Update: It’s hard to keep up with all the twists and turns in the ongoing saga of the Zim Piraeus, the Israeli-owned cargo ship that’s been trying to unload and reload at the Port of Oakland since last Saturday. The report below reflected the situation as it appeared as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday. But just minutes after I submitted it, as I was about to head off by bike and BART for another night of picketing, word came through that the ship was again underway, headed west, with a listed destination of Vostochny, the largest port on Russia’s east coast and the eastern end of the Trans-Siberian Railway. After the escapade the ship pulled yesterday – heading through the Golden Gate and out to sea, then abruptly making a U-turn and steaming back to the Port of Oakland – no one can be completely sure that it’s really leaving, but that’s how things look right now (Wed., 6:15 p.m. PDT).
Five days after the Israeli container ship Zim Piraeus was scheduled to dock in Oakland for an overnight stop to unload and load cargo, it’s still been unable to complete its business in the Bay Area, thanks to continuing protests by demonstrators demanding justice for Palestine and the solidarity of many longshore workers.
Last Saturday, when the ship was originally due, it instead dawdled at sea to avoid more than 3,000 marchers who descended on the Port of Oakland prepared to set up a community picket line to dissuade longshore workers from unloading and reloading the Israeli vessel. On Sunday, when the ship finally headed into port, hundreds returned on short notice to the port to picket, and the longshore crews, members of historically progressive Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, refused to work the ship.
Even with far fewer picketers showing up during the work week, the stalemate continued until Tuesday afternoon, when the Zim line tried to pull an astonishing stunt: with the help of the Israeli consulate in San Francisco and the local mainstream media, it put out the word that the Piraeus was giving up on Oakland and setting sail to Los Angeles.
Protesters were skeptical – some intrepid scouts had uncovered indications that Zim actually intended just to move the ship to a different berth in Oakland – but when online maritime tracking services showed the Piraeus actually pulling out of Oakland harbor, leaving its tugs behind, passing under the Bay and Golden Gate bridges, and heading out into the Pacific, the organizers of the Block the Boat campaign posted a victory statement on Facebook, and thousands of supporters began to celebrate what appeared to be an extraordinary victory.
But protesters nevertheless kept an eye on the ship’s path via sites like MarineTraffic.com, and in the later afternoon something extraordinary became apparent: the ship was pulling an abrupt u-turn and heading back to Oakland! Evidently the whole maneuver was a trick intended to put the protest movement off guard and allow the ship to dock at a different berth, where the owners obviously hoped it would be unloaded in peace. In addition, they paid to bring a work crew originally hired to work a different ship to the Zim Piraeus’s new berth by bus within the port, just to make sure they wouldn’t encounter any pickets.
These tricks were only partially successful, however: word spread quickly among protesters, and scores of us hurriedly made our way back to the port to set up the lines again. The picketing went on through the evening and into the morning hours (I left around 1:30 a.m.). With scores of police – this time from the Alameda County Sheriff’s department, not the Oakland police – forcing open a path through our lines, some cars crossed our lines; others appeared to turn away as we chanted “Free, free Palestine – don’t cross the picket line.” It was clear that some work on the ship was going on, but there were reports that some workers were engaging in a slowdown, that some were prepared to leave after their midnight lunch break if we could maintain a sufficiently large and militant picket line. There was also a lot of confusion – the terminal in question has numerous gates, widely scattered, and though we eventually got picket lines up at all of them, it wasn’t entirely clear how to deploy our forces. And I know I wasn’t alone in suffering fatigue, boredom, and various aches and pains after long hours of marching in circles, with no idea of what exactly we were accomplishing.
Still – not to get too mawkish – I kept thinking about my friends in Gaza and the infinitely greater challenges and burdens they face, and that kept me going. And I think all of us who were there felt compelled to see this epic action through – to keep holding high the banner of justice and the flag of Palestine for the Bay Area and the world to see – whatever the practical effect. A few people counted to picket through the night, and more showed up in the morning, and reports suggest the results of their efforts were easier to see. Here’s a vivid e-mail report from one participant [Code Pink activist Toby Blomé]:
At 5:00 am this morning there were initially only 4 of us for about 45+minutes. We proceeded to Berths 22/23/24……eventually there were about 12-15 of us, but the main gate (number?) where ILWU were beginning to filter in after 6pm had a very wide entrance. It was very challenging to try to picket/block it as a small group. We had some difficult confrontations with some aggressive drivers, and a couple of angry white macho teamsters actually got very physical with us, but ultimately it quieted down as more activists arrived, and what was initially very uncertain evolved into a beautiful and very strong and vibrant picket line. (About 25-30 people ?)
We had lots of group dialogue and consensus processing amidst a very diverse group, with varying opinions, but ultimately we decided to continue to picket, even though many of the ILWU who were trying to enter were there to unload a different (“Hawaii bound”) ship. We soon began to talk with the ILWU workers as they were attempting to enter….. Many were very sympathetic and pledged not to work on the Israeli ship. After a brief “hold up” and conversation with the driver/worker…..we would let them enter, after they reassured us that they weren’t working on the Zim ship.
Very soon after that an ILWU member with orange vest o n who seemed to have a lot of influence actually walked up to each car trying to enter, and “ordered” them to honor our picket line, and they “obeyed”….. I heard him give the verbal explanation re: “health and safety risks”…
A large group of law enforcement officers stood to the side as observers, and watched the entire evolution of our picket…..never interfering throughout the morning.
The most beautiful part of the morning for me, was looking on the other side of the entrance, as the ILWU workers who were asked by there leadership not to cross the line were getting out of their cars and accumulating as a group, in orange jumpsuits….ultimately about 25-30 of them.
We eventually thanked them all and expressed much gratitude for their support… They had the most beautiful expressions on their faces, in response, and several of them clapped and smiled after we thanked them.
Later in the morning, I approached them and thanked them again while we were still picketing. I told them that if any of them are under any significant financial burden by not working today, that they should give me their contact info, and we would raise some funds to help reduce any financial stress. None of them expressed any need for help, and several raised their hands up and shook them as an expression of “no need”.. It was a really beautiful moment.
Later on, once we knew for sure that the ZIM ship had indeed left dock at that berth, we ceased our picketing. As the ILWU workers got into the cars and started entering the gate to work on the (non-ZIM) ships, we thanked them and praised them for their support….many smiled and flashed peace signs to us as they entered. Another very beautiful moment!
In summary, I am extremely proud to be a part of this very important campaign. WE HAVE SUCCEEDED…..For 5 days we have prevented the Zim ship from unloading its cargo.
THIS IS HISTORIC!
Apparently a few containers were unloaded last nite, but not many.
The especially beautiful thing about this BLOCK THE BOAT campaign, is that it is truly a broad collective of groups and people, with many varied life experiences and political perspective. But we are there together for one reason: JUSTICE AND PEACE IN PALESTINE!
WE WILL SUCCEED, BUT WE NEED MORE PEOPLE, EVERYONE TO TAKE SHIFTS
WHENEVER THEY ARE ABLE…..until the Zim is out to sea for good!
The effort even garnered some fairly decent coverage on at least one of the Bay Area’s major local TV stations.
Around 9 this morning the ship left its second berth, but instead of sailing out of the San Francisco Bay and on to its next destination, it headed further south in the bay, then simply stopped. We’re not sure what comes next – the suspicion is that it will soon return to port of Oakland, perhaps to its first berth, perhaps to finish unloading if that work wasn’t completed last night, perhaps to pick up containers it’s scheduled to haul on the next leg of its voyages.
The Block the Boat coalition, organizers of the Saturday march and the Sunday picket, are not involved in the continuing pickets, but many individuals and autonomous groups are prepared to continue the protest until the ship is finally gone. By the time it leaves, it will most likely have offloaded all of its Oakland-bound cargo and loaded up with new freight.
But all of us who participated consider the actions of the last five days, taken together, a victory of historic proportions: we’ve delayed the ship for going on five days; we’ve undoubtedly cost the Israelis hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least, in extra docking fees, crew wages, and so on; we’ve forced them to resort to transparent deception in their efforts to avoid us; we’ve highlighted the clear connection between the struggles of the Palestinians and those of disadvantaged groups in this country, notably the people of Ferguson, MO; and, most important, we’ve shown the world and especially the Palestinians that support for their rights and for the tactics of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, in a variety of forms, continues to grow, even here in the belly of the beast.
Here’s today’s statement from the Block the Boat coalition, plus a list of members organizations that demonstrates the breadth of the movement:
August 20, 2014
Longest Blockade of Israeli Ship in History
ZIM ship turned away from SSA in Oakland!
For four days straight the San Francisco Bay Area community blocked the Israeli ZIM ship from unloading at the SSA. And today, we salute the rank and file workers of ILWU local 10 for standing with us against Israeli Apartheid by honoring our pickets and letting the ship go from the SSA terminal yesterday afternoon!
Saturday we mobilized thousands of our community to show the world that Oakland does not welcome racism, apartheid or Zionism, from Ferguson to Palestine. We flooded the streets and marched towards the Port only to discover that the ZIM ship decided to stay at Sea rather than dock and be confronted by the power of our numbers. The ship attempted to dock and unload on Sunday, but within a half hour’s time hundreds of us organized community pickets requesting that workers to stand with us on the side of justice and not unload the Apartheid ship. And as ILWU rank and file always have, and as they did during South African Apartheid, they demonstrated their solidarity with the global fight against oppression and honored our picket. The following Monday and Tuesday saw both an organized call to action as well as autonomous protests determined to keep the ship from being unloaded. These efforts coupled with worker solidarity continued the success of the weekend’s total blockade of the ZIM ship.
Tuesday we declared a historic victory for Palestine as Oakland held down the longest blockade of an Israeli ship. Not only did we block the boat, but we also showed the world that racist exclusionary state of Apartheid Israel has no place on our port, and will soon find that it has no place on any port on the West Coast. After being blocked from unloading at the SSA Terminal, the ZIM ship was forced to leave and unload at another Terminal where it was met with protests by autonomous activists. This even further delayed the unloading of the ship.
From the use of tear gas to the training of police by Israeli military, Oakland feels firsthand the brutality of Israeli war-making. And Palestine knows too well the role the US plays in facilitating the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian people. From the policing and militarization of our local communities perfected with Israeli tactics of repression to the billions that the US provides Apartheid Israel, the connections are clear and are made for us. And over the last four days we showed the world that we stand shoulder to shoulder from Palestine to Oakland to Ferguson as we struggle bring down every wall, every Apartheid system and every racist state.
Palestine will be free.
Block the Boat was organized by a coalition of autonomous activists and the following organizations:AF3IRM
Al-Awda New York
All African People’s Revolutionary Party (AAPRP)
American Friends Service Committee
American Muslims for Palestine
APEN: Asian Pacific Environmental Network
Arab Youth Organizing (AYO)
AROC: Arab Resource & Organizing Center
ASATA: Alliance of South Asians Taking Action
Bay Area Women in Black
Bay Area CodePink
Bay Area Latin America Solidarity Coalition
Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee
Black Organizing Project (BOP)
Black Organizing Leadership and Dignity (BOLD)
Black Workers For Justice
Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism (CODZ)
Communist Party of San Francisco
Critical Resistance – LA
Critical Resistance – Oakland
Critical Resistance – Portland
Descoloniza a Oakland/Decolonize Oakland
Free Palestine Movement
Friends of Deir Ibzi’a
Fuerza Mundial/Pueblos en Movimiento
General Union of Palestine Students – SFSU
Global Women’s Strike
Gray Panthers of San Francisco
Green Party of Alameda County
Haiti Action Committee
International Action Center
International Jewish Anti Zionist Network
International Solidarity Movement – West Bank/Gaza
International Socialist Organization
International Tribunal of Conscience for Camilo
IWW Bay Area Branch
Jewish Against Genocide
Jews for Palestinian Right of Return
Justice for Palestinians
La Voz de [email protected] trabajadores/Worker’s Voice
Labor for Palestine
Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Marcha Patriotica (Colombia) – California chapter
Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA)
National Lawyers Guild SFBA Chapter
NorCal Friends of Sabeel
Occupy SF Action Council
ONYX Organizing Committee
The Palestine-Israel Action Committee
Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions
Palestinian Youth Movement
Queers Undermining Israeli Terror
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network
San Francisco Green Party
School of the Americas Watch East Bay
Socialist Alternative – Bay Area Branch
SOUL: School of Unity and Liberation
Southern Anti-Racism Network
Stanford Students for Justice
Stop the War Machine
Students for Justice in Palestine – Cal
Totally Radical Muslims
UAW Local 2865 (Academic Student Workers at the University of California)
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott
US Palestinian Community Network
Veterans For Peace Chapter 69
World Can’t Wait Bay Area
Workers World Party
For real-time information, misinformation, and probably disinformation, follow #BlocktheBoat on Twitter. And if you’re curious about just what’s in all those containers the Israelis are trying so hard to deliver to Oakland, here’s a complete inventory – everything from pickles and used clothes from Israel to coloring for carpeting underlays from Ukraine:
Finally, here’s a good video by Peter Menchini that mixes footage from Saturday’s march, news clips from Palestine, and music by Lowkey: