West Coast activists block Zionist ships

Oakland, Calif., Aug. 24 — The action to stop the Israeli ship Zim from unloading at the Port of Oakland, initially planned as a one-day event, became a movement. Originally organized by Block the Boat for Gaza, a coalition of about 70 organizations led by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, the Aug. 16 action kept growing with its success. Supported and encouraged by the initial organizers, the movement included independent activists and, most significantly, the ranks of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

During four days of demonstrations and picket lines, with the support of the ILWU rank and file (who, with few exceptions, did not cross the lines), the ship was not unloaded.

On the evening of the fourth day, some cargo was unloaded, though much of it remained on the ship. This was only after the Zim pulled out of its berth at the SSA terminal in Oakland the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 19, left the San Francisco Bay, passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, only to return to Ports of America, a different terminal operator, at the Port of Oakland later that afternoon.

Lara Kiswani, executive director of AROC, told Workers World: “Our call for a West Coast action was extremely successful, as people around the world are thinking of doing similar actions. People in Palestine are watching and applauding our efforts here and see this as part of BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] in action. This has caused real economic damage to the state of Israel.”

Monadel Herzallah, national organizer of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network and a Block the Boat for Gaza organizer, told WW:  “The overwhelming support for our action has been amazing. We were prepared and organized to go one day, but when the energy was there to continue, I thought that was very good.

“The port workers had a history of standing up against injustice, and they were respectful of our cause and picket lines. They have worked in the past against injustice in South Africa and before that against the fascists and the Nazis. The community and the activists continued, and we supported that not only for the second day, but through the fourth. I think that the Block the Boat action in Oakland started a momentum that energized the BDS movement globally, including the workers and community across the West Coast.

“People in Palestine and Gaza were aware and recognized the support from the Oakland community, and it helped them to know that they are not alone in fighting the brutal Israeli aggression.”

Clarence Thomas: ‘We affect the global economy’

When WW asked Clarence Thomas, an ILWU Local 10 rank-and-file member and co-chair of the Million Worker March, about the significance of this movement, he said, “It was the longest action taken against an Israeli vessel using community blockades and the second time at the Port of Oakland.” The first was in response to the killing of unarmed people in international waters on board the ship Mavi Marmara, which was attempting to bring humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people in 2010.

“This was really a historic occasion,” stated Thomas. “There hadn’t been any demonstration in the U.S. which delayed a vessel for that long.”

Thomas discussed the role of the union in this struggle in solidarity with Palestine: “There was a great deal of outreach to the ILWU rank and file which allowed them to get familiar with the Local 10 history, from the [South African] anti-apartheid struggle. What happened in Ferguson allowed them to relate to what happened with respect to an occupying army.”

“Having seen videos of police actions — from a Black woman being beat up by a highway patrolman to a Black professor being beaten up — it’s not difficult or a stretch to empathize with people in Gaza. When I learned there are 1.1 million people in Gaza 18 and younger and about the displacement of Palestinian families, the relation to the conditions in the Black community is apparent.”

Thomas said of his union: “The rank and file responded in a splendid way. The longer the struggle went on, people were identifying with the struggle. They were following the Zim, watching its movement live on their cell phones. I’ve told members that we’ve respected community picket lines since 1935, when Local 10 workers refused to load metal that was bound for the war machines of fascist Italy and Japan, to 1984 when Local 10 longshore workers refused to unload South African cargo from the Nedlloyd Kimberley, during the height of the anti-apartheid struggle. It was the first time many of them had been involved in anything like that.

“They learned that if they don’t load a vessel, it affects the global economy. The action brought the local together, petty differences were pushed aside, as we united in struggle. They knew the response from Palestine to what we’ve done. It was very, very meaningful.”

Thomas added, “The 1993 Oslo Accord announced a program for the establishment of a Gaza Sea Port. Part of self-determination means to be able to have ships coming in and out of the sea and air ports, to be able to conduct international trade.”

Other cities block Zionist ships

Jefferson Azevedo, of the Los Angeles International Action Center, described to WW how the Block the Boat movement won a victory in southern California against another Zim ship: “Two hundred people arrived Saturday morning, August 23, at the Port of Long Beach. They were organized by groups, including Al-Awda, BDS-LA, IJAN (International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network), Answer Coalition, Global Women’s Strike, IAC and Workers Voice. Around 7:30 a.m. the police moved in in an attempt to stop picketers. Youth of color joined hands, led by Palestinian youth, to prevent the workers’ cars from crossing.”

Azevedo continued: “Some workers came through and then came back out. Some of the workers cheered and applauded, and some made a U-turn and left. Another demo was set for the afternoon shift, but the union called the shift off for the day. I came back around 7 p.m. and could see the ship had not been unloaded.”

Workers World also talked to Ed Mast, of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, regarding the delay of the Zim Chicago at the Port of Tacoma, Wash., on Aug. 23. Mast stated: “Saturday morning the two gates that Washington United Terminal used for their workers were successfully blocked. However, we found out they had opened another gate for the workers to enter. It felt like a defeat at first, but then we found out that we had actually delayed the starting of their shift, costing them money.

“They called for more workers for the Zim ship in the afternoon. We set up another blockade, using bikes and roving pickets, effectively delaying entry of workers getting into the gates. Using police presence the workers went in, but we believe some of the workers chose not to show up.”

A press release issued by Block the Boat NW states: “The Block the Boat campaign is preparing more blockades for the Zim Chicago ship’s arrival in Seattle. It is not yet clear whether similar factors as before are causing apparent delays in docking and unloading in the Port of Seattle. Date and time are not yet certain, but blockade actions are being planned for as soon as Monday [Aug. 25] evening.” 

Updates are being posted at blocktheboatnw.wordpress.com and sent out by texts, email and Twitter.