Jewish protesters and supporters were arrested Monday night after occupying the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in downtown Oakland for hours, demonstrating in support of a ceasefire in Gaza.
The protest started around 4 p.m., when hundreds of people streamed into the federal building, filling the rotunda and hallways, and climbing up to the top level. Wearing shirts that said “Not in our name” and “Ceasefire now,” they chanted, danced, and sang Jewish songs.
Their calls were aimed at Rep. Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden, who’s in San Francisco this week for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Rep. Barbara Lee, who represents Oakland, recently expressed support for a ceasefire, joining a small cohort in Congress.
Throughout the evening, activists of all ages, some in kippahs—traditional Jewish caps—took turns leading songs and speaking to the crowd circled up in the rotunda. “We cannot allow Jewish grief to be exploited for violence,” said one of the protesters through a microphone.
Organizers of Monday’s sit-in said they believed the action to be the largest Jewish civil disobedience in Bay Area history.
“In all the years I’ve been doing this work I have never seen thousands and thousands of Jewish people across the United States, and of course others as well, rise up to say, ‘Not in our name,’” said Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, who sits on the Rabbinic Council of Jewish Voice for Peace and said she’s been working on freedom for Gaza and the West Bank for the last 56 years. “I’ve never seen this amount of support.”
Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist organization, led Monday’s protest along with If Not Now and other groups. The organization was behind similar direct actions at the Statue of Liberty and Grand Central Station in New York City. Monday’s protest was the second major act of civil disobedience in Oakland related to the bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza: On Nov. 3, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center helped organize a protest at the Port of Oakland where activists attempted to board a ship they said was delivering military supplies to Israel.
Around 8 p.m., officers with the Department of Homeland Security issued a dispersal order for the federal building. Shortly after that, they began arresting protesters, leading them out one by one. Organizers had advised demonstrators not to resist arrest. Those arrested were cited and released at the scene, organizers said Tuesday morning.
The Oaklandside reached out to the Federal Protective Service to confirm how many protesters were arrested or cited Monday, but the agency did not immediately respond.
As of Nov. 14, Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed over 11,000 Palestinians, including thousands of children, according to news reports. More than one million Gaza residents have been displaced during Israel’s ground invasion. The Israeli attacks are in response to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which killed 1,200 Israelis and took 238 hostages.
Dr. Rupa Marya, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, and a co-founder of the Do No Harm Coalition, said hospitals in Gaza lack essential equipment to keep patients alive. As an example, she said incubators in a neonatal intensive care unit have run out of fuel, and premature babies are now dying.
“Stop sending the weapons, stop sending military aid—we need healthcare here,” Marya said. “I have patients who are dying of cancer who are crying because they don’t know how their loved ones are going to handle the bills after they die. This is the reality in the U.S. But we have billions of dollars to go bomb children in Gaza.”
Protester Christy Lubin said she came to the federal building sit-in because she doesn’t want the attacks on Gaza to “be done in my name, and certainly not with my tax dollars.”
“We know the U.S. government pulls the purse strings when it comes to Israel,” said Lubin, whose mother Barbara Lubin founded the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a Berkeley-based nonprofit providing aid to Palestinian, Iraqi, and Lebanese families and organizations.
She called the crowd gathered in the rotunda “beautiful,” saying, “It makes me feel like on some level there’s some hope.”
Also among the demonstrators was Oakland musician and filmmaker Boots Riley, who wore one of his signature hats and took to a megaphone to urge the activists to continue organizing and remind them that they have power. A video appears to show Riley getting arrested later in the night.
While Monday’s protest was aimed at federal officials, activists have also urged local government bodies to demand a ceasefire. In late October, the Richmond City Council passed one of the first resolutions in the country calling for a ceasefire and expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza.
Last week, the board of the Oakland Unified School District was expected to introduce a resolution acknowledging the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, mourning lives lost on both sides of the conflict, and calling for a ceasefire, the release of hostages, and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. But the board adjourned early after some attendees disrupted the meeting to object to the limited public comment period.
The Oakland Education Association passed a resolution on Oct. 27 that supported Palestinian liberation, called Israel genocidal and an apartheid state, and called for an immediate ceasefire. The OEA later deleted its statement on Instagram and said it did not accurately represent their resolution. The union’s board approved another resolution last week, encouraging its members to speak up and provide education about Palestinian liberation in classrooms.
Last Friday, a group of Jewish parents and community leaders, including the head of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, called on the OEA to rescind its statements and said the resolution made them feel unsafe at Oakland schools.
Residents and activists recently demanded the Oakland City Council pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire. Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas issued a statement yesterday supporting a ceasefire and criticizing the federal government for sending billions in military aid to Israel.