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

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

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

Imtair said she was born in Palestine. Her mother and siblings first lived 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. Her grandmother has often spoken reverently of caring for the land, like the olive trees her grandfather used to nurture.

On Saturday, as Imtair joined several thousand 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 around 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 Biden to reduce aid to Israel because of its military assault.

Thousands march in solidarity with Palestinians 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 where 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, also marked the Nakba, which to Palestinians means disaster or catastrophe, and refers to the displacement of about 750,000 Palestinians, according to estimates from the United Nations, shortly after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Thousands marched in the Free Palestine protest in San Francisco on 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 lives in a small village just 10 minutes away from Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which saw Israeli police raids last week that left hundreds of Palestinians wounded. She says her family is under constant police surveillance and it can take two hours for them to cross through barricades to reach the mosque to pray.

Thousands march in solidarity with Palestinians 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 the oppressing class and one person is an oppressor. And we all know the rest is history."


Mahmoud Shaqqour was also at the rally. He 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, Shaqqour 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 Palestinians 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.

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