Bay Bridge blocked off by pro-Palestinian protesters during APEC summit, Biden visit

Police officers clear demonstrators blocking the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge while protesting against the APEC summit on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Police officers clear protesters blocking the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Thursday. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)

About 250 pro-Palestinian protesters blocked off traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for hours Thursday, with some people chaining themselves together across lanes and shutting down a vital Bay Area route during the busy morning commute.

Protesters blocked the westbound lanes of the bridge, heading into San Francisco, and chanted, "Cease-fire now!" while others unfurled a large banner that read "No military aid to Israel," according to videos posted on the social media platform X by the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, one of the groups involved in the protest.

The protest comes as President Biden and world leaders met in the area for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. Protesters at the bridge told The Times the goal was to disrupt the conference and draw the attention of world leaders, especially Biden, to the armed conflict and deaths of Palestinians in Gaza.

"[Biden] is neglecting the community who is calling for a cease-fire, and as long as they are being ignored, community members are willing to shut it down week after week," said Rami Abdelkarim, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, one of the organizations that helped coordinate the protest.

Police are the only figures on an empty Bay Bridge.
Police stand on empty westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge after protesters block traffic. (Jason Henry / AFP/Getty Images)

Some protesters, with signs on their backs that read, "The people demand a cease fire," lay down across lanes on the busy bridge, while others unfurled a large white banner that read "Genocide" in red block letters.

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Although lanes were not blocked on the eastbound lanes, traffic in both directions was affected, said California Highway Patrol Officer Art Montiel.

Protesters began blocking lanes on the bridge about 7:40 a.m., said CHP Officer Andrew Barclay, bringing traffic headed into San Francisco to a halt.

By noon, the CHP said all westbound lanes were reopened.

Barclay said it was unclear how many police officers responded to the protest, but said "a large amount of personnel" were called to help clear the bridge. Several CHP officers were deployed wearing protective gear, he said.

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, about 3.7 million cars cross the Bay Bridge on a monthly basis.

By 10 a.m., video from Fox KTVU showed several people detained, their hands bound behind their backs with zip-ties, sitting on the shoulder of the bridge.

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Mohamed Shehk, a member of the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, told The Times about 50 people appeared to have been detained by police at some point.

In a post in the social media platform X, the San Francisco Sheriff's Office said about 80 demonstrators were cited and released by its office and the San Francisco Police Department and CHP.

Shehk said members of his organization, as well as at least a dozen others, were involved in the protest because of the nearby APEC summit. He said the protest was not organized by one particular organization, and called it a "dispersed, decentralized effort."

"We want to see an immediate halting of Israeli bombings of the Palestinian people," Shehk said. "We're here to send a strong message that there will be no business as usual as long as the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza continues, and as long as the United States continues to blindly support this genocide through political cover and direct military funding."

"We will continue to mobilize, we will continue to disrupt, and we will make sure there is no business as usual until there is a cease-fire," he added.

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The demonstration disrupted not just thousands of commuters on the bridge, but there were "major delays transporting organs" to and from UC San Francisco hospitals because of the protest, according to Dr. Garrett Roll, associate professor of transplant surgery for UCSF.

"There are always organs coming and going from our hospital, around the clock," Roll said in an email. "This was a normal day in that respect, until the bridge traffic stopped."

Organ transplant takes a great amount of coordination between staff and the patients who are donating and receiving the organs, so delays are particularly challenging, he said.

"Days like today add a lot of stress to the system," Roll said.

A spokesperson for UCSF could not immediately confirm how many transplant organs were affected, but said despite the unexpected delays, it was not expected to impact the patients' outcomes.

The protest on the Bay Bridge is just the latest of high-profile demonstrations that have not just drawn attention to the armed conflict in Gaza after Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, but also looked to cause public disruptions with acts of civil disobedience.

On Wednesday afternoon, Jewish activists shut down the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, blocking off traffic while demonstrators called for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Read more: Jewish activists rallying for Gaza cease-fire shut down Hollywood intersection

In Oakland, more than 700 demonstrators refused to leave the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, leading to mass arrests.

Those demonstrations have followed other similar incidents in Chicago and New York.

The large protests have called for a cease-fire in Gaza, where more than 11,000 people have been killed in an Israeli military offensive targeting Hamas, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The military action came after Hamas killed about 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to the Israeli government.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.