25 June 2010
The Freedom flotilla, whilst unsuccessful in reaching its destination, raised an important message along with its sails: that the siege on Gaza must end. Now, through the efforts of international solidarity campaigns and Trade Unions, Israel’s own ships are being used to raise protests against Israel’s blockade.
In the early hours of Monday morning, more than 800 Oakland protesters gathered to prevent the docking of a cargo ship operated by Israeli shipping company Zim. With a decision made that two shifts of longshoremen workers would not cross the picket line, leaving nobody to unload the ship until the following day, the demonstration was declared a success. According to organizer, Richard Becker “The Labour/Community Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People, formed just 10 days before this action, set a goal of stopping work on the Zim ship for a full day and succeeded in doing so”.
Organisers and supporters of the boycott movement, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union – local 10 and A.N.S.W.E.R (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, are hailing this an historic victory: According to Becker, A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalitions West Coast Coordinator: ” June 20th was the first time ever that an Israeli ship was blocked from loading/unloading in a U.S. port by labour action. We know that this is one important step in a long struggle. Perhaps most importantly, the June 20 victory has significantly energized the solidarity and wider progressive movement here”.
Whilst unprecedented in the US, the Oakland demonstrators join a growing movement of campaigns and unions which are speaking out against the siege on Gaza from the world’s docks. On the 23rd of June Sweden began a week long boycott of Israeli ships, with the Swedish Dock Workers Union urging workers to refuse the handling of Israeli goods and ships. Norway Port Workers Union has followed Sweden’s lead in calling for its own boycott of Israeli ships, an act which many Norwegians are reportedly supportive of, according to polls.
Whilst the impact to Israeli trade with Sweden and Norway will be minimal, a Swedish Port Workers Union spokesperson, Bjorn Borg, told us that just a few hours into the boycott around a dozen containers have already been prevented from leaving the port at Gothenberg.
Speaking of the goals of the Swedish boycott Bjorn Borg told Palestine Monitor “Our goal is to impact public opinion in order to allow an independent investigation into what happened in the Israeli attacks on the ships to Gaza. We want a total lifting of the Israeli siege: we know it’s been partially lifted but we feel that that is not enough.”
South Africa has taken a similar stand on the issue with the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union calling on its members “not to allow any Israeli ship to dock or unload in any South African port”. The same union enacted such a boycott a year previously, in protest against Israel’s offensive on Gaza, refusing to offload Israeli ships in Durban.
Indeed, the current boycott actions against Israel in Oakland echo efforts made much further back, in 1984, against the South African Apartheid. Speaking of the ILWU in California, Becker told Palestine Monitor “In 1984, they refused to unload cargo from a South African ship, the Nedlloyd Kimberly, at the Port of San Francisco for 10 days”. That action was widely cited, including by Nelson Mandela, as helping to ignite the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S. and worldwide.
But whilst organisers and supporters of the demonstration in Oakland feel that this week’s actions could mark the beginning of a similar shift in support for the Boycott movement against Israel, the Israeli media machine is not keen to concede a point.
In a move to undermine the success of the demonstrators, Israel National News claims that “the [Israeli] ship did not arrive, and the crowd prevented workers from unloading a Chinese ship instead”: the Israeli ship, which arrived in the dock at 6p.m on the day of the protests, more than 12 hours after the protesters, had, they claim, always been scheduled to arrive at this time.
Furthermore Israeli consul-general for California, Avika Tor , insists that whilst Longshoreman workers did not cross the picket lines, the stated reason for this was ‘safety concerns’ rather than support for the demonstrations and the blockade on the ship: “If the port authorities fear that protests could become violent, they don’t let anyone into the port as a security measure”. Downplaying the event he added “the union is not taking any stance on the matter…the only thing that happened was that they disrupted the port’s activity.”
Whether the demonstrations did constitute the reason for the Israeli Zim ship’s arrival into the dock at this late hour are unknown, and the ‘unofficial’ reasons which led to the decision not to cross the picket-line will no doubt remain equally unspoken.
These issues aside however, the size of the demonstration, alongside a change in the volume and tone of mainstream coverage on such an event might indicate at least a slight shift in general attitudes towards Israel and the boycott movement: no small feat in a country which has stood as Israel’s no1 supporter for so long. Similar shifts, particularly among the unions are occurring in Europe according to Swedish Union Spokesperson Bjorn Borg and Martial Kurtz of the UK’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign report. The UK’s largest Union, UNITE, with over 2 million members recently reinforced their commitment to the BDS movement passing a motion on the complete boycott of Israeli goods.
But whilst public opinion begins to transform, Israel’s tokenistic response to ‘the PR disaster’ that was the flotilla raid makes it clear that many more Israeli cargos will be left unloaded before Gaza sees justice entering its ports.
More info: http://www.palestinecampaign.org/