate during Tuesday’s rally in San Francisco. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The current conflict, the first major flare-up between Palestinians and Israelis since 2014, has also shed renewed light on the vast military aid the U.S. has long funneled to Israel.

Several prominent U.S. elected officials have strongly condemned Israel’s disproportionate military response. And Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, this week urged Biden to take a “hard look” at U.S. military aid to Israel, suggesting that it be conditional on the country’s human rights record.

Israel, however, has long been one of America’s strongest allies, prompting Biden to proceed cautiously on the issue, with his administration this week reiterating its position that Israel has the right to defend itself.

Since this most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupted on May 10, coalitions of Palestinian advocacy groups in dozens of cities across the U.S. have organized rallies, raised funds for displaced Palestinians and pushed for a boycott of Israeli commerce. Earlier this week, an Israeli-owned shipping company chose not to dock one of its tankers at the Port of Oakland, following pressure from activists in the Bay Area.

“This is the result of years of organizing,” said Hage. “It’s a tremendous testament to the organizing that the Palestinian movement around the world has formed.”

AROC and other organizations like Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) have also in recent days produced social media content about the conflict to further awareness among those unfamiliar with the situation.

“Palestinians and allies really took to social media full-on to counteract the silence that we’ve seen ever since the Nakba,” said Zeyad Elomari, 27, a member of the Bay Area chapter of PYM, referring to the displacement of about 750,000 Palestinians shortly after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Safa Choudhury participates in Tuesday’s rally outside of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco. Her face is painted with the Palestinian flag over Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Elomari says his grandfather was among those displaced from their homes in what is now Israel, and the painful legacy of that lives on in his family.

“I was born as a refugee, my grandfather was born as a refugee, and his descendants are refugees because we’re not allowed in our homeland and [to] live there if we wish to do so,” he said.

Elomari says that as his parents’ generation grows older, he and his peers have the responsibility to keep marching and organizing all over the world to demand the liberation and well-being of the Palestinian people.

“It’s extremely important that we keep our traditions and culture and political identity alive because asserting our existence as Palestinians is the most important act of resistance,” he said.

Leiya Kadah, 18, a high school student who also attended Tuesday’s rally in San Francisco, says her drive to support Palestinian organizing is rooted in what her family has taught her about faith and justice.

“My parents have always taught me that in Islam, the least you can do if you see injustice: If you can fight against it, then fight it,” she said. “If you can stop it with your words, stop it with your words.”

Kadah says she has been attending Palestinian solidarity demonstrations with her family since she was in first grade, and has never grown tired of marching. “The least you can do when you see injustice is feel in your heart that this is something that is not right,” she said.

Salim Nasser holds his niece Yasmine Twam on his shoulders during a ‘Free Palestine’ rally outside of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco on May 18, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Ellen Brotsky, 68, a volunteer with the Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, who also participated in Tuesday’s rally, has helped organize Palestinian solidarity efforts for decades.

As a Jewish person, she says, she feels the responsibility to have conversations with Jews from different generations about the importance of standing in solidarity with other oppressed people, and how doing so can actually further, not diminish, Israel’s security.

“Jewish safety comes not from a settler colonial Zionist state of Israel,” she said. “It comes from being in solidarity with everybody who is oppressed by racism, by settler colonialism.”

Brotsky says she continues to learn from younger Jewish activists who have had to navigate difficult political conversations with their families on this issue. For her, organizing has become a space in which multiple generations can learn from each other, while expressing care and compassion.

“We want to call the Jewish community in. We understand what’s been handed down, the trauma,” she said. “It takes time, it takes patience. It also takes principles. It takes a lot of organizing work.”

KQED’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, Sara Hossaini, NPR’s Merrit Kennedy and The Associated Press contributed to this story.This story has been updated.

Copyright 2021 KQED