Pro-Palestine rallies continue to grow as many Bay Area elected officials fail to act

Thousands of people flood the street in front of the San Francisco Federal Building, demanding an end to the carnage in the Gaza Strip, on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 20. (Sonia Waraich - East Bay Echo)

SAN FRANCISCO — In the wake of the Israel Defense Forces’ bombardment of Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, Bay Area residents once again took to the streets, urging elected officials to end the unrelenting carnage unfolding in the Gaza Strip.

“It’s one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our century,” Alameda County resident Toby Blome told the East Bay Echo.

The rally on Thursday drew a crowd of at least 3,000 Bay Area residents representing diverse age groups, faiths and backgrounds, drawn to the San Francisco Federal Building on 7th Street by the shared convictions that Israel’s occupation of Palestine must end and elected officials must, at the very least, call for an immediate cease-fire. Blome expressed disappointment in the response thus far from Bay Area politicians, including her representative, Congressman John Garamendi (D-District 8).

“Our Congress is complicit,” Blome said.

Around the same time, President Joe Biden was delivering a speech from Tel Aviv, reiterating unwavering support for Israel’s retaliatory measures following the Oct. 7 attack, when militant groups from Gaza took Israel by surprise. That operation reportedly targeted high-ranking Israeli military officials, though civilians, who were taken as hostages, also died. A mother and daughter who were taken hostage were released Friday as a gesture of goodwill with the assistance of Qatar.

During the speech, Biden spoke about efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Israel and Gaza, as well as the need to distinguish between civilians and militants. However, he also continued to repeat misinformation, including claims about beheadings and the source of the explosion at the Al-Ahli hospital.

In a press conference at the hospital, surrounded by the bodies of the dead, a Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson explained that the Israel Defense Forces, which have been carpet-bombing the Gaza Strip for two weeks, repeatedly instructed hospital staff to evacuate in the days leading up to the bombing. Similarly, Doctors Without Borders shared on social media that Al-Awda Hospital had been given just two hours to evacuate about a week ago. On Friday, humanitarian organization Palestine Red Crescent Society shared that Israel threatened to bomb Al-Quds Hospital.

Israel, however, denied its involvement, instead attributing the massacre to a misfired rocket from the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

An independent video investigation by news outlet Al Jazeera, which was livestreaming the skyline, cast serious doubt that a failed rocket launch could have caused the blast. Video footage clearly showed rockets launched from Gaza being intercepted by the Iron Dome, the Israeli missile defense system. After analyzing the crater, the investigation team determined the hospital was very likely struck from the direction of Israel.

Israel is banning Al Jazeera from reporting from the area.

Since the hospital’s bombing, global rallies from the Philippines to Egypt have swelled to proportions unseen in years. This resurgence comes despite mounting opposition to advocating for Palestine, with bans on pro-Palestine rallies in countries like France and shows of support in the U.S. resulting in journalists and scholars losing their jobs.

Despite the risks, Alameda County resident Sophia Simon-Ortiz was among those who remained undaunted in publicly expressing solidarity for Palestine on Thursday. As a Jewish person born and raised in the U.S., Simon-Ortiz said it was important to speak up against Israel’s decades of brutal atrocities as a settler-colonial nation, as well as the role of the U.S. in backing it all.

“It’s being done in my name,” Simon-Ortiz told the East Bay Echo, “and I refuse to be OK with that.”

Participants at the rally urged local representatives, particularly prominent figures like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-District 11), to support Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush’s resolution, which calls on the Biden administration to work toward an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine. Few Democrats have heeded this call so far, aligning with the Biden administration, which on Wednesday cast the sole vote vetoing a watered-down United Nations Security Council resolution calling for humanitarian pauses that would have facilitated aid delivery to millions in Gaza.

Yet, those who have positioned themselves as progressives, but have refrained from endorsing the resolution, are beginning to face a groundswell of discontent. On Thursday, journalist Ryan Grim reported that Rep. Ro Khanna (D-District 17)’s political director tendered his resignation because of Khanna’s refusal to support the resolution. On Friday, demonstrators staged a sit-in at his office, demanding he join in the call for an immediate cease-fire.

“I invited protestors doing a sit-in into my office & had a 25 minute filmed conversation,” Khanna posted on social media. “I expressed my desire to see civilian lives protected, an end to the occupation, & a restart to the Oslo peace process, while holding Hamas perpetrators accountable. I respect their sincere activism and believe they deserve to be heard.”

While Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-District 14) expressed empathy for “innocent Gazans” on social media, stating that “no Jewish constituent I have or leader I know is calling for leveling Gaza and killing innocent Palestinians,” he has given no indication of endorsing a cease-fire.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom visited Israel en route to China and issued a statement expressing his support for its people, particularly the hostages and those impacted by the violence, with minimal mention of Palestinians or the crisis in Gaza.

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.

Photo caption: Thousands of people flood the street in front of the San Francisco Federal Building, demanding an end to the carnage in the Gaza Strip, on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 20. (Sonia Waraich – East Bay Echo)

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