An estimated 15,000 people marched Saturday from the Embarcadero through Downtown San Francisco and onto Highway 101 to demand a cease-fire as Israel expanded its ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.
The crowd, which chanted various messages of solidarity with Palestine, hit the streets around 2 p.m. and made its way to the freeway about two-and-a-half hours later, stopping traffic as demonstrators danced, chanted and waved flags.
By 5 p.m., all lanes of Highway 101 were blocked near the Interstate 80 split.
Officials issued an advisory warning drivers to expect delays and to use alternate routes.
After the march exited the freeway, protesters took to the Mission District, eventually shutting down Mission and 16th streets.
"I know it’s illegal to walk on the freeway, but the pain is so deep that this is OK," said Ali Hijaz, who said they grew up in a small village outside of Jerusalem. "We have been beat down for so long."
Hijaz added that social media is helping spread the realities of the situation in Gaza.
"People didn't know what that means," Hijaz added about the feeling of occupation. "They don’t know what it feels like when you are a child and a group of 10 to 20 men with big guns telling you to shut the fuck up. They don’t know what is means when you have to see your cousin taken to jail or when you want to go from village to village and there’s a checkpoint with where they put guns in your head.”
Sam Morrison, organizer with Jewish Voices for Peace, said the amount of casualties in Gaza is motivation enough to keep protestors coming into the streets.
"Seven-thousand dead so far, 3,000 children dead—what else is there?" he said. "But take it out and protest. We will be in the streets until there's a cease-fire."
The afternoon rally came a day after a near-total communications blackout and perhaps the heaviest Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip since the invasion began in response to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that left 1,400 Israelis dead.
People in Gaza being unreachable poses a risk for enabling "mass atrocities," Human Rights Watch said.
With more than 7,000 Gazans killed, including at least 3,000 children, and over 1.4 million displaced, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, communities throughout the U.S. are rallying to demand a cease-fire, an end to the ongoing ground invasion and to stop U.S. military aid to Israel.
"Israel's ground invasion will escalate the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza," Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, said in a press release ahead of the march. "With his blank check to Israel, Biden is sending us down a horrific path: We will see more Palestinians murdered, more bombs dropped, more war. The only solution for a sustainable peace is an immediate cease-fire and an end to U.S. funding to Israel."
The United Nations passed a resolution on a 120-14 vote Friday calling for a cease-fire. The United States and Israel voted against it.
Public outcry to end the Israeli occupation has been mounting, causing Biden's approval rating to drop 11 points this month. It is also worth noting that over 65% of voters across all parties urge a cease-fire in Gaza.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Joel Umanzor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org