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Thousands Call for Gaza Cease-Fire as Global Leaders Arrive for APEC in San Francisco

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People in a crowd hold protest signs.
Demonstrators gather outside San Francisco's Powell Street BART station during a protest calling for a cease-fire in Gaza on Nov. 14, 2023. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Thousands of protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza rallied outside the Powell Street BART station in downtown San Francisco on Tuesday evening, as dozens of world leaders and CEOs, including President Joe Biden, gather in the city for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference.

Tuesday’s demonstrations, organized by a coalition that includes the Palestinian Youth Movement and the Bay Area chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, follow a steady drumbeat of actions across the Bay Area in recent weeks urging an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, and an end to Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

“APEC is a really big deal. Just the fact that tons of heads of state from all over the world are coming here today to meet with Biden and negotiate policies that we know … play a role in expansion of neoliberal policies that affect theft of land and resources all over the world,” Suzanne Ali, a San Francisco-based organizer with Palestinian Youth Movement, told KQED.

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Protesters at the event condemned Biden’s ongoing support for Israel, which launched a ground invasion of Gaza on Oct. 27 after weeks of heavy air strikes. Israel’s attacks followed the Oct. 7 Hamas incursion from Gaza into Southern Israel, when militants killed at least 1,200 people and took more than 230 hostages, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. More than 11,100 civilians in Gaza have been killed since Oct. 7 by Israeli attacks, largely airstrikes, according to Gaza’s health ministry. As of last week, nearly half of them were children.

Demonstrators at Tuesday’s rally demanded an end to the invasion and to the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. An energetic crowd of hundreds of protesters quickly grew to approximately 3,000, many carrying signs and waving Palestinian flags outside the Powell Street BART station just after 5 p.m.

Blue and yellow protest signs are held above a group of people while a man waves a Palestinian flag on scaffolding above them.
Demonstrators rally on Market Street during a protest calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in San Francisco on Nov. 14, 2023, during arrivals by world leaders to the APEC summit. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Amid chants of “cease-fire now” and “money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation,” speakers took to megaphones to decry the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars for what they called “Israeli genocide” and directed many remarks directly at Biden.

“Despite the millions of us that have been in the streets for Gaza and for Palestine, Joe Biden and his administration continue to ignore the people,” Sanika Mahajan, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, told the crowd.”This is our chance because Joe Biden is here in San Francisco. This is our chance to tell Joe Biden where the people stand.”

Some protesters wanted Joe Biden and other world leaders attending APEC to heed their message about the importance of prioritizing domestic issues such as health care and education as they demonstrated on Market Street.

Jose Carlos Riquelme, a resident of Hayward, and Delia Calderon of San Francisco, both Peruvians, said Peruvian President Dina Boluarte – whose administration has been blamed for the deaths of dozens of pro-Democracy demonstrators over the last year – needed to hear such a message as well. Boluarte is also in San Francisco for APEC.

“[Boluarte] has to listen… She and everyone has to hear that what the world needs is peace, money for education and not the killing of other brothers and sisters [in the global south],” Calderon told KQED in Spanish.

“We are here for all of humanity, for all the people who have been murdered, segregated, marginalized, disabled, exposed to poverty, condemned to poverty… We are here because we want that to change. This generation is struggling more than ever and we want this to stop now.”

A group of about 100 people walk on a city street while holding protest signs.
Demonstrators march on Market Street during a protest calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in San Francisco on Nov. 14, 2023. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Around 6 p.m., the crowd began marching east along Market Street, snarling traffic and backing up Muni buses, to demonstrate outside a campaign fundraiser event scheduled to be attended by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

In addition to the Palestinian Youth Movement, other groups organized and supported Tuesday’s rally in San Francisco, which brought together activists from across the Bay Area, including organizers from the ANSWER Coalition, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, San Francisco State University General Union of Palestine Students, and Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine.

Many protests calling for a cease-fire have been happening across the Bay Area in recent weeks.

On Monday, hundreds of Jewish protesters and supporters occupied the Oakland Federal Building, also demanding a cease-fire in Gaza. That event, which culminated in numerous arrests, has been recognized as one of the largest Jewish civil disobedience actions in the Bay Area.

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Organizers of Tuesday’s demonstration said they are working in solidarity with other groups protesting this week’s global leaders summit in San Francisco. That includes groups like No to APEC, a broad coalition of human rights advocates, climate activists and anti-capitalist organizations. A protest that No to APEC organized earlier this week aimed to call out CEOs, heads of state and other dignitaries attending the event for workers’ rights violations, climate degradation and more.

Sponsors of APEC include major U.S. consumer corporations like Amazon, as well as weapons manufacturers like Boeing.

“Millions of people in the U.S. and around the world have been protesting relentlessly in the streets in support of Palestine,” said Party for Socialism and Liberation organizer Saul Kanowitz in a press statement announcing Tuesday’s San Francisco protest. “While the majority of Americans support a cease-fire, the Biden administration and Congress have ignored our demands and continue to enable Israel.”

A woman is highlighted by a light at night wearing a Palestine scarf and hijab.
Lnmia Zahi participates in Tuesday evening’s protest calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in downtown San Francisco. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Nearly half of U.S. Democrats (46%) disapprove of how President Biden is handling the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. A similar number of Democrats (44%) said the U.S. is too supportive of Israel, and not supportive enough of Palestinians, according to the poll. A slightly higher number of Democrats (45%) said U.S. support of Israel is “about right.”

“Right now, it’s a critical moment. Over 66% of voters support the demand for a cease-fire,” said Ali of the Palestinian Youth Movement, referring to findings from a recent poll from Data for Progress. “This being a world event is really important for us to have this opportunity to make our demands clear.”

A majority of Democrat and Republican lawmakers in Washington have continued to voice their support for Israel. But a small group of congressional lawmakers, including East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee, has supported calls for a cease-fire.

This story has been updated.

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