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Gaza war mural repeatedly defaced by swastikas, hate speech in Noe Valley

A person cleans a mural outside a building
Samir Salameh uses a rag and acetone to remove a swastika and hate speech from a mural on Wednesday. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

A spree of hate-filled graffiti has damaged a mural in Noe Valley depicting Israeli bombs being dropped on civilians in Gaza.

The Standard received word of the mural's defacement Tuesday evening after a poorly drawn swastika was left on a wall beside the mural, which was created by Palestinian American artist Chris Gazaleh and placed outside 4018-4020 24th St. last fall after the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

The mural refers to Israel’s military campaign as genocide and also lists numbers for damage to schools and heritage sites, injuries, displaced people and deaths since the start of the conflict. The overall death toll is at least 34,735, according to the United Nations.

The mural has been vandalized repeatedly since its creation, with messages that appear to support both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian positions.

David Lasker, a real estate agent who works in Noe Valley, was passing by the mural on Wednesday morning when he stopped to speak with The Standard. “I don’t know what the motivation is, or if they seriously want to kill Jews,” he said. “It's the same thing as a man with a white hood and a noose. That's the same thing, but for a different group of people.”

Swastika on wall in Noe Valley
A swastika was daubed near the mural outside a 24th Street building in Noe Valley. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

By 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, Department of Public Works staffers had returned to cover the swastika with paint. Another man, who would not provide his name, tried to wipe away a swastika on the mural.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the area, said his office has regularly received comments about the mural since its installation and was aware of the defacements. Mandelman said his office is working with the police department's public safety liaison and the neighborhood community benefit district.

“The city and the district are trying to be as responsive as we can,” he said. “I understand it's upsetting. The police will try to figure out who's doing this and get them to stop.”

He drew a clear line between the mural’s message and its defacement.

“This is a controversial mural. It is provocative, and it's intended to be provocative. But I think there is a difference. It is on someone's private property; it's an expression of that owner's free speech,” the supervisor said. “Legally, the owner of the building is well within their rights. The people defacing the mural are breaking the law. I don't love having a provocative mural on 24th Street, but it’s the owner's right.”

Noe Valley mural defaced
A mural referencing the human toll of the Israel-Hamas war by Palestinian American artist Chris Gazaleh was defaced with antisemitic graffiti. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

San Francisco Police Department said they were alerted to the vandalism on Tuesday evening and are investigating the graffiti as a hate crime.

A spokesperson from the Department of Public Works could not be reached for comment.

'This is the eighth time'

By mid-morning Wednesday, Samir Salameh, who lives in the building and whose family trust owns it, used a rag and acetone solvent to remove a swastika and hate speech from the mural.

Salameh said he commissioned the mural but expressed frustration about repeated slurs and messages daubed on it, including one left by a woman in late April reading, “Bring back our fucking hostages.” The muralist came out to cover over the writing and repaint the mural, he said.

“This is the eighth time that's been vandalized. You should have seen the earlier ones,” Salameh said while scrubbing at the graffiti.

A city public works employee painted over a wall Wednesday morning beside a mural persistently vandalized by hate symbols and religiously charged hate speech outside a 24th Street building in Noe Valley.
A Public Works employee paints over a wall Wednesday morning beside a mural persistently vandalized with hate symbols outside a 24th Street building in Noe Valley. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Salameh said his family has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and has “just as much a right to live here and speak our minds.”

“These are just really desperate people who have lost the narrative and want to suppress Palestinian voices in any way possible,” he said.

Olya G., who stopped for coffee outside neighboring bakery Vive la Tarte, expressed “mixed feelings” about the mural on Thursday.

She said she took issue with an image in the mural of a bomb labeled “Made in USA” with a dollar sign motif reminiscent of the Israeli flag, which brings “very antisemitic tropes.”

However, Olya said the graffiti scrawled on the mural overnight was “absolutely” distinct from the artwork and made her feel unsafe.

Olya, a Russian Jewish immigrant who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 20 years, said it was the first time she felt real fear walking the commercial corridor.

“I grew up in the Soviet Union with stuff like that on the walls,” she said. “I moved away from it because we didn't feel safe.”

Olya added that the mural's installation had “an unexpected positive impact in a way” by uniting a “previously disparate” Noe Valley Jewish community.

“What started as a common reaction to an unpleasant event has flowered into monthly potlucks, book clubs, neighborly help and recommendations, and an overall sense of community that wasn’t there before,” she said.