Hundreds of San Francisco high school students and students from across the country walked out of classes Wednesday to protest ongoing violence in Gaza and call for an immediate cease-fire.
The walkout led by Arab Youth Organizing came after an explosion at a hospital where the Hamas-run Health Ministry says at least 500 people were killed, though the event was conceived of earlier by a San Francisco high school student whose family is from Gaza, organizers said. More than 3,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, including over 1,100 children, according to organizers.
A couple of hundred students marched along Francisco Street before turning onto Van Ness Avenue and walking toward Bay Street from Galileo High School. At the head of the line, a student held the Palestinian flag. Other students chanted, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."
The White House says current intelligence shows that Israel was “not responsible” for the explosion at a Gaza hospital, but information is still being collected. Hamas blames Israel.
Students are demanding an end to U.S. aid to Israel, arguing the funding enables Israel's military strikes on Gaza. The U.S. provides about $3.8 billion a year in aid to Israel.
Organizers held a news conference outside San Francisco City Hall at 10 a.m. ahead of the planned walkout. Speakers included local officials, religious leaders, labor leaders and community organizers.
“The daily killing of Palestinian civilians and so many children must stop immediately," San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen plans to say, according to organizers. “And as a Jew, I cannot stay silent as I watch the Israeli military commit genocide in our name.”
The walkout comes amid concerns about rising anti-Arab and antisemitic attacks in the U.S. as tensions flare in the Middle East following Hamas' surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,000 people.
“We encourage students of all backgrounds to join us and demand an end to the violence,” said Zaynah Elkarra, a student at Lowell High School in San Francisco.
Outside Galileo High School late Wednesday morning, 16-year-old student Angel Avalos walked with a fellow student who was weighing whether to go back to school for fourth-period classes.
"Bad things are happening in Palestine," Avalos told The Standard. "I watched it on TV. It's sad because so many families are dying from both sides, kids getting kidnapped. It's just horrible."
On Tuesday, some 70 parents of public school students in San Francisco signed an open letter sent to SFUSD Superintendent Matt Wayne voicing concerns about the walkout.
“Jewish families, who have spent the last 10 days mourning the brutal murders and kidnappings that Hamas inflicted against Jews in Israel, need your leadership and support to ensure our students are and feel safe, secure and respected at school,” said the letter.
Like other schools around the Bay Area, SFUSD issued a statement about the conflict Tuesday.
"At SFUSD, we strive to educate our students to think critically, cultivate empathy, and resolve conflicts peacefully," SFUSD Superintendent Matt Wayne said in the statement. "We hope that as adults you will join us to model the same behaviors that we want to see in our classrooms and schoolyards. Violence is never the answer."
Still, Renee Mahan, a Jewish San Francisco parent of two sons, aged 14 and 16, at Lincoln High School, said her ninth grader stayed home Wednesday to avoid the protest.
“He just feels uncomfortable,” said Mahan, who said neither of her kids had strong views about the conflict unfolding in the Middle East. But like other Jewish students in recent days, she said, “they feel unsafe.”
“I understand they have a right to have a rally. There is freedom of speech,” said Mahan. “But when it makes other kids feel threatened?”
Another Jewish parent who signed the letter, Amanda Fried, said, “My kid walked out of the house today with a Jewish star necklace, and I worried about her. I’ve never done that.”
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that the estimated number of people killed in the Gaza City hospital explosion came from the Hamas-run Health Ministry.
George Kelly can be reached at email@example.com