Israeli Consulate closes for business amid protest

Around noon Wednesday, a man arrived at the Consulate General of Israel in San Francisco to renew his passport. He was sent away.

So was a young couple with a baby.

"The consulate is closed right now," the guard said, smiling good-naturedly.

Meanwhile, a dark-haired woman made her way through the crowd.

"Are you willing to be arrested?" she asked, as several hundred protesters from A Jewish Voice for Peace amassed in front of 456 Montgomery St., voicing their opposition to the occupation.

Upstairs on the 21st floor, 13 members, all U.S. Jews, sat blocking the entrance to the consulate's offices.

The 13, who had arrived at about 10:30 a.m., said they would stay until asked to leave.

While some media were allowed upstairs, the building management refused to allow others upstairs, including consulate staff.

The demonstrators had attempted to deliver a letter to Consul General Yossi Amrani, according to Penny Rosenwasser, a protester who was reached on the 21st floor by cell phone. In the letter, they demanded that the consul general write a statement calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"I declined to meet with them because I don't think it's my role to encourage civil disobedience and breaking the law," said Amrani, as they sat outside his office. "They basically trespassed Israeli sovereign territory and did not ask for a meeting. I don't think I need to cooperate with that."

Amrani said that he meets with people of many differing viewpoints, and had they gone through the correct channels to set up a meeting, he would have met with them.

The group, both men and women ranging from their 20s to 60s, included both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, and one Israeli with dual citizenship who had served in the Israel Defense Force. The group represented thousands of Jews locally and around the world who oppose the occupation, said Rosenwasser, an Oakland resident.

"We wanted to articulate another Jewish voice that says there will not be security for Israel until there is justice for Palestinians."

The protesters stayed on the 21st floor for several hours. But when it became evident that the consul general would not meet with them, they went downstairs to join several hundred rallying on their behalf.

Then, with a few of the other demonstrators joining them, they sat down in the middle of Montgomery Street, arms linked, smiling as they sang songs like "We Shall Not Be Moved."

One by one, they were lifted up by police officers, who put each protester in plastic restraints before carting them off in a van.

Rosenwasser, who spoke before she was arrested, described herself as "heartbroken" over the news of the suicide bombing in Haifa the previous day, which took at least eight lives, and the death of 13 IDF soldiers the day before.

Making a point heard repeatedly at the rally in front of the consulate, she said, "I believe that Israel has the right to exist, but what the Sharon government is doing right now is not in our name."

Rosenwasser described the conditions of the West Bank town of Jenin, which she said was well-documented in the British press.

"People's homes are being demolished with them still in them. Children are screaming for water, because the water has been cut off. Mothers are being forced to mix milk powder with sewage water. Palestinians are being used as human shields by Israeli soldiers, and bodies are rotting in the streets."

"The future of both peoples are linked," she said. "Palestinian lives are just as valuable as Israeli lives."

By press time, it could not be confirmed how many were arrested or what the final outcome was.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."