[News] Fighting the Occupation on the West Coast - California Leads the Way in the “Block the Boat” Movement

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 17 17:33:25 EDT 2014


Weekend Edition October 17-19, 2014
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/10/17/california-leads-the-way-in-the-block-the-boat-movement/


*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 
internationally illegal 
<http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/13/us-un-gaza-rights-idUSTRE78C59R20110913> siege 
by Israel—when the Israeli military reacted with a brutally violent 
crackdown, killing 10 civilian activists 
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/may/31/israel-kills-activists-flotilla-gaza>. 
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 
US port.

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 
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28439404>—including roughly 
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 
government.

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 
<http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/09/10/blocking-the-boat/>.” Borgström 
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 
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/17/israeli-ship-remains-at-sea-thousands-protesters-gather>, 
Haaretz 
<http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/.premium-1.612127>, 
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 
<http://www.amazon.com/Ethnic-Cleansing-Palestine-Ilan-Pappe/dp/1851685553> for 
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 
<https://www.facebook.com/pages/Block-the-Boat-for-Gaza/256406377889015?sk=info&ref=page_internal> reached 
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 
<http://bennorton.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Block-the-Boat-LA-10-16-Press-Release.pdf>. 
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 
held accountable.”

For those unable to physically attend the demonstration, activists 
recommend following and spreading the #BlockTheBoatLA tag on Twitter 
and  Facebook.

*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 
Berth 57.

I got in touch with Oakland Block the Boat activists as well. In their 
public Call to Action 
<http://bennorton.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Call-to-Action-BTB.pdf>, they 
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 
<http://bennorton.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/BtB-Worker-Outreach-Flyer-v5-TF.pdf>. 
Moreover, like many Palestinian organizations 
<http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/29/the-struggles-in-palestine-and-ferguson-are-one/>, 
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 
ethnic cleansing.”

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 
<http://www.jpost.com/International/House-spending-bill-includes-full-31-billion-for-Israel-338398>. 
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
    South Africa.

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 
<http://www.vice.com/read/israeli-racism-gaza-kleinfeld-511> society 
becomes more 
<http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=9990> and 
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 
<http://rt.com/op-edge/179704-public-support-for-palestine-worldwide/>. 
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 
http://bennorton.com/ <http://www.bennorton.com/>./

-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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