by Judith Scherr
Ahmed Alkhatib is a long way from Gaza, where he lived for 15 of his 18 years. On Saturday, he stood among the hundreds of protesters in downtown San Francisco, the day Israeli ground troops invaded Gaza.
“This is not about terrorism on Hamas; this is about punishing 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza,” he told this reporter as the crowd chanted, “Stop the bombing,” and speakers railed against Israel’s “collective punishment” of Palestinians.
“People talk about how horrible it is about these rockets going out of Gaza – and I don’t condone these rockets and I admit that they cause suffering,” he said. “Palestinians aren’t just born with a gene that says ‘t’ – terrorist. This was bred by injustice – 60 years of occupation,” including the two years of severe shortages before the siege.
Alkhatib said he has been accorded political refugee status in the U.S., but his family lives in Gaza. The day Israel began heavy air strikes, Dec. 27, Alkhatib’s mother had to walk among dead bodies to get home from the school where she works. He said his family lives in terror and has little food.
Alkhatib said ironically he has become one of those taxpayers who shells out funds for the weapons the U.S. sends to Israel, funds he said could be better spent in the U.S.
As darkness descended upon Market Street, the crowd swelled to around 600 and began to march toward Civic Center, with dozens of green, red and white Palestinian flags floating beneath the holiday stars affixed to utility poles.
Aaron Goldstein was one of a handful of Israeli supporters who came to counter-demonstrate. At the gathering in the plaza before the march, Goldstein traversed the crowd, accompanied by some eight San Francisco police officers. He stopped to speak briefly to this reporter.
“These people don’t know that every problem they’re blaming on Israel can be blamed on Hamas,” he said.
“Everything is Hamas’ fault: the humanitarian crisis and Israel’s military actions. People are starving – they don’t have fuel – it can all be blamed on Hamas. It’s so simple. They fire missiles when they should be helping the people they are controlling.”
Goldstein would have explained further, but a San Francisco police officer urged him to take the counter-protest to the other side of the street.
“I have an obligation as a Jewish person to be on the side of a struggle for justice,” said Aaron, who was wearing the traditional Jewish yarmulke and tallis. Aaron wanted to be identified only by his first name. (This person is not Israeli supporter Aaron Goldstein quoted above.)
“Unfortunately the Israeli government is on the wrong side. Jews have a long history of being persecuted – it hurts me to see Israel on the wrong side,” he said, adding that every person has a right to a homeland.
Saturday’s quickly-called San Francisco protest to condemn the invasion was smaller than the one on Tuesday, when some 2,000 demonstrators filled Market Street. The ground invasion drew much larger protests in London – 10,000 people – and Paris – 21,000. Large demonstrations were also reported in Afghanistan, Turkey, Greece, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands.
A protest is slated for San Francisco next Saturday, called by the ANSWER Coalition, Muslim American Society, Free Palestine Alliance, National Council of Arab Americans and Al-Awda, the International Palestine Right to Return Coalition.
Judith Scherr is an independent journalist living in the Bay Area. She can be reached at email@example.com.