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San Francisco protest for Palestine

Pro-Palestine demonstrators protest Israel's latest assault on Gaza and ongoing apartheid, ethnic cleansing, occupation, and settler colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem on May 15, 2021 in the Mission District of San Francisco. (Photo: AROC/Facebook)

Oakland BDS Activists Stymie Israeli Cargo Ship During Global #BlockTheBoat Protests for Palestine

"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."

Brett Wilkins

Demanding an end to Israel's apartheid and other crimes against Palestinian people, hundreds of San Francisco Bay Area human rights defenders on Friday prevented an Israeli-owned cargo ship from unloading at the Port of Oakland as part of a weeklong international #BlockTheBoat campaign.

Led by the Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC) as part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights and backed by union workers as well as over 100 organizations around the world, Friday's action drew several hundred community members who began picketing entrances to Oakland's port in the early morning hours.

The activists targeted the Volans, a container ship owned by Haifa-based ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. that has been circling outside the port for nearly two weeks. While the ship was able to dock Friday morning, as of 8:00 am local time it remained fully loaded, with cranes idle, as longshore workers refused to cross the protesters' picket lines. 

The Block the Boat campaign—in which activists are mobilizing to prevent Israeli ships from docking at ports in Los Angeles, Houston, Vancouver, Seattle/Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, Italy, and South Africa—comes in response to Israel's recent assault on Gaza, which killed at least 248 people including at least 67 children, as well as ongoing Israeli apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and illegal occupation and settler colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in Palestine. 

"Once again, we have demonstrated that the Bay Area, workers, and all social justice movements support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, and that there will be a high price for all companies who do business that profits the apartheid state of Israel," AROC executive director Lara Kiswani said in an email to Common Dreams. "Today's victory is a win for the international movement to boycott, divest, and sanction the apartheid state of Israel.”

"With over 500 people joining us at the Oakland port to block the Israeli ZIM company in the early hours of the morning, we wonder if doing business with ZIM is worth it to the Port of Oakland, employers at the port, and other shipping companies," Kiswani said of Friday's action.

"We honor the workers here in Oakland and Palestine, and are sending a clear message that profiteering from Israel's apartheid and ongoing violence against the Palestinian people will not be welcome in the Bay Area," she added. 

A ZIM official told Middle East Eye that "due to operational constraints and long delays in the Port of Oakland, and in order to meet schedule departures in the Far East, we will be calling on other U.S. West Coast ports until further notice." 

Last month, members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union in Durban answered a call from the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions by refusing to unload cargo from a ZIM ship. Italian dockworkers in Livorno and Ravenna have also protested and refused to offload ships transporting weapons to Israel in recent weeks.

Union solidarity has played a major role in the Block the Boat campaign, whose supporters include the Congress of South African Trade Unions—that country's largest labor federation—and the San Francisco-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10. 

"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 the ILWU Local 10, in an email referring to a similar action at Oakland's port nearly seven years ago.

"Just this month, dockworkers in Durban, South Africa and Italy have also refused to unload Israeli ZIM vessels," Salameh added. "Rank-and-file members of ILWU Local 10 stand against Israeli apartheid and with our brothers and sisters in Palestine."

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