Silhouetted by a streetlight, a father hoisted his son onto his shoulders and joined more than 300 people marching through the San Luis Obispo Farmers Market on Thursday night — all calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and urging the United States to stop funding Israel’s military.
“We have children who are seeing their families die. It’s heartbreaking,” said a protest organizer who asked to remain anonymous to protect her safety. “A ceasefire is the bare minimum. These people’s generational homes have been bombed. Their cultural history is being erased.”
The march by pro-Palestinian protesters came in response to war in Gaza that was sparked on Oct. 7 when the militant group Hamas, which the United States has labeled a terrorist organization, attacked Israeli towns along the northern border of the Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,400 people and taking 200 hostages.
About 1.6 million Gaza residents have been internally displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Israel’s blockade of Gaza is also limiting food, water and medical aid that can reach the enclave.
San Luis Obispo County resident Ashraf Tubeileh, who helped organize the protest, said the United States has a strong influence over Israel thanks to its military support and trade ties.
He called for the United States to end military aid to Israel and demand a ceasefire in Gaza to protect civilian life.
“Israel has been continually bombarding and striking civilian buildings and infrastructure, even hospitals, churches, schools,” Tubeileh said. “This has been going on for over a month now, and with the full support of the Biden administration and Congress.”
Supporters of Israel hold counter-protest
The protesters’ demands were not met without resistance in San Luis Obispo on Thursday night, however.
Five counter-protesters stood at Mission Plaza with an Israeli flag and a sign that read “release the hostages.”
“A ceasefire can happen after the hostages have been released,” Cuesta College student Nina Spinello said.
She said the U.S. should continue to provide funding to Israel as it works to free the hostages.
Israeli officials said their airstrikes target Hamas militants and infrastructure, which are located in civilian areas. Spinello said Israel has a right to defend itself, and blames civilian casualties in Gaza on Hamas.
“Hamas is using the children as shields, and I don’t really think that’s Israel’s fault,” Spinello said. “The alternative is just stop and allow Hamas to send repeated bombs over the border. No country is going to do that.”
Tubeileh, however, said that targeting civilian areas is not an appropriate response to Hamas’ attack — as Gaza civilians played no part in the assault.
“Those people have committed no crimes, no sins, no nothing,” Tubeileh said after the march. “That is just killing innocent civilians with no regard for human rights.”
Along with calling for a ceasefire and the United States to end aid to Israel — protesters also called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, including the West Bank and Jerusalem.
He urged SLO County residents to call their representatives and demand a ceasefire, and for the United States stop funding the Israeli military, he said.
Voters can reach Rep. Salud Carbajal’s San Luis Obispo office at 805-546-8348 and his Washington, D.C., office at 202-225-3601. North County voters can reach Rep. Jimmy Pannetta’s Paso Robles office at 805-400-6535 and his Washington, D.C., office at 202-225-2861.
“We are enjoying our freedoms here, so we want also the people of Palestine to be the same,” Tubeileh said. “We want them to be liberated.”