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November 7, 2023 by ROCK WILLIAMS

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Throughout the last month as Israel’s U.S.-backed genocide in the Gaza Strip continues, thousands across the country poured into the streets in support of both a ceasefire and a Free Palestine. 

The Bay Area was no different.  Thousands marched in San Francisco November 3rd and  activists at the Port of Oakland delayed the departure of an Israel-bound cargo ship for nine hours  before the ship sailed to Tacoma, Washington to pick up weapons.

Two days later, on Nov. 5, Jewish Voice for Peace-Bay Area and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network led a protest in affluent San Carlos at the Hiller Aviation Museum where the “Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Gala” was to be held beginning at 6:15 p.m. Also billed as celebrating “75 years of courage,” the event, which cost attendees $500, was set to feature Nancy Spieldberg—film director Steven Spielberg’s sister—as its keynote speaker. 

The Friends of the Israel Defense was formed in 1981 by Holocaust survivors and describes itself as “a non-political, non-military organization that provides for [the] wellbeing of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), veterans and family members.”

According to their website, the FIDF is the “single organization authorized to collect charitable donations on behalf of the soldiers of the IDF across the United States.” But that’s not all they do. They provide “support” to those in the IDF through numerous “wellbeing programs” that provide funds to IDF soldiers and their families, “scholarship programs,” and “construction programs” to name a few.

By 4 p.m., more than two hours prior to the event starting, around 150 pro-Free Palestine protesters arrived to see that San Mateo County Sheriff Deputies, wearing riot gear, were already lining the front of the museum and further in front of the parking lot. Further down the same street as the museum, Starbucks—who is currently suing its union for their pro-Palestine stance—got its first of many tags of the night, “cup of genocide?” — a sharp criticism of the coffee chain’s position on the matter. 

Starbucks would receive more graffiti later that night. Photo by Rock Williams.

The protest quickly grew to several hundred people and, eventually, around 1,000. Included in the crowd were both the fluorescent green-vested individuals that were the protest’s security and the similarly colored hat-wearing legal observers with the National Lawyers Guild. Additionally, there were two medic stations loaded with drinks, snacks, and first aid equipment, however, both were cut-off from the majority of the crowd on the other side of the sheriff department’s makeshift driveway. 

About an hour after the protest began, sheriff deputies forced a break in the crowd, splitting it, to allow for a couple of tow trucks to remove two cars that had parked on the street. Expectedly, the tow truck drivers were not immune from the protester’s ire. They were shouted at by protesters for their complicity in the night’s gala and, indirectly, what was happening in Gaza.

The riot line during daytime. Photo by Rock Williams.

A handful of pro-Israel counter-protesters arrived around the same time as the two trucks did their thing. The counter-protesters, holding signs and at least one Israeli flag, were not shy of confrontation and incited arguments with many. Eventually, a protester ran in-between two of the pro-Israel demonstrators, snatching their Israeli flag. A short-lived fight ensued but ended quickly when the involved parties were separated by others and protest security At least one other person was knocked to the ground during the scuffle but quickly got up. 

Pro-Israel protestors hold up a sign that says “Hostages in Gaza equals no ceasefire.” Photo by Mark Misoshnik

Around 5:30 p.m., with the protest indefinitely split into two, gala attendees began to arrive in their vehicles. As they did, the attendees faced a chorus of “shame on you” and boos. Some had beverages thrown at them. 

This continued for the next couple of hours as more and more attendees arrived. However, around 7:30 p.m., the tide seemed to shift and not only were protesters starting to leave in small groups but it was being reported by organizers that gala attendees were actually leaving through a back door, too afraid to stay and too afraid to go past the protesters again. 

Notably, no arrests were made during the hours-long protest. By the end of the night, Starbucks had a complete makeover. 

Mark Misoshnik contributed to this report.

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