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Bay Bridge Reopens After Protesters Calling for Gaza Cease-Fire Shut Down Westbound Lanes

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A woman yells into megaphone surrounding by protesters on a bridge. Police are in the background.
Protesters demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza blocked all westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge Thursday morning, unfurling banners reading "stop genocide" and "no US military aid to Israel." (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Update, 11:50 a.m. Thursday:
All westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge are now open, according to the California Highway Patrol, while the westbound approaches and toll plaza remain temporarily closed while the backup clears.

Original story:
Demonstrators calling for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza blocked all westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge early Thursday, instantly causing a major commute tie-up.

The protesters blocked all traffic on the upper deck of the eastern span of the bridge shortly before 8 a.m., unfurling banners demanding an immediate cease-fire in the conflict that has cost the lives of more than 11,000 Palestinians and about 1,200 Israelis, according to Gazan and Israeli health officials.

The action marks an escalation of the ongoing Bay Area protests against Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza, which followed the Hamas attack in southern Israel early last month.

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In a press release, protest organizers said more than 200 people participated in Thursday’s action, which included a “die-in,” with demonstrators lying on the bridge deck and covering themselves with white sheets and placards reading “11,000 dead” and “stop the genocide.”

A person lays on a paved road with a sheet over them.
Protesters taking part in Thursday’s Bay Bridge shutdown staged a ‘die-in’ on the deck of the bridge. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The demonstration was largely directed toward President Joe Biden, who is in San Francisco today for the ongoing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference, already the target of numerous other protest actions.

“What would you do if this was your people, your family, your cousins? Every Palestinian I know from Gaza has lost so much family,” Oakland resident Sabrin Amtair, with the Arab Resource and Organizing Center and Palestinian Youth Movement, which helped organize the protest, told KQED while on the bridge.

“We can’t continue and act like this is not happening when Joe Biden is in town.”

A person in a wheelchair holds a protest sign with a line of police on the left and behind them.
A demonstrator holds a sign reading ‘ceasefire now!’ while facing a line of CHP officers during a protest that shut down all westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge Thursday morning. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Just before 9 a.m., California Highway Patrol officers in riot gear arrived at the scene and issued a call for the demonstrators to disperse.

Officers then formed a line facing the demonstrators, many of whom had their hands raised as they chanted, “Peaceful protest.”

A person raises their arms wearing a reflective vest with a line of police in front of them.
A protester raises his hands in front of a line of CHP officers during a demonstration demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza which blocked all westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge Thursday morning. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Law enforcement officers from both the CHP and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, with buses staged on the other side of the demonstration, then began arresting demonstrators and towing their vehicles.

Law enforcement officers with California Highway Patrol and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Dept. escort arrested protesters to buses on the upper deck of the Bay Bridge’s eastern span Thursday morning. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

At around 10 a.m., Ezery Beauchamp, CHP’s Golden Gate Division chief, said approximately 50 people had been arrested so far and that more arrests were expected. He also indicated it would take some time to remove demonstrators’ vehicles from the bridge because keys to those vehicles had been tossed into the bay.

“We could still have 5, 10, 15 more cars to tow each time we work our way through the next set of vehicles,” Beauchamp told reporters on the bridge. “We’re finding abandoned cars and more protesters. We estimate another 25 to 50 arrests could be made today.”

A woman speaks into a megaphone with a group of protesters surrounding her.
Protesters demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza speak into a megaphone after blocking all westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge Thursday. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Beauchamp advised commuters to seek alternate routes, as the demonstration continued, and did not give an estimated reopening time.

On the other side of Treasure Island, the upper deck of the bridge’s west span was eerily empty during the normally crammed peak commute hour.

All lanes of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge’s western span were empty Thursday morning just after 8 a.m. as demonstrators shut down all traffic east of Treasure Island. (KQED)

This story has been udpated.

KQED’s Christopher Alam, Beth LaBerge, Dan Brekke and David Marks contributed to this story.

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