BDS activists prove that ‘doing dirty business with Israel comes at a cost’
In a historic act of solidarity with the people of Palestine, protests have been staged against the Zim Piraeus, Zim Haifa and Zim Chicago, container ships owned by Israel’s largest cargo shipping company, Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. Zim is viewed as “a national security asset” to Israel and is currently required by the Israeli government to “maintain at least 11 ships to serve Israel’s needs in times of national emergency.” Thousands of protesters, including an estimated 5,000 who marched on the Port of Oakland, located on the San Francisco Bay in Oakland, California, have prevented the Zim Piraeus from unloading but on the West Coast by keepimg workers from crossing their picket line. These protests, which have been successfully taking place against incoming Zim vessels at the Port of Long Beach and Port of Seattle, have caused financial damage that has so far been substantial but which may get a lot worse according to maritime industry journal Lloyd’s List which has published that Israeli shipping sources suggest other container carriers may be wary of working with Zim because of its ties to Israel.
The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) – Gaza, released a statement in July calling for immediate, unified action against Israel following the attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip. One of the points listed in the statement by PGFTU is to “educate and build awareness among the labor movements of the U.S. and urge them to condemn the Israeli aggression and to boycott Israel through various means, i.e., cultural, educational and commercial exchange with the occupation, while exposing the crimes of the occupation and its practices.” This call to action was answered by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), the primary organization behind the Block the Boat campaign, whose members began to coordinate a plan of action. Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the AROC, in an interview with the EmoProg Army Radio Hour, discussed the protests and how they were intended to take BDS “to the next level by disrupting business as usual.” Kiswani stated that AROC wanted any port action to be sustained, so that Zim vessels would understand that they are not welcomed. According to Kiswani, the leadup to these actions was a lot of cross-movement building, on the ground outreach and a collective effort with support of some 70 organizations and a clear show of solidarity from the Bay Area to Palestine.
The efforts of AROC could not have been possible, Kiswani says, without the support of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). “For weeks leading up to [the action] every morning and afternoon our members and our allies as part of the coalition, and our young people from AYO! (Arab Youth Organizing), would go to the union hall and to the hiring hall to talk to the workers one on one, rank and file. Every morning and every afternoon people were out there discussing the action, letting workers know that this is what we’re doing on August 16 and this is why we’re doing it. We wanted people that day to not just honor the picket…[but to do so] because they understood why we were out there, and we wanted them to stand with us in a truly principled way.” Not only were members of ILWU listening to Block the Boat representatives and allies but Kiswani notes that they were attending meetings – this type of coordination sustained and extended their action into nearly five days. “The support of the workers is what made that happen. They refused to cross [the picket line] every day.” AROC not only discussed Block the Boat actions with ILWU leaders and workers, they also worked with them to design a flyer that was tailored to them instead of those used for general outreach so that they could, Kiswani says, “be relevant and talk and speak to them as workers.”
Hosting the interview with Lara Kiswani was @violentfanon, a graduate student in the Bay Area who prefers to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, has been a part of the Block the Boat campaign on the ground, consistently documenting actions and updates on Twitter. In an interview with Al-Akhbar English @violentfanon speaks of how he got involved with Block the Boat and its connection to the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement:
I saw the initial call to attend August 2nd and again for the rescheduled event on August 16th. I loved the idea because I knew a little about the history of port shutdowns in social movements and knew they could be a powerful tool to affect meaningful change. I was also drawn by the prospect of an action bringing together social justice activists and labor, two groups with a historically rocky relationship. I feel it is my duty to do what I can to stop the atrocities committed against Palestinians by the Israeli apartheid government, as it is done both in my name as a Jew and with my tax dollars as an American.
BDS and Block the Boat are about isolating Israel from the global community for not recognizing the universal nature of human rights and not living up to its obligations under international law. When fighting colonialism, you don't have to destroy the colonial power, you just have to make colonial oppression no longer profitable. Physically preventing the flow of resources and products is a very direct way of achieving this goal.
Palestinian UCLA graduate Reem Suleiman, who attended the Block the Boat protest at the Port of Long Beach on August 24, told Al-Akhbar English that “the Block the Boat campaign goes hand in hand with BDS. The BDS movement and Block the Boat essentially send the same message – doing dirty business with Israel comes at a cost.” “After the successful Block the Boat campaign in Oakland, Palestine solidarity activists in LA were notified that the Zim ship would attempt to dock and unload in Long Beach. Within the short span of two days, the organizers of the Block the Boat effort managed to reach out and bring out over 200 people at 6 am on a Saturday and repeat the action again at 6pm!”
Ahlam Muhtaseb, a professor of Media Studies at Cal State San Bernardino and a member of Al-Awda (Palestine Right to Return Coalition) San Diego and the BDS Los Angeles, told Al-Akhbar English that she represented Al-Awda in organizing a response to the recent call by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), she discussed the implications of Block the Boat and how it fits into the BDS movement:
Block the Boat is actually part of the larger international BDS movement. We are of course now trying to expand it and, most importantly, to build alliances with the different port unions in the US and hopefully elsewhere if we succeed locally. The implications of Block the Boat are myriad; first, they solidify unity and solidarity among the different and diverse activist groups that have came out so strongly in support of the Palestinian people through the blockade actions. Second, they are very effective in putting economic pressure on Israel on the long run; e.g., when you delay a ship like the Zim Piraeus ship for 4 days allowing it to unload only part of its load, this translates into thousands of dollars in losses. Third, and most importantly, creating a maintaining a steady momentum of political and ethical pressure on Israel to force it to end its colonization of Palestine. It was very overwhelming for me as Palestinian to see the waves of supporters who came from all backgrounds on August 23rd at the Long Beach port. We had Chicanos, Native Americans (though both might consider themselves to be the same), White average Americans, African Americans, Jews from different progressive organizations, laborers and unionists, Arabs and Muslims who are not Palestinians, Asian Americans, gays, Christian clergy, you name it. Palestinians were actually a minority. Even if we don't succeed in achieving our economic, political, and ethical goals, at least we definitely have already achieved our solidarity and symbolic goals.
Block the Boat is a part of the greater BDS call – it is a resounding acknowledgment of the Palestinian trade union movement’s request for “trade union solidarity” and compliance with the demands put forward, which include that “goods imported from or exported to Israel will not be handled” and Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS against Israel. Lara Kiswani mentioned in her interview with EmoProg Radio Hour that Palestinians followed Block the Boat actions. They were engaged, tracking online the movement of Zim vessels, and responsive, releasing statements each day and organizations and unions expressing their support of Block the Boat. Organizers and allies from communities in the San Francisco Bay Area made history with the longest blockade of an Israeli ship, according to AROC. This was a clear and unshakable message to Israel: the siege and the ongoing attacks on the people of Gaza will cost you, the occupation of Palestine will cost you, there will be a response and the response will be tremendous.
EmoProg Radio Hour host @violentfanon told Al-Akhbar English that he, along with others, has been talking to BDS and Palestinian rights groups in Europe and around the country, as they are expressing interest in forming their own Block the Boat actions. The movement that Netanyahu attacked during his keynote speech for AIPAC on March 4, arrogantly proclaiming that “it [BDS] will fail,” has not only been successful but successful at breakneck speed. Palestinians and their allies from across the globe are proving themselves steadfast, committed to answering the call of Palestinian civil society – until the wall is dismantled, until colonization and occupation of Palestinian lands ends, until the refugees are allowed to return, and until full equality is granted Israel will face BDS in the form of direct, forceful and creative responses that will only continue to develop against Israel and in favor of Palestine and a one state solution, for all.
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