The Global siege on Israel: a report from the World Social Forum
In June, 2010, when Israeli forces attacked unarmed aid ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing ten passengers (including one who died this year from injuries), dockworkers around the world refused to unload or load Israeli ships or cargo. In the port of Oakland, California, hundreds of activists picketed, and members of the ILWU Local 10 dockworkers union refused to cross their picket line. A Zim cargo ship sat at the port for 24 hours before being unloaded.
The Israeli attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014 similarly brought activists and Local 10 dockworkers together in Oakland to stop another Zim ship, but this time the picket held for more than four days, and the ship was forced back to sea without unloading or loading most of its cargo. Everyone wondered if it would be the only success of its kind or the start of something bigger.
This question was soon answered. The next Zim ship left Oakland without its cargo ever being touched, and the third ship chose not to even enter the port of Oakland. Meanwhile, similar actions delayed unloading in Los Angeles and Seattle. Vancouver, Canada and Tampa, Florida also mounted challenges.
Although operating through other carriers might be costly, Zim appears to have calculated that it is better than being turned away at the ports. Zim customers, contacted by activists, were appalled that their Oakland cargo ended up in Russia, and decided to desert Zim for other carriers. Business is business. Zim apparently hoped that by avoiding ports where they might be blocked, they might weather the storm and the movement might peter out with no targets to picket.
That’s not going to happen.
In December, 2014, the Free Palestine Movement presented the case for a global movement to stop Zim ships at a conference of the Global Campaign for the Return to Palestine in Beirut, Lebanon. Then, in March, 2015, we joined with our partners, the International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza to present a workshop on stopping Zim ships at the World Social Forum in Tunis. In both cases we found interest and activity among groups from Malaysia to South Africa to Barcelona, Latin America and Morocco. These groups are now sharing ideas and experiences. Here is part of what we learned.
- In Morocco and Malaysia, it is not widely known that the Israeli Zim shipping line is doing business at the major ports. Although both countries are ostensibly opposed to cooperation with Israel, the ships are not Israeli flagged. However, the tactics used in Oakland are of little use. In both cases, picket lines are logistically difficult and the workers are not easily able or willing to mount an action on their own. However, public exposure of the existence of Israeli ships in the ports may pressure the authorities to block the ships. Morocco has already held two demonstrations and has uncovered previously unknown Zim traffic at the port of Tangiers.
- In Latin America, a conference in Venezuela will discuss strategies for blocking Zim ships in Venezuela, Cuba and Brazil, as well as Argentina, Uruguay and possibly other ports.
- France has created a network for activists to plan strategies and actions to stop Zim ships, and in Barcelona, activists are opening discussions with the dockworkers union.
- Although there is a lot of support for Palestine in South Africa, there is also a strong Zionist presence. COSATU, the national labor confederation, has a strong position on the issue, but the dockworkers union is not necessarily as supportive.
- The Free Palestine Movement has opened a multilingual list serve to connect movements in different countries with each other in order to facilitate the sharing of information. Currently, there are 31 organizational representatives exchanging information in on this network. Our Handbook for Blocking Ships is now available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic, as well as a list of Zim ports of call (English only).
It is our understanding that the US Block the Boat coalition is also reaching out to international groups in a similar way, which is bound to be an important part of the movement. Sharing of resources and information in this manner can only be helpful. If the effort is not necessarily centralized it can still be very effective, especially since each location has its own needs and challenges.
We will do our best to keep you updated. Based on the results in the US, we believe that if ten ports worldwide are closed to Zim, the company’s losses may cause it to close its doors. If Zim and the state of Israel are worried that this movement may become infectious, we can all be proud to spread the virus. The closing of this multi-billion-dollar company can be one of the greatest BDS victories yet.
Thank you for all your support. We are going to win this one.
The FPM Team
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