Activists protesting military actions and the blockade of the Gaza Strip have set plans into motion to shut down ports along North America’s West Coast to stop an Israeli cargo ship from docking and unloading its cargo. “Block the Boat” began devising strategies after a Palestinian union put out a call to hold Israel accountable for alleged violations of human rights in Palestine.
In the first such protest yesterday in Oakland, California, approximately 500 people marched from a Bay Area Rapid Transit station in west Oakland to that city’s port. They later claimed victory, saying news of their protest made its way to the ship’s captain, who ultimately decided not to dock as scheduled on Saturday afternoon. As of Saturday night the ship remained approximately 100 miles south, in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Monterey. Reem Assil, of San Francisco’s Arab Resource Organizing Center, said he and others involved “were really proud of this victory.”
Attempting to create a link between the current rampages and subsequent police response in Ferguson, Mo., and the difficulties in the Gaza Strip, the crowd recited chants claiming that police brutality in Ferguson is the same crime as the what has been happening in Palestine. At least one local member of the local International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Unions (ILWU), Clarence Thomas, believes that people in Ferguson and those in Gaza have become connected. “This must be repeated elsewhere,” he said. Jennifer Sargent, a spokeswoman for the ILWU, said that her union “is not involved with any actions regarding incoming Zim ships.”
The non-support of ILWU contrasts with its actions of 2010, when the union cooperated with activists at the Port of Oakland to stop an Israeli freighter from unloading. That action was a response to the international blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Members of Block the Boat said their intent in keeping the Israeli-owned ZIM Lines ship from unloading was to protest Israel’s recent military operations in the Gaza Strip and also their contention that Israel is an occupier of Palestine. Israel disputes the claim that it is an occupier of the Gaza Strip, arguing that such occupation stopped when it disengaged from the area in 2005.
Saturday’s blockade occurred as a response to a July 31 press release from The Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), which called upon “all governments and international bodies” to stop Israel from warring against Palestine. Describing Israel as a “heartless machine,” the document blames the country for unspecified crimes.
A Palestinian in California, Monadel Herzallah, said that he and other protestors want to hold Israel responsible for “the genocide” in Gaza. Attempts to receive comment from the Israeli consulate were not successful. Similar protests are anticipated in the coming weeks in Vancouver and Seattle and attempts to receive comment from an Israeli consulate in the U.S. were not successful.
With North American headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Limited is the world’s tenth biggest shipping company and Israel’s largest. Protestors desire nothing less than a complete lock-out of commercial shipping from Israel along the west coasts of Canada and the U.S.
A spokesperson for the Port of Oakland could not confirm that the non-docking of the Israeli ship was related to the activists’ protest against the problems in the Gaza Strip. Police assembled in a line in front of Berth 57 to restrict access to the property. Oakland Police did not make any arrests or issue citations.
By Gregory Baskin