Demonstrators return to Port of Oakland to protest landing of Israeli ship
on October 28, 2014
The ZIM Beijing, an Israeli-owned container ship carrying consumer goods, was scheduled to dock at the Port of Oakland’s Berth 57 this past Saturday. It never came. The next morning at 3:29 am, supporters of the pro-Palestinian Block the Boat coalition (BTB), on call for a demonstration to protest the ship’s arrival, received the following text-alert: “Zim sailing away but still lists Oakland destination. 3pm march from w oak bart to show ZIM what to expect when it turns back.”
So Sunday at 3:00 pm, almost 36 hours after they had originally planned to protest the ship’s landing in Oakland, about 250 demonstrators organized at the West Oakland Bart station, posters and picket signs in hand.
Palestinian folk music sounded from a portable loudspeaker as members of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) prepared to rouse the crowd. “From the river to the sea,” AROC member Reem Assil began chanting, “Palestine will be free.” Supporters fed off the momentum by bringing in the recent protests and strong police reactions in Missouri: “Occupation is a crime, from Ferguson to Palestine.”
Organized by opponents to Israel’s policies towards Gaza and the West Bank, the Block the Boat campaign is intended to picket docking sites in order to prevent the Israeli-owned ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.—the largest shipper in Israel, and the 10th-largest shipping company worldwide—from unloading any of its container ships at Oakland’s dock.
As part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements (BDS), a global campaign that targets Israeli products, companies, cultural and academic institutions, BTB works “to disrupt international commerce to make a political and economical impact,” said Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of AROC. “It’s a tangible result,” she said. “Every day the ship is unable to unload, it loses money.”
The impact they hope for, supporters said, is an end to the occupation, the restoration of human rights to all Arabs and Palestinians under Israeli control, and the right of return for Palestinians.
Kiswani stepped onto a cement ledge to address the crowd. “The Palestinian trade union called workers all over the world to action to stand in solidarity with them in their struggle for liberation,” she shouted into her microphone. “We did that in August,” she said, referring to the group’s summer port blockade of Zim ship the Piraeus, “and we’re doing that today!”
During their mile-long march to the port, most of the protesters carried picket signs, banners, or Palestinian flags. “We’re seeing really clear expressions of solidarity from, you know, people here to people in Palestine and all over the world,” said Mohamed Shehk, a spokesman for Critical Resistance, which characterizes itself as a organization calling for an end to the “prison industrial complex.” Shehk said he still has family living in Jerusalem and in Akka. “We take the lead from the struggle of the Palestinian people themselves,” he said.
Although the first dockside protests to prevent ships from unloading took place in Oakland—on August 16, organizers delayed longshore workers from unloading olives, wine and ceramics from the Piraeus in Oakland—demonstrators from Long Beach, Seattle, Tampa and Vancouver have organized similar port blockades to prevent or delay ZIM ships from docking and unloading goods. The ZIM Haifa, scheduled to dock in Long Beach on August 23, was also delayed due to blockades, organizers said.
“It costs the port of Oakland business,” said Teamsters Joint Council 7 president Rome Aloise, who argued that although he favors organizations demonstrating for causes they believe in, the port should not be shut down under any circumstances. “It affects people who work for the port,” Aloise said. “It affects drivers we have who are under contract.”
Aloise said some of the deepest economic damage was to individual self-employed truck drivers blocked by protesters from reaching their cargo. “Owner operators get hurt the worst,” he said. “Their livelihood depends on their ability to work every day.”
A statement from the Israeli Consulate Monday called the protest a “hate fest by those who do not think twice about the livelihoods of the neighbors and their city.” The ZIM ships do not sail to Israel, the Consulate statement declared, but transport goods between Asia and the United States. “Those responsible for disrupting daily U.S.-Asia trade will stop at nothing as long as they believe their actions will hurt the State of Israel,” the statement read.
Jacqueline Mates-Muchin, a rabbi at Oakland’s Temple Sinai, said she wished that people on multiple sides of the questions raised by these protests could devise a better way to talk about them. “There’s a lot of people who feel the media are biased against Israel and others with Palestinians,” Mates-Muchin said. “There is some rhetoric that is hateful and not critical. I think that that’s where it becomes a problem, for all of us.”
Back at the port, young men and women stood holding a large red banner that read #Youth4Palestine while organizers took to the microphones again. An older man stepped up in front of them, arms stretched over his head holding aloft his own hand-lettered poster. But the words on the poster upset demonstrators near him, who asked him to lower it and step aside.
“You’re actually hurting the movement,” a young protester said. Among other things, the sign contained the words “End Israel,” written in large letters with a line slashed through a drawing of the Israeli flag. Defensive and unwilling to back down, the man took two steps to the right, blocking the youth behind him. Then another demonstrator forcefully stripped the sign out of his hand.
BTB organizers claimed a partial victory for redirecting the ship’s course and said they are prepared to block the port if the ship returns. “Right now our tactics are working,” Shehk said. “We are confident that we’ll be able to stop ZIM from coming back to Oakland entirely.”
ZIM was not available to comment on the current location of the ZIM Beijing and whether it intends to dock in Oakland. At midday Tuesday, the vessel-tracking website MarineTraffic.com listed the ZIM Beijing’s most recent known anchorage as a port in Panama.
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