Thousands join peaceful S.F. march against terrorism

In a show of support for Israel and against terrorism, an estimated 3,000 people from the Bay Area and beyond marched down Market Street Sunday in San Francisco. The procession of supporters, which ran the length of several city blocks, followed a banner that said "USA and Israel United Against Terror."

The day was unusually warm and sunny, and the procession almost had the feeling of a parade. Marchers waved U.S. and Israeli flags, carried signs and banners aloft, and sang songs. A sizeable police force on bicycles and motorcycles blocked traffic and escorted the procession down the major thoroughfare.

"We welcome you to this historical march against terrorism," said Jeffrey Halbrecht of San Francisco, a co-founder of Grassroots for Israel, the group that organized the rally and march. "We are here — Christians and Jews, young and old, Democratic and Republican — to state emphatically that we denounce terror and unequivocally support Israel's battle against it."

As the crowd gathered at Civic Center Plaza before the march, speakers talked of last week's suicide bombings and the threat they perceived to the state of Israel. "We call the world to stand with us in mourning…We must call every citizen to decry the use of children as human bombs," said Rep. Kevin Shelley (D-S.F.), majority leader of the California state Assembly. "There is no room on the map of the world for these atrocities."

The Rev. Frank Eiklor, an evangelical Christian Zionist from Southern California, spoke of Israel as a "tiny little runt" of a country surrounded by 200 million Arab neighbors. "Israelis do not live to obliterate Arabs. But if Jews lose once, Israel dies forever," he said.

"A Holocaust Two, the erasing of 5 million Jews, has been in the planning for 54 years. We cannot be silent."

Contingents from several Christian congregations, carrying signs saying "Christians for Israel," participated in the march, which lasted for about an hour.

Wearing the Israeli flag as a cape around his shoulders, Booker Holten of Walnut Creek towered over other marchers. "As a black American who's converted to Judaism, I also feel the pain of African-Americans [in the United States]. It's the same thing — we both want peaceful coexistence."

While the vast majority was there to march for Israel, a small group of about 20 people staged a protest on one block of Market Street. Wearing a sign "Jews for a Just Peace" taped to the front of his T-shirt, Joe Berman of Berkeley said he was pro-Israel but felt the event was a "war rally."

"We believe the Israeli government is failing to provide long-term security and is acting unethically," he said. "Unarmed civilians are dying on both sides."

A tiny pro-Palestinian contingent followed the marchers. About 10 people in black robes ran alongside, chanting things like "two-four-six-eight, I'm a martyr and I can't wait," on a bullhorn.

"They say they were victims of the Holocaust," said Jamil Abushi of San Leandro, who carried a Palestinian flag, "but now they're trying to kill my innocent people. Hitler and Sharon are the same."

For a moment, as both groups arrived at Justin Herman Plaza, it looked as if there might be a confrontation, but police told the pro-Palestinians to back off. After most of the crowd had dispersed, a handful of marchers stayed to trade arguments and accusations with the protestors across the entrance to the Embarcadero BART station. Police kept close watch on the two groups and made sure that the interaction was limited to yelling.

Halbrecht, who started Grassroots for Israel with three friends, said he was pleased with the turnout. "I think the thousands of people made a very strong statement. On such a beautiful Sunday, it's very difficult to get people out for any cause."

For Nicki Edrington, 15, who traveled all the way from Sacramento with her Christian church, the first pro-Israel — her first — was a success.

"I think it turned out really well and I'm glad nothing bad happened," she said. "It's awesome that there's a relationship between the Christian and Jewish communities, and I hope that it makes a good impression on people."