Oakland boycott inspires letter from Gaza, provokes Teamster anger

Report by Mona El-Farra, Eyad Kishawi, Teamsters
Published: 26/07/10

ILWU Local 10

Dear ILWU Local 10 members

I am writing to you from Gaza, to thank you for your union action in refusing to unload an Israeli ship, and to tell you a little bit about our life here. Like everyone in Gaza, I have lived through the siege and military attacks from Israel. That is why your solidarity touches me.

Huda Ghaliya (aged 12 at the time) repeatedly shouted, heartbreakingly,“Daddy, Daddy,” while searching for the rest of her family after Israeli forces shelled the beach in northern Gaza. It was 9 June 2006, while she was on a picnic with her mother, father, brothers and sisters. The entire family was wiped out, and dozens more were injured. The casualties were brought to Al Awda hospital, where I was working. Some of my colleagues, including seasoned emergency healthworkers, could not bear to go to the child’s room. Huda kept telling me “mum and dad did not pass away, they are in another hospital”. When the TV crew arrived, the cameraman collapsed at the scene. I burst into tears.

What happened to that child, which will follow her for the rest of her life, was to see all her family members disappear on a lovely sunny morning, meant to be a joyful day. It was not the first or the last time that Palestinian children, living under the occupation and the siege of Gaza, lost family members. Many parents lost their children, and many children lost one or two parents, or siblings.

The latest assault against Gaza on December 2008, was frankly an act against humanity, in a preplanned, systematic, destructive way. Israel should be held responsible for war crimes, and the UN report by Judge Goldstone proved that these were crimes against humanity.

What followed recently on board the flotilla was another act of terrorism and yet another proof that Israel does not abide by international laws . Even though this act recalled previous war crimes against the Palestinian population in Gaza, people were shocked and in disbelief that Israel could commit this aggression against internationals in international waters. It showed again that Israel is above the law as long as the people of the world stay silent.

This makes the genuine act of the Oakland dock workers who refused to handle the “Zim Shenzhen” ship so important for us in Gaza. We were so impressed by this act of solidarity, as well as many other acts that have been done continuously to support our struggle to reach our inalienable rights, we who live under the siege and continuous hardships. We feel that the majority of the world is silent. We appreciate this sort of activity, and we feel that there is hope, that we are not alone and forgotten. One day the people who act against all types of injustice will ring the bell, and injustice will come to an end. Alone we cannot reach our goal, but with your solidarity, we will.

This act of solidarity gives us hope, together we defeated South Africa’s apartheid regime and with your support we can defeat the Israeli apartheid and occupation.

At the moment, we are running a supportive, educational, and (for them) entertaining project, for the children of the Zaytoun neighborhood. We named our project LEARNING ON THE RUBBLE. Even 18 months since the attack against Gaza, Israel does not allow essential building materials to enter Gaza. They allow ketchup and fizzy drinks into Gaza, and tell the world that there is no siege!!!! They deny entry of many essential materials, including medications (chemotherapy ) for cancer patients, and spare parts for medical equipment, as well as a suitable amount of dairy products. The list is too long to mention. Unemployment has reached 60%, and 80% of the population is living on international aid.

When I visited the site of LEARNING ON THE RUBBLE, I could see the shadow of trauma on the kids’ faces, as well as the physical scars of their bodies, either directly caused by the Israeli soldiers, or from being trapped under the rubble when the bulldozers demolished their homes. They became homeless in a matter of minutes.

Some of these children were trapped next to the dead body of a family member. I met one woman who lost her husband and son. Tearfully, she told me that her son, aged 13, slowly and agonizingly bled to death in her lap over 12 hours.

The army did not allow health workers to enter the area to evacuate the casualities, and when the International Red Cross workers were first allowed into the area, they were shocked and horrified by the scene, especially those children who were trapped in the rubble, injured, hungry, cold, and terrified .

Israel’s violation of health human rights became a routine act. I witnessed dozens of such incidents during my work, which show how Israel has no respect for human rights, including health human rights, even though the 4th Geneva convention guarantees those rights. In the last assault against Gaza, more than a dozen health workers were killed while on duty.

We continue our life under the siege, which deprives us from freedom of movement outside and into Gaza, despite the partial lifting of the siege, which is not enough. What we need is a complete lifting of the siege.

Gaza’s population suffers many hardships. Electricity is frequently off, making it harder to write to you. Water is not suitable for drinking and is completely unavailable in some areas. This has a great impact on people’s health, as does the inadequate sewage system for such a densely populated area.

On this small piece of land and with the mentality of people who live under siege, we were so impressed and empowered to learn about the courageous act of the Oakland dock workers who refused to load or unload the “Zim Shenzhen”. This act is an effective tool against Israel to pressure them to lift the siege and end the occupation.

We simply felt that these workers and your union expressed their membership of the international family, and refused to accept state aggression and injustice inflicted on other nations, even though we live far away on the other side of the globe.

The is the time for all of us shout and say,“enough!” to Israel’s brutal acts against humanity.

With love and solidarity,

Mona Elfarra

Jack Heyman writes

Brother Eyad,

Thank you for sending me this letter [below] to the leadership of the Teamsters union in response to their letter which mentions ILWU Local 10 and the June 20 Zim protest action. Also I appreciate the moving letter from Dr. Mona Elfarra to Local 10 describing the Zionist atrocities and thanking our union for acting against this bloody repression and demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza which is causing so much suffering . I’ll forward it to our officers and Labor Council delegates.

In solidarity,

Jack

Eyad Kishawi writes:

[Please forward to the IBT.]

To the IBT leadership,

We, the Palestinian and social justice communities, were dismayed by your awful letter supporting Israeli racism and apartheid and your distancing yourselves from the heroic actions of the ILWU local 10, for their boycott of Israeli Zim lines at the Port of Oakland on 6/20/2010. Yours was a position that celebrated unjust power over equality and solidarity. Yours was a position that stood squarely on the wrong side of history.

Please read the attached letter from Dr Mona Elfarra who was compelled to respond to your insensitive statements by documenting life in Gaza, and by expressing solidarity with the heroic actions of local 10. We hope you read and learn how callous your statements were to the families of the 1, 440 people murdered in 2009, on the hands of the government you chose to cheer on.

As a Palestinian-American I am very concerned that your position that preferences genocide over non-violent acts of international worker solidarity translates into internal racism and marginalization. One cannot help but wonder how you treat people of color and people of Arab and Muslim origins. I for one will encourage civil rights groups to keep a close tab on your record, given your unjustifiable and unconscionable support of Israeli acts of Genocide against the Palestinian indigenous people in Gaza. International outlook is an extension of domestic practices.

You stood squarely against the position of the PGFTU in its call for international solidarity and now you stand against the notable human rights doctor, Dr. Mona Elfarra. While ILWU’s action became famous worldwide in its making of history, your position will be renowned for its infamy and will be remembered.

Please reconsider your position as you read the attached letter,

Eyad Kishawi

Palestinian Activist against Racism and Apartheid

Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 70
Alameda County, California
Auto Truck Drivers, Line Haulers, Car Haulers and Helpers
Affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters

June 29, 2010

Akiva Tor
Consul General
State of Israel
456 Montgomery Street, Suite 2100
San Francisco, CA 94104

Dear Mr. Consul General

I am writing you regarding the incident that took place on June 20, 2010, in which a group of anti-Israel demonstrators picketed at the Port of Oakland resulting in members of ILWU Local 10 not unloading a Zim container vessel based on an arbitrator’s determination that the picket line present a “health and safety” risk. The vessel was unloaded the next day.

We want to make it perfectly clear to you and to the people of Israel that our union is fundamentally opposed to efforts to interfere with Israeli ships or cargoes and to the larger “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” effort being directed against Israel. We repudiate such tactics as antithetical to efforts to bring about real peace in the Middle East. We believe that the proper role of the US labor movement is to support efforts to bring about a just settlement that will enable Israel, the national homeland of the Jewish people, and a future Palestinian state to live side-by-side within safe and secure borders, free from war, terrorism, and in mutual respect and recognition.

It is our understanding that anti-Israel resolutions supporting this activity were passed in the Alameda and San Francisco Labor Councils. We wish to assure you that our union was never consulted about these actions and we repudiate them.

Moreover, we are very concerned that events such as occurred June 20 could result in the diversion of freight from the Port of Oakland to the Port of Los Angeles/Lon Beach or other ports along the Pacific Coast. We represent members who provide trucking and rail services for containerized shipping leaving the Port of Oakland and we do not believe that our members’ jobs should be placed in jeopardy because of the efforts of fringe groups to demonize Israel.

We hope what occurred at Oakland will be a one-time event that will never be repeated. We will be urging our brothers and sisters to insure that this is the case.

Marty Frates Secretary-Treasurer

cc: James Hoffa, International President, IBT
Rome Aloise, President, Teamsters Joint Council 7
Randy Cammack, President, Teamsters Joint Council 42
Art Pulaski, Exec. Secretary-Treasurer, CA Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
Bob Balgenorth, President, CA State Building and Construction Trades Council
Josie Camacho, Acting Exec. Secretary-Treasurer, Alameda Labor Council
Tim Paulson, Executive Director, San Francisco Labor Council
Bob McEllrath, International President, ILWU
Richard Mead, President, ILWU Local 10
Members, Executive Committee, Alameda Labor Council
Members, Executive Committee, San Francisco Labor Council
Omar Benjamin, Executive Director, Port of Oakland

I'm a teacher, writer, and activist based in Bangalore. I am dedicated to various issues including #BDS and Palestine, living Zero Waste, and reversing the effects of climate change.

Posted in Boycott, Economic Boycott, Labor Organizing, U.S. Organizing
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