A large crowd of teenagers walk across the street
Students at Berkeley High march from Civic Center Park to UC Berkeley campus during a walkout calling for a ceasefire and end to bombing in Gaza on Oct. 18. Credit: Ally Markovich

Over 150 Berkeley High students walked out of class Wednesday in a pro-Palestine rally to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war after the surprise deadly attack by Hamas almost two weeks ago and the retaliatory airstrikes by Israelis.

The protest is part of a larger day of action organized by the Arab Resource Organizing Center of San Francisco. The attack by Hamas on Israeli soil left at least 1,400 Israelis dead. More than 3,300 people in Gaza have died since Israel began retaliatory air strikes in the territory, according to the BBC, and a ground offensive is expected.

“We refuse to stay silent while so many families are being massacred and millions are being forcibly displaced,” one Berkeley High student said at the protest.

“We are calling for an end to the occupation that Palestinians have endured for 75 years,” said another.

Marching from Civic Center Park to UC Berkeley, students chanted, “Stop bombing Gaza” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Students at the rally drew attention to the plight of Palestinians over several decades of armed conflict in the region, describing Israel’s hand in creating an apartheid state that they said operates like an open-air prison. Since Hamas seized power in 2007, Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip, home to more than 2 million Palestinians, controlling trade and restricting residents’ movement in and out of Gaza.

The protesters called on teachers to teach about the history of the conflict. While marching, some Jewish students could be heard in the crowd explaining Zionism and Judaism to their peers.

One student leader also denounced the murder of Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

“Berkeley Unified stands against all forms of hate,” Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel said in a statement shared with the community ahead of the protest. BUSD said the protest was not “a district-sanctioned event” and referenced the district’s long tradition of students exercising their right to free speech.

The protest sparked fear among some Jewish students on campus and their families. At the same time, students at the rally also shared concern about a rise in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian rhetoric and violence.

Similar protests took place in San Francisco and at other schools. In the last week, students have protested at UC Berkeley and college campuses nationwide, further polarizing supporters of Israel and Palestine. There have been separate vigils to mourn the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives.

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Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...