(01-03) 21:02 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- Since the Israeli offensive against Gaza began a week ago, 18-year-old San Francisco City College student Ahmed Alkhatib can check in with his family only once a day- and that's if the phones work.
Otherwise, Alkhatib can only hope that his parents, two brothers and two sisters will stay safe in their Gaza home as they watch bombs fall around them. And, much like tens of thousands of people around the world did today, he can protest.
Alkhatib and hundreds of others who flocked to Market Street in San Francisco this evening said they were there to protest the Israeli ground invasion, which began earlier today. But they also had their sights set closer to home: Many said they want to urge American leaders and citizens to oppose any financial support of the Israeli government, by boycotting and divesting from companies that support the Middle East state.
"I do feel powerless and guilty, because I am part of the (American) establishment that is financing and supplying the occupation," said Alkhatib, a Pacifica resident who came to the United States three years ago as an exchange student and was unable return to Gaza because of ongoing violence.
"But I also feel powerful," he said. "If I wasn't here, there would be nobody to talk about my family, nobody to tell, through my family's story, that the violence is not just compromising one family, it is compromising thousands."The San Francisco rally began with several hundred demonstrators gathering around 5 p.m. at Market and Powell streets. By 6 p.m., the crowd - many of them waving Palestinian flags and wearing head scarves - had swelled to about 500, and marched up Market Street to City Hall. There were no counter protests, as there have been in days past.
Many protesters, such as San Francisco resident Ateyeh Ateyeh, were Palestinian.
"This is the least we could do to protest our government's action," said the U.S. citizen, who fled the West Bank in 1989 and brought his wife and four children to the rally. "We don't want to say, 'Support the Palestinian's ... cause.' We just want to say, 'Stay neutral, stop sending American planes and our tax dollars.'"
Many simply urged peace.
Francesca Rosa, a 54-year-old San Francisco resident, held an olive branch in one hand and a Palestinian flag in the other. And Natalie Hrizi, also of San Francisco, garnered loud cheers as she spoke to the crowd through a bullhorn.
"Palestine isn't just about Palestine, it's about all of us who stand for peace," she said. "It's about all of us who stand against racism and for justice."
The San Francisco rally - the fifth last week - was small and peaceful compared to many elsewhere in the world.
In Europe, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in major cities on Saturday against Israel's bombardment of Gaza.
In London, at least 10,000 people marched past Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street residence to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Outside Downing Street, hundreds of protesters threw shoes at the gates that block entry to the narrow road.
Shoe-throwing has become a popular way to express protest and contempt since an Iraqi journalist pelted U.S. President George W. Bush with a pair of shoes in Baghdad last month.
Rallies also were held in other British cities - including Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. Elsewhere in Europe, protests in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Berlin all drew big crowds.
In Paris, police said 21,000 marched through the streets, shouting "We are all Palestinians" and "Israel assassin." Later, about 500 protesters threw objects at police, burned Israeli flags, overturned and torched cars, and vandalized several shops, police said.
Angry protests continued for a second day in Turkey, where about 5,000 demonstrators in Ankara shouted "killer Israel."
In The Netherlands, thousands of people marched through Amsterdam. One banner declared: "Anne Frank is turning in her grave. Oh Israel!"
In Athens, a few of the 5,000 protesters threw stones and gasoline bombs at police outside the Israeli Embassy. Riot police retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades.
More protests are planned, including another in San Francisco at noon Sunday at Powell and Market streets. Next Saturday, there is an 11 a.m. event in San Francisco's Civic Center.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
E-mail Marisa Lagos at firstname.lastname@example.org