By Ian Firstenberg
(OAKLAND, Calif.) Organizers with the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, a pro-Palestinian organization developed in the wake of the 2006 intifada, with the help of local unions and Arab organizations, have successfully blocked an Israeli cargo ship from docking in Oakland.
For more than a week, the #BlocktheBoat campaign has kept the ship, Volans, operated by ZIM — a shipping company partially owned by Israel — from docking at the Oakland Port. The aim is to continue the campaign from June 2 until June 9, not allowing the ZIM ship to dock and building on the already impressive victory. Thousands of workers across the country and the globe have already signed up to answer the call to action.
BDS organizers and members of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center are calling for international solidarity to hold the picket line in order to block the ZIM ship from docking. The campaign, which has already been endorsed by 80 local non profits and Arab solidarity organizations, also garnered the support of local unions, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) of Northern California.
The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) as well as a coalition group of Palestinian workers unions and professional associations, called on trade union members across the globe to “refuse to handle Israeli goods” and “supporting members refusing to build Israeli weapon."
Organizers in New Jersey have also followed suit. Blocking the docking of an Israeli ship at ports on that coast as well.
This call echoes a similar call in the summer 2014, when union members in Oakland blocked an Israeli ship from docking in response to a similar series of bombings of neighborhoods in Gaza.
This comes as dock workers across the world support the campaign as a viable and peaceful way to combat Israeli apartheid.
This campaign comes in direct response to the continued illegal settlements by Israelis and American Jews of Palestinian neighborhoods throughout already occupied lands like East Jerusalem. In early May of this year, a number of videos circulated on social media depicting members of the Israeli police and IDF soldiers forcibly evicting families from their homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. IDF forces also stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sights in Islam outside of Mecca, during Ramadan.
In response a number of rockets were fired from Gaza, injuring a small number of Israeli citizens and garnering horrified condemnations from the American media. Israeli forces subsequently bombed Gaza for nearly a week. The prolonged bombing of Gaza stopped in the end of May thanks to a tentative ceasefire. In total, Israeli airstrikes killed at least 232 people, 65 of whom were children.
Both Hammas and members of the Israeli government have agreed to discussion about a possible prolonged ceasefire. Despite these talks, Israeli citizens and soldiers have continued persecuting Palestinains throughout mixed neighborhoods in Jerusalem. A number of violent arrests have been made by Israeli soliders, often with little or no just cause.
Campaigns like the #BlocktheBoat serve as a meaningful pushback against the continued dehumanization of Palestinians by the Israeli state. Under Israeli law, the ongoing settlements in neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, are entirely legal, despite violating international law. As such, Palestinians have little legal recourse to their homes and hundreds of thousands of families and children have been displaced because of the settlements and subsequent bombing campaigns.
Block the Boat serves as a stance of solidarity with those living in fear in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. Despite the outsized support from domestic and international labor unions and Arab rights' organizations, the #BlocktheBoat campaign has seen little, if any, media coverage in the American press.
As the campaign continues, the domestic pressure mounts on the American media to accurately and candidly address the issues of Israeli apartheid rather than shrug off the coverage as too complex. Combating apartheid was seemingly a popular opinion twenty years ago as the vestigages of South African apartheid held a tight grip on political power in that country. Now, decades later, the American media has gone silent on a similarly violent and inhumane apartheid nation. #BlocktheBoat serves as a call to action for political representatives, concerned journalists and horrified citizens.
The daunting images from Gaza and Sheikh Jarrah have galvanized a growing group of concerned voting age citizens, both in this country and around the world.
That galvanization does little without collective action as the Israeli military is well-armed and well-funded. This campaign specifically and BDS more broadly serve as an example what can be done locally to combat each Israeli apartheid.