On June 4th the people won a decisive Boycott Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) victory! The volans, a boat from the israeli shipping line zim, was unable to unload its cargo at the Port of Oakland. The combination of a vigorous determined 1000-person picket and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 refusing to cross the picket line, in solidarity with Palestine, forced the volans to leave the port having lost vast amounts of money in time and unloaded cargo.
zim shipping line has not been to the Port of Oakland since 2014 when a coalition of Palestine solidarity groups in concert with ILWU local 10 kept up a three day continuous picket line preventing zim from unloading cargo. zim left after the three day action but a few days later tried to sneak back to the port to a different berth. The activists caught them in the act and prevailed by rushing back to the port to the new gate and the shipping line left, never coming back to Oakland until now.
Why did zim return at this historical juncture after such a resounding defeat seven years ago? It cannot be coincidence that this provocative capitalist shipping foray was made only two weeks after the vicious Israeli attack on Gaza, which murdered more than 300 hundred Palestinians and destroyed whole apartment buildings, hospitals, schools refugee camps, infrastructure, and internally displaced hundreds of thousands. Clearly the israeli government thought this would be a good time to try to challenge the ever-growing boycott divest and sanctions movement by sending their ships to Oakland. The bay area was already mobilized in response to the israeli bombing, having had a number of big demonstrations, the largest a 10,000 person strong march in conjunction with a beautiful street mural painting in the Mission to commemorate the Nakba.
Zim, the largest israeli shipping line, is a Haifa based business founded in 1945 by the israeli maritime league and the Jewish agency histadarut labor federation to transport immigrants to Palestine after WWII as part of the settler-colonial project that became the state of israel in 1948. zim is fond of saying to the press that it is now a privately held company and that the majority of stockholders are not israelis (so really no need for a pesky boycott). However if you look closely at the website, you see that the Israeli government retains the last word on major decision making, because zim is so important to its “security” and “defense.”
The activist community has some mysterious way to track zim ships all over the globe. In mid-May of this year, the call went out from Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), which leads the Palestine Action Network (PAN). PAN is an ongoing coalition of groups doing Palestine solidarity work in the bay area of which QUIT! is a member. The call alerted the community that a zim ship was coming towards Oakland and that a new Block the Boat campaign was forming. Five thousand people signed up for a text message alert system.
The zim ship lurked out in the Bay for a week or so. ILWU Local 10 put out a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people decrying the bombing of Gaza. Local 10 was responding to a call from the Palestine federation of Labor in Gaza, asking US unions not to unload cargo from israel This union has a long history of activism, participating in the boycott of south africa’s apartheid state by refusing to unload their ships coming to the Port Oakland. The AROC campaign was boosted on social media far and wide with the promise to arrive at the port as soon as word came that the zim ship was docking. Interestingly zim remembered the events of 2014 and on May 17th, at the mere mention of a mobilization of activists to the port, they rerouted to Los Angeles. AROC called this a victory but urged more people to sign up to the text alert system and to stay ready because the ship would likely try again.
AROC called for a week of international action against the zim shipping line, asking other ports to boycott of the apartheid state of israel’s shipping line. AROC said: “We have sent a powerful message that the Bay Area will stand strong against Zionism, apartheid, and any business that is complicit with Israel’s colonization of Palestine.” This call was amplified on social media. Seattle set an alert system, as did New York and New Jersey. zim was paying attention. They stayed away from Oakland for 12 days. The radical Palestine solidarity community waited on pins and needles, checking our phones for alerts constantly.
On June 4th the emergency text alert to mobilize went out, the zim boat was docking, flexing its corporate zionist muscle. The people just weren’t having it and a thousand activists converged on the Port of Oakland at 6 am ready for the first shift of workers. Six gates were picketed blocking all entrances to the berth, a riotous sea of banners, Palestinian flags, drumming contingents, bicycles, and chants of FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA PALESTINE WILL BE FREE. QUIT! (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism!) members arrived with our BDS, Right of Return queer banner and a stack of Queers for Palestine stickers to distribute, made for us by Gay Shame. Lines of truckers honked in solidarity trying to get into the completely blocked port. Longshore workers hung out in groups NOT crossing the picket line. Some joined the line.
The ILWU has a provision in their contract that says that they don’t have to cross a picket line if they feel endangered while still getting a day’s pay. At about 8 am the contract arbiter arrived and pronounced that ILWU would not work that shift. AROC called it a victory for the morning shift, but said we would return for the 4 pm shift. Social media took up the call for continuing the pressure by showing up for the 4 pm shift. QUIT! members arrived for the afternoon shift, a QUIT! bicyclist joining a bike blockade of recalcitrant truckers. Again the ILWU did not cross the picket line in solidarity with Palestinian workers. At about 6 pm the community watched the israeli apartheid profiteering zim ship leave the port without unloading ANY cargo. It was a spectacular victory!
As I write this activists are blocking a zim ship in the port of New York/New Jersey.
Elias Al-Jelda, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) in Gaza, stated:
“It warms our hearts in the besieged occupied Gaza Strip and the rest of occupied Palestine that our comrades led by AROC, and with the solidarity of our fellow workers in ILWU Local 10, achieved this great #BlockTheBoat victory against ZIM in Oakland. We call upon all dockworkers worldwide to intensify the boycott campaign against ZIM ships and all business profiting from apartheid Israel, in solidarity with our people’s struggle for freedom and justice in Palestine.”
PALESTINE WILL BE FREE