SAN FRANCISCO — In the midst of heightened tensions in the Middle East, Sunday afternoon saw hundreds of Bay Area residents gathering outside the Israeli Consulate, demanding an end to U.S. complicity in sustaining a violent atmosphere in Palestine. Organized by local advocacy groups, the rally took place against the backdrop of Israel’s formal declaration of war on Hamas, prompted by an unprecedented assault originating from Gaza.
“We demand an end to the U.S. aid to apartheid Israel,” Lara Kiswani, executive director of Arab Resource and Organizing Center, said to drumbeats and cheers. “We demand an end to the blockade on Gaza. We demand an end to the settler-colonial regime in Palestine.”
The surge in tensions began with Saturday’s unexpected assault, as Palestinian fighters infiltrated Israel from Gaza and launched an estimated 5,000 rockets, according to media reports. This event led to numerous casualties among Israelis, with some reportedly taken hostage. Simultaneously, images and videos of Gazans bulldozing and crossing the security fences that had confined them for years flooded social media.
Mohammad Deif, the leader of Hamas’s military wing, cited Israel’s ongoing aggression at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque as the catalyst for the operation, according to the Middle East Eye.
Israel has been relentlessly bombing Gaza since the attack and additional military operations are being planned. As of Sunday night, casualties on both sides numbered in the hundreds, with thousands more injured. In response, U.S. politicians have reaffirmed their unwavering support for Israel, a country that receives substantial military aid from the U.S. every year.
U.S. Representative Ro Khanna (D-District 17) condemned the “inhuman and appalling” war crimes by Hamas on social media, expressing solidarity with Israel. Similarly, U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-District 14) took to social media to emphasize his support for Israel’s defensive actions following the Hamas attacks, denouncing violence for political ends.
East Bay resident Sarita Lavin, who was at Sunday’s rally, told the East Bay Echo that the response of local politicians is shameful, but unsurprising given the fact that the U.S. similarly suppresses its own Indigenous population. Still, Lavin emphasized the importance of protesting the allocation of tax dollars toward sustaining the violent occupation and advocated for the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.
The establishment of Israel in Palestine in 1948, stemming from the 1917 Balfour Declaration by the region’s former colonizer Great Britain, remains a flashpoint. For Israelis, it signifies the creation of a secure homeland, forged in the wake of the horrors of the Holocaust. For Palestinians, 1948 marks the Nakba, or the catastrophe, as countless families were violently uprooted from their ancestral homes, becoming refugees in the process.
Over the decades, the violence has persisted as Palestinian territory has continually dwindled, exacerbated by the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and the settlement of Jewish communities from places like the U.S. and Europe in their place. Targeted violence against Palestinians, including journalists, exemplified by the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and worshippers, is commonplace, alongside daily harassment and arrests.
Hatem Bazian, professor in the departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, invoked the work of anticolonial writer and theorist Frantz Fanon to explain the situation, urging everyone to examine the chapter “On Violence” in Fanon’s 1961 book “The Wretched of the Earth.” This chapter delineates the power asymmetry between the colonized and the colonizer, with the latter benefiting from the fruits of modern society while the former endure lives marked by poverty and degradation.
“But also, Fanon speaks about when the colonized take matters into their own hands,” Bazian said. “He says, that moment, a new man and woman is born. Now I would say that Palestinians have been existing and giving birth to their resistance since the time the British came and gifted Palestine to settler-colonialism and Zionism.”
Bazian criticized mainstream media outlets, such as CNN, for often omitting context and disregarding the suffering of Palestinians while disproportionately highlighting the suffering of Israelis. No one is celebrating the suffering of Israelis, Bazian said, but he pointed out that these same outlets expressed no outrage on behalf of Palestinians, who have witnessed 435 deaths, including 235 children, since the start of the year.
“Where is your solidarity when the Al-Aqsa Mosque is constantly being attacked,” Bazian asked. “Where is your solidarity when Sheikh Jarrah is being attacked?”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.
Photo caption: Lara Kiswani, executive director of Arab Resource and Organizing Center, speaks about the importance of having solidarity with Palestine in this moment to a crowd of hundreds in San Francisco on Sunday, Oct. 8. (Sonia Waraich – East Bay Echo)