SAN FRANCISCO – Hundreds of people flocked to the mission district on Saturday to support Palestine amid a wave of deadly violence in the Gaza Strip.
A roaring crowd of families with children in prams, teenagers on skateboards, students and older residents of the Bay Area filled the corner of Street 16 and Valencia with signs like “Jews Against Apartheid”, “Viva Palestina Libre” and ” Indians for Palestine “before they march down Mission Street to the beat of several drums and chants.
Some Bay Area residents were moved by images of escalating violence that began last Monday, killing 145 Palestinians in Gaza – including 41 children and 23 women – and eight dead on the Israeli side, all but one civilian, including a 5-year-old child . The violence began on Monday when Hamas fired rockets at Israel.
On Saturday, Israel airstrikes the Gaza Strip, bombed the home of a Hamas leader, killed a family of ten in a refugee camp, most of them children, and pulverized a high-rise building that housed The Associated Press and other media outlets.
Bilal Alsallakh, 35, who lives on the peninsula, came to protest with a friend from Syria on Saturday after watching the news with growing horror all week.
“We saw entire buildings collapse one by one, one by one,” he said. “That is destruction for man.”
Ahmad, a 40-year-old Palestinian immigrant who refused to share his last name, came from the East Bay with his wife, children and mother to attend the rally. After living in the US for 14 years, he is more than frustrated with the continued support of the US government for Israel, he said.
Saturday was also the day of al-Nakba, or “the disaster,” which commemorates the estimated 700,000 people displaced when Israel was founded in 1948.
“It is annoying to see that only innocent people, civilians, are killed here by our tax dollars first,” he said, referring to the billions of dollars in aid that the US gives to Israel every year. “What is happening is just beyond what you can imagine.”
US President Joe Biden, who has called for de-escalation but supported Israel’s “right to self-defense”, reportedly spoke separately by phone this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Several protesters have linked the events in Palestine directly to the repression of black Americans. Cornelius Moore, 66, said he had followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades as a longtime black liberation and anti-apartheid activist.
“There’s only one really big connection between US history because this is a settler colonial country,” said Moore. “I’m just very angry, especially that the US continues to support Israel unconditionally.”
As the crowd went down the mission, they carried dozens of Palestinian flags, sometimes as cloaks or high on flagpoles. Jamel Ouchene waved a 20-foot pole with three flags, including the Palestinian flag, the Tunisian flag, and those of Algeria, his homeland, a staunch political ally of Palestine.
On Friday he planted a Palestinian flag in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in solidarity.
“I just get very emotional,” said Ouchene. “I want the Palestinians to feel they are not alone. We go all the way with them. “
A heavy police presence with at least five vans chased the protesters stretching over four long blocks of town as they walked down Mission Street, but the groups did not appear to be interacting with one another. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” sang the crowd.
Standing on his back was a man in his sixties named Robert, whose mark identified himself as the son of Holocaust survivors. He refused to share his last name, fearing the repercussions, when visiting an extended family in Israel this summer.
“Part of being American makes it better, and being part of being Jewish makes me feel obliged to say something,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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