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Thousands of Protesters Rally in San Francisco, Calling for Immediate Cease-Fire in Gaza

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Men standing on cars wave Palestinian flags amid a crowd.
Young men wave Palestinian flags at the International Day of Solidarity: Free Palestine rally in front of City Hall in San Francisco on Nov. 4, 2023. (Kathryn Styer Martínez for KQED)

Palestinian people and their allies are continuing calls for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas. Thousands of people filled San Francisco’s Civic Center on Saturday, joining nationwide rallies calling for an end to the fighting and for the U.S. to stop sending aid to Israel. The rally was the biggest so far in the Bay Area since the war began on October 7, and one of numerous actions in other cities, including a massive demonstration in Washington, D.C., with other demonstrations taking place across Europe.

A woman waves a Palestinian flag amid a crowd of protesters.
A woman waves a Palestinian flag at the International Day of Solidarity: Free Palestine rally in front of City Hall in San Francisco on Nov. 4, 2023. (Kathryn Styer Martínez for KQED)

“I am optimistic about the unbelievable outpouring. Just coming here on BART this morning, half the car was people with signs,” said Seth Morrison, a member of the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, at the rally. “I’m seeing all over the country our JVP chapters, our actions are bigger than ever.”

An older white man in a blue and white cap and a Palestinian flag draped around his neck looks away with a blurred crowd in the back.
Seth Morrison, 72, attends the International Day of Solidarity: Free Palestine rally. Morrison, who lives in El Cerrito, has been organizing with Jewish Voice for Peace since 2011. (Kathryn Styer Martínez for KQED)

Suzanne Ali, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement Bay Area Chapter, says she hopes the marches happening across the country draw attention to the thousands of Palestinians that have been killed in Gaza since the war began.

“What we’re seeing today is a shock to the human conscience.  People need to focus on the real root issue of violence which is Israeli settler colonial occupation.”

A young Palestinian-American woman speaks to reporters.
Suzanne Ali, 25, speaks with reporters at the International Day of Solidarity: Free Palestine rally. Ali of San Francisco is an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement. (Kathryn Styer Martínez for KQED)

Andrea Muir said she has family in Gaza that have been displaced from their home, and that one of her cousins has died as a result of the fighting.

“It doesn’t feel right to sit at home,” said Muir.

It’s been a month since Hamas launched an unprecedented cross-border attack into Israel from Gaza, killing at least 1,400 people and taking approximately 240 hostages, according to the Israeli government. In the weeks since, Israel’s unrelenting attacks on Gaza have killed more than 9,400 people, at least 3,600 of whom were children, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. Over 1.4 million people have been displaced. Calls for a cease-fire, including a call for a humanitarian pause from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday, have so far been rebuffed by Israel, as supplies of food, water and medicine in Gaza run dangerously low.

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The Bay Area has seen a series of vigils and rallies in recent weeks.  Last Saturday an estimated 15,000 protesters marched up Market Street in downtown San Francisco and onto the Highway 101. The following day, hundreds attended a tightly guarded pro-Israel rally in downtown San Francisco at Yerba Buena Gardens.

A crowd of people on the lawn in front of San Francisco City Hall in the background.
Thousands gather at the International Day of Solidarity: Free Palestine rally in front of City Hall. (Kathryn Styer Martínez for KQED)

Dozens of Bay Area residents traveled to Washington D.C. this weekend, joining the march there calling for an end to U.S. aid to Israel, an end to the siege of Gaza, and for an immediate ceasefire.

“I have to do what I can in this moment and onwards to ensure that more Palestinians aren’t displaced from their lands, like my grandparents, using U.S. taxpayer dollars,” said Rami Abdelkarim, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement in the Bay Area. “I want to join the people who refuse to sit idly by while our country funds the destruction and the displacement of my ancestors and my people.”

A crowd of protesters hold signs.
Thousands showed up to attend the International Day of Solidarity: Free Palestine rally. (Kathryn Styer Martínez for KQED)

San Francisco rally attendee Kisae Hussein said she feels a moral obligation to protest because her country, the United States, is spending tax dollars to support Israel.

“It’s hard not to feel despair when there’s all these marches and our representatives are still doing what they’re doing,” she said. “But if there’s enough pushback, if we boycott, divest, sanction, if we keep moving forward with these actions I think we have to have hope that something will happen despite how impossible it may seem.”

A young boy with a Palestinian flag looks into the camera as protesters chant and hold signs behind him.
Adam Shain, 6, attends the International Day of Solidarity: Free Palestine rally with his mom Faten, who says they currently have family in Jordan and Palestine. (Kathryn Styer Martínez for KQED)

The response to the protesters’ calls by California politicians has been mixed. California’s leading Senate candidates, running to fill the late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat, have largely expressed support for Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks. Meanwhile, East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee is calling for a cease-fire and is stressing that Israel must respond “within the framework of international law.”

While the White House has not called for a cease-fire thus far, President Biden on Wednesday did call for a humanitarian pause in Gaza, at a time of mounting pressure from human rights groups, and even members of his own Democratic Party. But a majority of the U.S. Congress continues to support the Israeli military. The House of Representatives recently approved $14.5 billion in military aid for Israel.

On Thursday, a San Francisco law firm sued the Biden administration in a push to evacuate Palestinian-Americans trapped in Gaza, saying that while some American citizens have been evacuated, the administration has so far failed to bring Palestinian-Americans home to safety.

A crowd of protesters with signs and Palestinian flags gathered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall.
Attendees at the International Day of Solidarity: Free Palestine rally in front of City Hall call for the Israeli military to cease fire in Palestine. (Kathryn Styer Martínez for KQED)

The Bay Area’s Jewish Community Relations Council CEO Tyler Gregory said the JCRC and the Jewish Community are calling on the Biden administration to do everything to provide humanitarian aid and work with Israelis to minimize loss of life. But, he added, Israel would not live with a cease-fire until the hostages are returned and Hamas is “no longer ruling the Gaza Strip.”

“We think that it’s reasonable that Israel has the right to self-defense and to try to reclaim its hostages,” Gregory said on Friday. “And we know that the United States would do the exact same thing. There is a lot of hypocrisy going around by those that are denying Israel the right to finish this.”

United Nations experts are warning that Gaza is “running out of time” and are calling for an immediate cease-fire “to prevent genocide.” Amnesty International has referred to Israeli governance of Palestinians as “oppressive and discriminatory” and “a system of apartheid.”

Organizers are planning more actions in the weeks ahead, including a protest at the Oakland Federal Building on Thursday.

KQED’s Juan Carlos Lara, Annelise Finney, Attila Pelit, David Marks and Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman contributed to this story.

This story has been updated.

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