BTB Shows the way to move BDS actions beyond individual consumer activism, striking blows with costly community/labor mass direct action initiatives
By Terri Kay, a community organizer with Block the Boat Oakland and Block the Boat NY/NJ
In early May, the State of Israel tried to shutdown Palestinian resistance with a brutal bombing campaign, which killed at least 227 Palestinians in Gaza, including 64 children. As Palestinians unified their resistance across the West Bank, Gaza and “48 Israel”, they also put out a call for international solidarity. Leaders of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) in Oakland coincidently learned that Zim Integrated Shipping Services, partially owned by the State of Israel, had scheduled a container ship, the Volans, to dock at the Port of Oakland. AROC, in a previous 2014 campaign, also in response to a major Israeli bombing siege of Gaza, had led the #BlockTheBoat coalition in a victorious campaign preventing the unloading of the Zim Piraeus, and causing Zim to remove Oakland from its shipping schedule until now.
“When Lara Kiswani [Executive Director of AROC] and other members of AROC saw evidence that Zim was returning to Oakland in the midst of the Israeli siege, they saw the chance to strike a meaningful blow against the apartheid state, and began to organize immediately. “It was the perfect opportunity to channel all our energy towards a tangible victory against apartheid Israel,” Kiswani says.”
“As the anticipated arrival date inched closer, AROC continued organizing and building momentum for the renewed Block the Boat in call-outs at protests, events and in social media. But the Volans didn’t make its way toward the Bay. Instead, the ship tacked to Los Angeles to meet its offload appointment at the port there. AROC declared an initial victory in holding the ship off the coast with the threat of pickets. But continued organizing was crucial—the Volans could return to Oakland to unload Oakland-bound cargo. And the next Zim-chartered ship in the line, Navios Chrysalis, was already headed from Asian ports toward Oakland…’
“As in 2014, AROC sought to establish dialogue with ILWU [International Longshore and Warehouse Union] Local 10, to let the union and its members know that the actions to picket in front of the [Port of Oakland terminal] entrances would occur…[AROC] shared the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in Gaza request for solidarity. Clearly, many in the union were enthusiastic supporters of the call for solidarity.”
“The ILWU Northern District Council, which includes Local 10, issued an impassioned solidarity statement a few days later. But importantly, the statement did not promise action. There was little else the union or local could do without risking legal reprisals from both management and anti-BDS groups. The burden was on AROC and its coalition to set up formidable pickets with little lead time and an ever-shifting target.”
International Action in Response to the PGFTU Call for Labor Solidarity
On May 20, South African trade unions, in alliance with the South African BDS Coalition, again refused handling cargo from an Israeli ship in Durban.
#Blocktheboat Durban, South Africa mobilized to protest the Israeli apartheid-profiteering ZIM shipping line as part of global BDS campaign. #BDS @BDSSouthAfrica @NaeemJeenah @_cosatu @SAFTU_media pic.twitter.com/Qq09b7cfoW
— AROC #BlocktheBoat (@AROCBayArea) June 23, 2021
“Dockworkers in Italy also successfully blocked a recent shipment of munitions and armaments destined for Israel. After calling a strike for June 3 and announcing their refusal to load the containers, the shipowner decided to forgo the cargo. Dockworkers in several Italian ports have mobilized against arms shipments to Israel.”
AROC Calls for International Week of Action
While on continued stand-by and preparation to blockade Zim’s Volans and Navios Chrysalis, if and when they actually docked in Oakland, AROC decided to call for an International Week of Action June 2-9:
“For the last several days, the threat of our #BlockTheBoat protest has kept a cargo ship operated by ZIM – apartheid Israel’s largest and oldest shipping company – from docking at the Port of Oakland. We are winning! Our people power is working, and sending a clear message that Israel’s ongoing settler-colonialism, occupation, and violence against the Palestinian people will come with a heavy price. Every hour that ZIM cargo ships remain undocked and unloaded is a huge victory, as it means that the apartheid state of Israel is losing enormous amounts of money.’
“We are now calling on communities everywhere to organize solidarity actions with Oakland, and hold a community picket to block a ZIM-operated ship at your port during this week of action against the apartheid-profiteering ZIM shipping line! Take action to stand in solidarity with our victorious #BlockTheBoat effort in Oakland, and amplify the impacts against the Israeli ZIM company everywhere. Build with port workers in solidarity, and encourage them to heed the call from labor unions in Gaza asking workers everywhere not to handle Israeli cargo or engage with Israeli businesses. Together, let’s demonstrate that we will no longer watch as the U.S. and countries all over the world continue their business as usual to enable Israeli apartheid. Let’s make clear that ZIM’s apartheid-profiteering will not be welcome at ports anywhere!’
“Just as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement helped turn the tide and bring down apartheid in South Africa, so too will our international solidarity and actions today help Palestinians bring about a free Palestine from the river to the sea.”
In response, Block the Boat actions were called in the following cities: Vancouver, Canada, June 7-9; Seattle, WA, June 2; Port of New York/New Jersey in Elizabeth, NJ, June 6; Los Angeles, CA, June 2-3; Houston, Tx, against Boeing, June 5; Detroit says Block the Boat at a Zim office, June 8; Philadelphia, PA, at City Hall, June 12; and Staten Island, NY, at a Zim office June 9. Note that some of the west coast dates shifted as Zim ships played “dodge ’em” up and down the Pacific, trying to balance avoidance of protests with major congestion at the various ports.
Meanwhile, back at the Port of Oakland, two things happened:
“Zim’s schedule was now so backed up that Navios Chrysalis was already arriving off the coast. The Navios Chrysalis made a more deliberate course correction, however, avoiding the Bay entirely and continuing along the coast to LA instead. In the meantime, Volans lurked along the waters by the Bay, appearing and disappearing on the pilots schedule in a frustrating on again, off again dynamic for the protest. “It definitely threw a wrench in many of our schedules. We were working around the clock to track Volans, and prepare for a mobilization,” Kiswani recalls.”
Then, on top of the Navios Chrysalis victory,
“Zim’s itinerary list now excludes Oakland from Ctrl China E-Commerce Express line. Volans is still off coast, unclear what it will do. But looks like a significant preliminary victory. “We wanted to celebrate,” Kiswani says. “The fact that ZIM removed Oakland as a destination, meant our pressure and organizing was working. But then again, we knew Volans was still in the Bay.” BDS Victory …“Finally, over two weeks after it had first arrived to the Northern California coast, the Volans got a concrete schedule for Friday, June 4, at terminal operator Trapac’s Berth 30. Organizers received word that ILWU workers were being mustered for their shifts at Berth 30 Friday morning, confirming that this time the Volans was coming in for real.”
“Power of Community and Workers Solidarity: Israeli Apartheid-Profiteering Zim Ship Forced Out of Oakand!’
“Oakland and the broader Bay Area have once again achieved a historic Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement (BDS) victory for Palestine. For a full day on Friday, June 4, 2021, after weeks of organizing, community members mobilized by the thousands to the Port of Oakland to block the Israeli ZIM-operated Volans cargo ship from unloading its cargo. In a tremendous show of solidarity with Palestine, dock workers in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 honored the 6 simultaneous community pickets during both the morning and evening shifts, and did not work the ship. In a dramatic move as community members watched, the Israeli apartheid-profiteering ship—knowing that it could break neither our blockade nor the workers’ demonstration of solidarity—left the port of Oakland!”
The Struggle Continues
“After its departure, the Volans deliberately shut off its AIS tracking device, making it impossible to track the ship’s route for nearly a week. International maritime rules allow a vessel to shut off its signal when declaring an imminent threat to the security of the vessel, but the rules say nothing on the topic of terrestrial protests. The vessel finally re-appeared in Canadian waters days later, where it likely refueled and then began to make a 500 nautical mile journey to the remote Prince Rupert Port “
Upon learning of this new destination for Zim’s Volans, AROC and other Block the Boat supporters sent out multiple calls on social media for possible union and community contacts in Prince Rupert. International Week of Action continues to ensure that ZIM is turned away everywhere! Amazingly, First Nation and Palestinian community members responded by organizing the Adhoc Prince Rupert Palestine Solidarity Committee and set up a picket line at the Port on June 14 to block the Zim ship.
International #BlockTheBoat Update! The ZIM Volans that was chased away from Oakland and made its way up to Prince Rupert, Canada is now facing community protests! Spread the word. #BDS #PrinceRupert #FirstNations pic.twitter.com/fDSZ4MWaEC
— AROC #BlocktheBoat (@AROCBayArea) June 13, 2021
Simultaneously, Seattle, WA, had successfully blocked the unloading of the Zim San Diego, but was facing possible continued attempts by Zim to get the ship unloaded. Seattle: Remain ready to mobilize after yesterday’s victory The Seattle coalition was led by Falastiniyat, a feminist Palestinian organization. Impatient with the terminal being tied up by the Zim ship, Edward DeNike, President of SSA Terminal at the Port of Seattle has asked the ZIM SD ship to leave the Port, but Zim refused. The Israeli Consulate in San Francisco then tried to pressure the Seattle city government to intervene on behalf of Zim.
The Consulate General of Israel, based in San Francisco, which oversees the Pacific Northwest, is pressuring Seattle public officials to have ILWU Local 19 unload its apartheid-stained cargo — after workers honored community pickets. For updates, text 833-584-1948.#BlockTheBoat pic.twitter.com/nOppF8TqI0
— AROC #BlocktheBoat (@AROCBayArea) June 14, 2021
ILWU Comes Through Again with Union Solidarity
Back in Prince Rupert, ILWU Local 505 honored the community picket line to block the Volans and didn’t unload the cargo for at least two days. Speaking of the Volans journey north, after having left Oakland still fully loaded, The Northern View’s KJ Millar reported “The ship carried on to Vancouver, where it was once again denied berthing to unload its containers. In further hopes of unloading the goods, the ship arrived at the Port of Prince Rupert.” In the same article, Millar reports: “Ninety-four members of the International Longshore Workers Union Local 505 (ILWU) have been suspended without pay from duties following refusals to cross JPO Volans demonstrations, Ian Robinson, manager of yard and gate at DP World wrote, in a June 21 letter to ILWU.” As of this writing, all the workers have returned to work with the suspension rolled back, but the status of docked pay and further threatened reprisals by terminal operator DP World Prince Rupert are still unresolved. Both ILWU Local 10 and Oakland’s AROC led Block the Boat Coalition have reached out to ILWU Local 505 to offer support.
Then in Seattle ILWU Local 19 President Rich Austin Jr. releases a statement on #BlockTheBoat protests in Seattle “recognizing the ‘1st amendment rights of those peacefully and nonviolently assembled’ and ‘encouraging public agencies to conduct themselves responsibly’”. However, It Took a Police Crackdown to Get Israeli-Operated Cargo Unloaded in Seattle, per reporter Alex N Press: “The ZIM San Diego had originally been scheduled to dock in the Port of Seattle on June 2, but heat from organizations like AROC and Falastiniyat, a Palestinian feminist collective organizing the Seattle picket, kept the ship sitting in Elliott Bay for nearly two weeks.’
“On Saturday, June 12, the ship tried to unload its cargo. Protesters set up a community picket early that morning, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 19 members tasked with unloading the ship refused to cross.’
“But the situation changed suddenly on Thursday, June 17. With the picket up and running — and socialist city councilor Kshama Sawant present on the line — the Seattle Police Department stepped in, telling protesters to disperse. Eleven people were arrested — all have since been released.’
“According to AROC, the ship was finally unloaded Thursday night after the picket line had been broken up by the police.”
“In order for the ZIM San Diego to be unloaded, it required a police crackdown,” says Wassim Hage, AROC’s press coordinator. “This moment when police are cracking down on pro-Palestine protesters in Seattle is deeply connected to when Israeli mobs and Israeli police are ethnically cleansing Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Israelis have broken the ceasefire in Gaza.”
Just the beginning of a new wave of BDS activism
Despite calls for further repression like in this Newsweek Opinion piece Block the Boat’ is a Wake-Up Call to Prioritize U.S. Port Security, the successes of the Block the Boat campaign in going after Israeli shipping giant, Zim, has only inspired the BDS movement as a way to combine the strength of community and labor to strike further blows against Israeli apartheid in support of Palestinian resistance to the settler-colonial occupation.