A pro-Israel rally at Redwood City's Courthouse Square, May 12, 2021. (Photo/Phillip Yurchenko)
A pro-Israel rally at Redwood City's Courthouse Square, May 12, 2021. (Photo/Phillip Yurchenko)

Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rallies in Bay Area as Gaza conflict heats up

Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rallies were held in three Bay Area cities on Wednesday in response to the increasingly deadly violence in Israel and Gaza.

In Redwood City and Walnut Creek, Israel supporters came together to condemn rocket attacks from Hamas into civilian areas and to mourn the loss of the seven people in Israel who had died so far, according to Haaretz reports. At least 83 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip from Israeli counterattacks, including 14 children, according to Save the Children, an aid nonprofit with a Gaza office.

The Israel Defense Forces said dozens of those killed were terrorists, and that some Palestinian fatalities were caused by misfired rockets from Gaza, the Times of Israel reported.

In a conversation with reporters on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said he hoped the violence would come to an end “sooner rather than later.” He also maintained the position that the State of Israel had the “right to defend itself.” The Biden administration opposed a public discussion by members of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, but then said it would agree to hold a session on Sunday.

“We are diaspora Jews,” said Masha Merkulova, who runs Club Z and was one of the main organizers of the Redwood City rally. “We are not there. We could just live our comfortable, safe lives. But if you do care about what is going on there, then living here, being here, it feels quite isolating.”

Merkulova said she organized the rally at the city’s courthouse within about 24 hours, and was happy to see non-Jews approach her at the event with questions and support.

“I think these rallies are not only to support Israel and to support our Israel brothers and sisters, it’s also for us to come together to be a community and not feel alone,” she said. “And to understand this is a hard time and we will get through it.”

Speakers included Isabelle Marcus, a Paris-born Jew from San Francisco, Rabbi Levi Potash from Chabad MidPen in Redwood City, and Rabbi Serena Eisenberg director of the American Jewish Committee’s Northern California chapter.

“We gather in solidarity, on this auspicious night,” Eisenberg said. “It is a new moon, the new month of Sivan, an acronym which is a blessing: Sof yesurim vtchilat nisim — ‘May this new moon bring an end to suffering and beginning of miracles.’” 

A pro-Israel crowd rallies at a plaza near Walnut Creek's library. (Photo/PB)
A pro-Israel crowd rallies at a plaza near Walnut Creek’s library. (Photo/PB)

Eisenberg described how her mother-in-law, who is in her late 80s and lives near Tel Aviv, has spent the last few nights hurrying to bomb shelters. She also named two of the Israeli children who died in the conflict, 16-year-old Arab Israeli Nadine Awad and a 5-year-old Jewish boy named Ido Avigal.

“When Israel, which has never known a day without external threats, sustains yet another moment of heightened assault, we are with them,” said Eisenberg, who estimated that more than 100 people showed up to the rally.

David Holsey, a commercial driver who lives in the East Bay and attended the Redwood City rally, described the event as “exhilarating,” even as he feels frustrated about the spiraling conflict.

Israel had just been turning the corner on the pandemic and the economy, he said, and even establishing relations with Arab countries through the Abraham Accords.

“Then this s– happened,” he said. “It’s always something after a certain period of time. It just gets tiresome.”

About 40 miles north, Israel supporters met at a plaza near Walnut Creek’s library in an event organized by the Israeli American Council.

Mike Harris, a founder of the Northern California branch of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, said that as many as 80 people showed up.

“Obviously all of us are extremely worried and concerned about the violence triggered by Hamas, but also the violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel itself,” said Harris. “Whether one agrees with issues of settlements or Israel’s land policies in eastern Jerusalem, that is not a justification for Hamas to be firing rockets at millions of Israeli civilians.”

In a Facebook post on Thursday, the Israeli American Council wrote, “Thanks to all [for joining] yesterday’s important rallies in Redwood City and Walnut Creek. We showed up for Israel, at a time where our families there are under siege of rocket fire. We gathered together, to call for an end to senseless violence and terror. Thank you for being an active part of our unified community to show resilience under fire.”

A pro-Palestinian rally at San Jose's City Hall, May 12, 2021. (Photo/Luke Johnson)
A pro-Palestinian rally at San Jose’s City Hall, May 12, 2021. (Photo/Luke Johnson)

Also on Wednesday, 50 to 60 Palestinian supporters gathered at San Jose City Hall, chanting “Occupation is a crime!” and holding signs that read, “All Israelis are settlers, colonizing Palestine.” Reporter Luke Johnson from San Jose said rallygoers also chanted, “From the river to the seas, Palestine will be free!” 

Another pro-Palestinian protest is scheduled on Saturday in San Francisco’s Mission District. According to the event’s Facebook page, it is being organized by seven Arab activist groups, including the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. Jewish Voice for Peace is also an organizer.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.