Bay Area action ‘blocks the boat’ in support of Palestine

ILWU workers refuse to cross #BlocktheBoat picket line at Port of Oakland, June 4. Photo: Cloudell Douglas

June 4 — Hundreds of community and labor protesters blocked the Israeli chartered ship Volans at the Port of Oakland, Calif. The ZIM shipping company threatened the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) that they would pull out of the Port of Oakland if the picketing stopped their ships. 

The pickets arrived at 5:30 in the morning and ILWU Local 10 and Local 34 members refused to cross the picket lines. ILWU members, including Local 10 President Trent Willis, discussed the history of the ILWU and also the racism against the Palestinians as well as against Black Americans in the U.S.

The #BlocktheBoat group with Arab Resource & Organizing Committee (AROC) and the Stop Zim Action Committee (SZAC) both organized to get to the line and keep it up during the first day of the ship’s arrival. ZIM in the past has left the berth and then tried to come back into the port secretly.

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Protesters chanted: ‘Back up! Back up! We want freedom, freedom! All these Zionist attacks, we don’t need ’em, need ’em.’ Photo: AROC

June 3 — For weeks, the Arab Resource & Organizing Center’s (AROC) #BlocktheBoat campaign has mobilized communities to successfully prevent the docking of vessels operated by Israeli shipping company ZIM. Thousands have signed up to answer the call to action at the Port of Oakland in solidarity with Palestine and the international Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions (BDS) movement

Following AROC’s calls for a community picket at the port, the ZIM-operated Volans ship has not docked in Oakland for 16 days after it was originally scheduled to dock on May 19. The Volans ship is still at sea in the Bay Area, and will be met with massive protests if and when it decides to dock.

Communities in numerous cities have joined AROC’s call for an international week of action from June 2 to June 9 to protest ZIM and picket its ships everywhere. Activists in Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Vancouver have planned protests, while actions in Italy, Greece and South Africa are also set to take place. 

Social-justice organizations in port cities are being asked to amplify the #BlockTheBoat success thus far against Israeli apartheid in Oakland by organizing community pickets to prevent ZIM ships from being worked and unloaded anywhere.

“We are sending a strong message that profiteering from Israel’s apartheid and ongoing violence against the Palestinian people will not be welcome in the Bay Area,” said Lara Kiswani, the Executive Director of AROC. “The largest South African trade unions that were instrumental in the fight against South African apartheid have now voiced their strong support for our protest in the Bay Area against ZIM and Israeli apartheid.”

These actions against ZIM follow a call from labor unions in Palestine for workers and communities worldwide to boycott Israeli companies. On May 25, the 10 unions representing Bay Area port workers, the ILWU Northern California District Council, released a statement “in solidarity with Palestine and Palestinian communities across the world who are fighting for justice.”

#BlocktheBoat has received over 100 endorsements from labor unions, faith and community organizations around the world, including the anti-apartheid Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the largest federation of trade unions in South Africa representing 1.8 million people.

“An injury to one is an injury to all. Just as ILWU Local 10 workers refused to unload cargo from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, we honored community pickets asking us not to unload cargo from Israeli ZIM vessels in 2014,” said Jimmy Salameh, a Palestinian rank-and-file worker with ILWU Local 10. “Just this month, dockworkers in Durban, South Africa, and Italy have also refused to unload Israeli ZIM vessels. Rank-and-file members of ILWU Local 10 stand against Israeli apartheid and with our brothers and sisters in Palestine.”

Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd (ZIM) is Israel’s largest cargo shipping company, often dealing in Israeli manufactured military technology, armaments and logistics equipment. AROC first called on communities to block ZIM-operated ships in the U.S. in 2014. With the support of rank-and-file workers in ILWU Local 10, the AROC-led Block the Boat coalition successfully mobilized thousands to prevent the unloading of ZIM-operated vessels in the Port of Oakland. 

In a massive victory for advocates of Palestinian human rights, no ZIM-operated vessel has docked in the Port of Oakland since 2014, and many similar actions around the world have sprung up in the intervening years.