June 5, 2021
Hundreds of activists and dockworkers responded to an international call to action and successfully prevented an Israel-owned vessel from unloading its cargo at Oakland in California on Friday.
At around 6pm, the Volans, a cargo vessel owned and operated by the ZIM shipping corporation, pulled out of port with its cargo intact.
It was apparently bound for Los Angeles, according to an online schedule.
Protesters had prevented the ship from docking at Oakland for more than two weeks after its scheduled arrival date.
The vessel ostensibly attempted to avoid the picket line.
“By refusing to unload Israeli cargo, Oakland workers are throwing a wrench in the Israeli economy and putting pressure on Israeli apartheid,” tweeted Jewish Voice for Peace.
“Each day the ZIM ship can’t unload, the largest Israeli shipping company loses millions of [dollars],” the group added.
At the break of dawn, at least 500 activists picketed at six different gates to ensure that the Israeli-operated ship could not offload its containers.
“We just declared victory for the morning shift in preventing workers, having workers honor our picket line and not unloading an Israeli ZIM-operated ship at the Port of Oakland,” Mohamed Shekh of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center told The Electronic Intifada.
Later on in the day, activists reanimated the picket line as a new shift of dockworkers clocked in.
Workers with 10 local chapters of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in Northern California had released a statement of solidarity with Palestinian trade unionists on 25 May, condemning Israeli attacks on Gaza and the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem.
The ILWU stood firm for Palestinian rights and prevented ZIM ships from docking in 2010 and again in 2014, the last time that ZIM-owned shipping vessels were able to use the Oakland port.
Since then, ZIM ships have not tried to dock at the Oakland port – until this past month.
“Rank-and-file members of ILWU Local 10 stand against Israeli apartheid and with our brothers and sisters in Palestine,” union member Jimmy Salameh stated.
Shekh told The Electronic Intifada that community organizers have been working closely with ILWU members to maintain the protest.
“The rank and file members were right there, standing beside the picket – and stated their commitment to honor the picket and to really show their solidarity with the workers of Palestine,” he said.
There are simultaneous actions being planned at other ports on the US and Canadian west coast, as well as at docks in New York, New Jersey and Houston, Texas.
Activists say they are ready to continue the picket line actions to ensure that the ZIM cargo is not handled or unloaded, as long as necessary.
“We will continue to do that until it is clear to ZIM that it will not be able to unload cargo and that it will have to leave,” Shekh said.
Listen to the interview with Mohamed Shekh: soundcloud.com/intifada
Honoring the Palestinian picket line
The ILWU has a long history of honoring picket lines.
In 1978 and 1980, ILWU refused to load military cargo headed for Chile and El Salvador respectively. And in 1984, the union refused to unload a South African ship for 11 straight days.
But port workers around the world have backed the boycott call made by Palestinian trade unionists for more than a decade.
In 2009, the Durban-based South African Transport and Allied Workers Union refused to offload an Israel-owned cargo ship.
Durban dockworkers again took the same action last month in protest of Israel’s crimes in Gaza.
Earlier in May, as Israeli airstrikes pounded Gaza, dockworkers in Livorno, Italy, announced they were refusing to load a shipment of weapons headed for Israel.
“The port of Livorno will not be an accomplice in the massacre of the Palestinian people,” members of L’Unione Sindacale di Base said in a statement.
Israel’s largest trade union, the Histadrut, “ordered Ashdod and Haifa port workers to decline service to all Italy-bound ships in response,” according to the JTA.
Italy’s embassy in Israel also pressured the Italian dockworkers to break that strike.
Workers at Italy’s Ravenna port also planned a strike for 3 June, stating that they “refuse to load weapons, explosives or other war material” destined for Israel.
The strike was called off after the vessel’s owner decided to cancel the shipment – a win for the workers.
The victory at the Port of Oakland “is a win for the international movement to boycott, divest and sanction the apartheid state of Israel,” the Arab Resource and Organizing Center stated.
–Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).