Israeli ship blocked in Oakland

June 28, 2010

An Israeli ship was successfully stopped from unloading for 24 hours, a first at a U.S. port, thanks to the effort of activists in the Bay Area, reports Diana Macasa.

FOR BAY Area activists, June 20 marked a turning point in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Nearly 1,000 activists picketed at the Port of Oakland and successfully stopped an Israeli Zim line ship from being unloaded for 24 hours.

This is the first victorious economic action against Israel in the U.S.

The Labor/Community Committee in Solidarity with the People of Palestine, a coalition of labor and community groups in the Bay Area, called the action to respond to Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in which nine activists were killed and dozens injured by Israeli commandoes who attacked the mission to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza and break Israel's siege.

The action was also a response to a call put forward by the Palestinian Trade Union Movement for dockworkers around the world to halt the unloading of Israeli goods. The Bay Area now joins Malaysia, Sweden and South Africa in an international campaign to stop the offloading of Israeli goods.

Palestinian rights supporters successfully picketed the Oakland docks and prevented an Israeli ship from being unloaded
Palestinian rights supporters successfully picketed the Oakland docks and prevented an Israeli ship from being unloaded (Josh On | SW)

Community pickets started at 5:30 a.m., with hundreds of activists chanting, "Free, free Palestine! Don't cross the picket line!" Throughout the morning, more protesters arrived, and pickets spread to all four entrances of the dock.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 workers began arriving for work between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., and refused to cross the picket lines, citing health and safety provisions in their contract. At 10 a.m., an arbitrator was called in and ruled in favor of the workers, declaring that they had the right to refuse to cross the picket line without any disciplinary measures.

Nearly 300 protesters returned at 4:30 p.m. to begin another round of community pickets in front of the dock entrances. Virtually no ILWU Local 10 workers showed up for the night shift, and the arbitrator again ruled in favor of the workers. By 7 p.m., protesters successfully shut down the port for 24 hours and prevented the offloading of the Israeli Zim line ship.

Activists felt victorious--for the first time in U.S. history, Israel was boycotted at a U.S. port. Moreover, they understood the impact of their success on the potential for the BDS movement.

Senan Khairy, a Palestinian-American activist at the protest, explained, "It's something to go down in the books that we stopped Israeli ships from docking in Oakland. This is a huge success to the movement."

Ramas Rafeedie, another Palestinian-American activist at the protest, said, "I mean, it's great, it's going to mobilize the divest movement. This gives a real big boost to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. This is very important."

Protesters also experienced a sense of solidarity between labor and the community that led to the overall success of the action. Monadel Herzallah, president of the Arab American Union Members Council of California, explained:

The potential significance of today is the fact that union members and the community stand together on this issue. Other ports around the nation will hold similar actions and similar protests to hold Israel accountable. Israel can no longer enjoy the support it has in this country.

Rafeedi added, "As a Palestinian, I'm really touched that so many people of different nationalities, workers, professionals, progressives are out here at 5 a.m., on Father's Day no less, to protest the Israeli ships."

THIS ISN'T the first time ILWU workers have refused to cross a picket line at the Port of Oakland. Protesters are aware of the ILWU's militant history, citing its refusal in 1984 to cross community picket lines or unload a ship carrying South African cargo--a key event that mobilized the global anti-apartheid movement and led to similar actions by dockworkers worldwide.

Francesca Rosa, a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, explained:

Today is the culmination of many years work to stop an Israeli ship, a Zim line ship. In 1984, as you all know, longshore workers refused to cross a community picket line that was set up during the apartheid regime in South Africa, and they evoked their health and safety clause because they wouldn't cross the picket line because there were hundreds of community members. We're doing it today for Palestine.

The attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is just part of the continued assault by Israel against the people of Gaza and their supporters. Protesters were not only calling for Israel to be held accountable for this attack, but for the end of the siege of Gaza and the apartheid wall be torn down.

Jess Ghannam, a Palestinian-American doctor and activist, declared, "We're here to say that we're holding Israel accountable for its murderous actions, not just on the high seas, but against all Palestinians living in Gaza, in the West Bank and in 1948."

Moreover, protesters are holding the U.S. accountable for Israel's actions. "Israel can continue to do what it's doing because of the support of the U.S.," said Monadel Herzallah. "This foreign policy has to change. We don't see any difference between Rice's iron fist or Clinton's velvet gloves. We see the whole substance of the foreign policy continues to be the same."

Overall, protesters want an end to the Israeli apartheid and are demanding a one-state solution. Ramas Rafeedi stressed, "The Palestinian-Israel conflict is not going to end unless Israeli apartheid ends. A one-state solution is the only solution where everyone, the Jews and Palestinians can live in peace in a democratic Palestine."

Though the fight is long from over, activists recognized the importance of this win and committed themselves to continue the fight until Israeli apartheid ends.

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