A pro-Israel rally near Walnut Creek's library in May 2021. (Photo/PB)
A pro-Israel rally near Walnut Creek's library in May 2021. (Photo/PB)

Israel-Gaza fighting brings Bay Area protesters to the streets

Protesters on opposing sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict have been taking to the streets in the Bay Area, with noisy demonstrations in San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto, Redwood City and Walnut Creek even after the May 21 cease-fire went into effect.

On an overpass on the I-80 in Berkeley on May 24, a small group of Israel supporters displayed Israeli flags, a “Support Peace” sign and a “Free Gaza from Hamas” banner.

“There was quite a vociferous response,” said David Holsey, a commercial driver who lives in the East Bay and attended the event. “A lot of horns [and] a fair amount of people making gestures, [both] for and against us.”

Elsewhere, hundreds of protesters took part in pro-Palestinian marches in the Mission District in San Francisco on consecutive weekends. And on May 21, hours after the cease-fire agreement, protesters in Palo Alto held up signs that read “Ethiopians for Palestine” and “My grandparents’ shoes are older than the state of Israel.”

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)

On May 18, more than 1,000 people gathered for a “Free Palestine” rally outside the Israeli Consulate on the 400 block of Montgomery Street in downtown San Francisco, according to KQED.  

Rocket attacks from Hamas and retaliations from Israel brought destruction to both sides. Nearly 250 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, according to Reuters, including 66 children, and more than 1,900 were wounded. On the Israeli side, 12 people, including two children, were dead as a result of the violence, and hundreds were being treated in hospitals.

On May 12, Israel supporters came together in Redwood City and Walnut Creek to condemn Hamas rocket attacks on civilian areas of Israel, and to mourn the lives of those killed in such attacks.

“We are diaspora Jews,” said Masha Merkulova, who runs Club Z (slogan: “Zionism for Teens”) 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 in front of the city’s courthouse within about 24 hours, and was happy to see local residents approach her at the event with questions and support.

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)

“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 at the Redwood City rally 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 told the crowd of what she estimated to be more than 100 people. “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.’” 

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

“When Israel, which has never known a day without external threats, sustains yet another moment of heightened assault, we are with them,” Eisenberg said.

Another group of Israel supporters met at a plaza near the downtown Walnut Creek 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, estimated a crowd of some 80 people.

“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,” Harris told J. “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 last week, 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.”

On May 19, about 50  people gathered outside San Jose City Hall, chanting slogans such as “Occupation is a crime!” and holding up signs reading “All Israelis are settlers, colonizing Palestine.” According to a reporter for the nonprofit San Jose Spotlight, the protesters also chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” 

Another pro-Palestinian demonstration, on May 15 in San Francisco, drew a large crowd (974 people confirmed their attendance after the event on Facebook). It was hosted by seven Arab activist groups, including the Arab Resource and Organizing Center; Jewish Voice for Peace also was an organizer.

Gabriel Greschler

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