[News] Fighting the Occupation on the West Coast - California Leads the Way in the “Block the Boat” Movement
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 17 17:33:25 EDT 2014
Weekend Edition October 17-19, 2014
*Fighting the Occupation on the West Coast*
California Leads the Way in the “Block the Boat” Movement
by BEN NORTON
A new phase is developing in the US Palestinian solidarity movement:
Block the Boat.
In organizing theory, activists often emphasize the importance of
formulating what they call an “escalation plan.” When pushing for social
change, they explain, it is important that one’s methods of exerting
pressure on power slowly grow in strength, not remain stagnant.
Block the Boat is the next step in the escalation plan of US Palestinian
solidarity activists. The idea of Block the Boat is quite simple:
Hundreds of activists organize a protest in a local dock and prevent
Israeli ships from unloading cargo.
The action has its origins in 2010, when Palestinian solidarity
activists flooded the Port of Oakland, in protest of Israel’s attack on
the six civilian ships that comprised the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Members
of the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights
and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief were trying to bring humanitarian
aid and construction materials to Gaza—which was (and still is) under an
by Israel—when the Israeli military reacted with a brutally violent
crackdown, killing 10 civilian activists
Oakland protesters, repulsed that the Israeli government, with US
economic and political support, would kill foreign human rights
activists, retaliated by blocking an Israeli ship from unloading. This
stood as the first time in history an Israeli ship had been blocked in a
In the four years following Oakland’s 2010 action, this direct action
strategy fell by the wayside. It was not until 2014, in the midst of
Israel’s latest military assault on Gaza, dubbed “Operation Protective
Edge,” that activists returned to the method.
Many contemporary American activists identify Israel’s “Operation
Protective Edge” as a turning point in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In
just 50 days, the Israeli military killed close to 2,200 people
1600 civilians, 500 of whom were children—wounded over 11,000, and made
over 100,000 homeless, bombing 10s of 1000s of homes, businesses,
schools, mosques, churches, power plants, and even hospitals. Many
activists felt frustrated at what they saw as the ineffectiveness of
non-confrontational actions such as rallies and marches, and saw the
need to turn toward nonviolent civil disobedience. Block the Boat for
Gaza was organized to meet this need.
On 16 August 2014, thousands of Palestinian solidarity activists
convened at the Port of Oakland and marched roughly 1.5 miles in order
to prevent the Israeli cargo ship the Zim Piraeus from unloading. Zim
Integrated Shipping Services is Israel’s largest cargo shipping company
(and the 10th biggest in the world). The company has a close to $4
billion dollar annual revenue, and is partially owned by the Israeli
In early September, Bay Area activist Daniel Borgström published “A
Diary of the Oakland Blockade of the Israeli Cargo Ship ZIM Piraeus
Blocking the Boat
explains that what was planned on only being a one-day protest expanded
and multiplied, eventually morphing into a four-day blockade.
The Oakland activists’ action garnered attention from the international
media, including the Guardian
and more. Journalist Roqayah Chamseddine, however, noted the
“unpublicized impact” of Block the Boat’s successes
<http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/21935>. Unsurprisingly, the same US
corporate media that is so unsympathetic to the plight of a people that
has been ethnically cleansed
67 years and military occupied for 47 has also largely ignored the
actions citizens within its own borders have taken to stop this horrific
and violent oppression.
When Block the Boat is mentioned in the corporate media, it is typically
discussed as though it was a one-time phenomenon. Yet Block the Boat did
not end with Oakland’s August 2014 action. In the time since, the
movement has only grown—and rapidly, at that. Oakland activists have
called for “allies in cities across the US to join us in building on our
historic victory against Zionism by ensuring that Zim ships are not
welcome anywhere!”, and advocates worldwide are heeding their call.
Similar actions are being organized in Seattle, Vancouver, New York, New
Orleans, Tampa, and more.
In the meantime, California continues to lead the way.
*Block the Boat Los Angeles*
The weekend of 18 October, Palestinian solidarity activists in Los
Angeles will be holding another Block the Boat action. Block the Boat
Los Angeles <https://www.facebook.com/blocktheboatlosangeles> is
organizing a community picket
<https://www.facebook.com/events/704265262985266/?fref=ts> at 6 am at
the intersection of Pier A Way and Pier A Plaza, on Long Beach, to
prevent a Zim ship from unloading.
I spoke with Block the Boat LA activists, inquiring about their
motivations, experiences, and feelings about the new movement they are
advancing. They stated that their principal goal is to stop ships “from
unloading cargo made in Israel in an effort to peacefully apply economic
pressure and fight Israeli Apartheid.”
LA activist Garrick Ruiz explained that the advocates “believe this form
of peaceful protest through applying economic pressure is one way to get
Israel to pay attention to the growing global public opposition to the
illegal occupation of the Palestinian people,” calling the Block the
Boat movement “our part in adding to the already powerful Israeli
boycott movement happening around the globe.”
Contrary to rumors about the supposed “hostility” of Palestinian
solidarity activists, Block the Boat LA was careful to insist that “Any
hostility or aggressive behavior towards port personnel or in general is
not accepted,” and that it encourages “a compassionate/inspiring attitude.”
Activists expressed excitement at the efficacy of the movement,
calling Block the Boat “one of the most exciting and effective methods
of BDS so far, with estimates that a few hours of delay could cause the
Israeli owned ZIM cargo company millions of dollars.”
Block the Boat LA organizers gave me an overview of how they have
developed. In August, Oakland’s Block the Boat for Gaza
out to LA allies, asking the latter to form its own branch. The
advocates understood that any vessel unable to dock in Oakland could
simply move south and unload in an LA port. They consequently organized
an informational picket on 13 August, in which 50 activists asked port
workers for support in future community pickets.
On 23 August, Block the Boat LA, held its first successful protest.
Approximately 250 protesters met from roughly 6 to 8:10 am, at which
point the picket was declared successful and the workers went home. The
little time that the action required demonstrated its efficacy, and
inspired activists to continue moving forward.
Block the Boat LA has remained busy. In mid September, Block the Boat LA
and Oakland representatives spoke at the US Campaign to End the Israeli
Occupation 13th Annual National Organizers’ Conference
<http://www.endtheoccupation.org/section.php?id=477> in San Diego, and
organizers received national recognition among the larger Boycott,
Divest, and Sanction Movement, of which it sees itself an important part.
The activists have too tried to strengthen their ties with local dock
workers and unions. Block the Boat LA representatives attended various
union meetings for ILWU Local 13 and Teamsters Local 848. On 4 October,
activists held another informational picket, reaching out to dock
laborers and port truckers.
Organizers told me they expect, as in their past demonstrations, to have
hundreds of activists and workers in attendance at their 18 October
protest. They also hope to reach non-union port truckers, in addition to
the rank-and-file members of the local unions with whom they have worked.
The activists were incredibly accommodating, and included English-,
Spanish-, and Arabic-language contacts in their press release
Block the Boat LA expressed optimism at its future, telling me that it
“will continue to build with labor organizations, religious-based
organizations, social justice organizations and the community at large.”
The organization itself is already a coalition of 18 civic engagement
groups. It sees reaching out to a variety of community organizations as
vital to building a strong, diverse base. Block the Boat activist Vicki
Tamoush explained that “As a person of faith I see the protest against
the Zim Savannah to stand against the injustice happening everyday in
Palestine. My conscious tells me that killing 500 innocent children
during Operation Protective Edge was wrong and that Israel should be
For those unable to physically attend the demonstration, activists
recommend following and spreading the #BlockTheBoatLA tag on Twitter
*Oakland’s Block the Boat for Gaza*
On 25 October, Palestinian human rights advocates in Oakland will be
holding another Block the Boat action
<https://www.facebook.com/events/1447374682195857/>. Activists will meet
at West Oakland Bart, at the Port of Oakland, at 5 am, and march to
I got in touch with Oakland Block the Boat activists as well. In their
public Call to Action
call for four simple demands:
End the siege on Gaza!
End the colonial occupation of Palestine!
Right of return for all Palestinian refugees!
Free all political prisoners!
The activists see themselves as part of the larger, international
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement
<http://www.bdsmovement.net/>, which maintains the same goals. Their
ultimate goal is to “Take the wind out of Zim’s sails!”, to boycott the
company and prevent Israeli ships from docking in any port, until their
demands are met, until Palestinian human rights are respected. In their
Call to Action, they proclaim: “Not in Palestine, not in the Bay, not
anywhere. Stand against Zionism everywhere!”
Block the Boat for Gaza, like its counterpart in LA, has reached out to
local workers and unions, educating and handing out fliers
Moreover, like many Palestinian organizations
Oakland Block the Boat organizers have noted the close ties between
Israeli corporations like Zim and other forms of repression and
oppression around the world, writing:
The apartheid state of Israel not only impacts Palestinians, but
also plays a role in the oppression of communities all across the
globe. The Zim shipping line is instrumental in upholding this
system of global repression. There are direct ties—training,
weapons, and surveillance—between Israel’s occupation of Palestine
and the increasingly militarized occupation of black and brown
communities in the United States. And it is now a well-known fact
that police departments in and around Ferguson, Missouri, have
received training from Israel.
The Oakland activists say they “salute the longshoremen who stood with
the Palestinian people by honoring our Block the Boat picket and
refusing to unload Zim in” both August and September, and are calling on
the workers to do the same in October.
Organizers of Block the Boat for Gaza note that although Israel’s
military assault on Gaza was “halted, thanks to the Palestinian
resistance,” the struggle is not over. “With the full support of the US
government, Israel continues to carry out its brutal occupation,
confiscate more land and build more settlements, imprison thousands of
Palestinians, and maintain the siege on Gaza as part of its policy of
US Palestinian activists recognize their complicity in fueling this
occupation, repression, and ethnic cleansing, as $3.1 billion of the tax
dollars they pay go to Israel each year
US allies are tired of their government bankrolling Israel’s destruction
of Gaza, and seek a new, more direct strategy to force their government
to listen to their calls, to practice democracy.
The Block the Boat movement sees itself as the next step in a long line
of dock organizing. Block the Boat for Gaza pointed out that:
Ports have historically been places for workers to assert their
power and make social change. During apartheid in South Africa, ILWU
workers refused to unload South African cargo in San Francisco in
1984. This action was a major catalyst for international
anti-apartheid solidarity that helped topple the apartheid regime of
As Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people become more and more
flagrant, as racism
<http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.611822> in Israeli
more extreme <http://www.davidsheen.com/racism/>, and as the world
stands up and says enough to the colonization, occupation, and torture
of the indigenous Palestinians, activists are taking matters into their
own hands. Public support for Palestine is growing, around the world
Block the Boat, and myriad actions like it, continue to grow. The
world’s peoples are standing up for human rights, freedom, and dignity.
This is how history is made. It always has been, and it always will be.
/*Ben Norton* is an artist and activist. His website can be found at
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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