Lara Kiswani on the Successful Blocking of the Zim Cargo Ship at the Port of Oakland

A Palestinian flag with red, green, and white triangles is wrapped around a person's back, with the Port of Oakland's cranes in the background
Activists at the Port of Oakland on June 4, 2021. Photo by Sunshine Velasco.

This past Friday on June 4th, activists in the Bay Area successfully blocked the ZIM cargo ship from Israel, which attempted to dock and unload at the Port of Oakland. With a multiracial group of over 2,000 people participating in the blockade, the boat turned away. Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center and SF State University lecturer, shares a Palestinian American perspective on Block the Boat and the fight for Palestinian self-determination.

ZIM is the largest cargo shipping line from the state of Israel. And in 2014, AROC led the Block the Boat coalition in successfully blockading ZIM. Longshore workers of ILWU Local 10  honored our community pickets for days on end and months on end. As a result, it hadn’t returned since, until now. Block the Boat went down as one of the most signficant BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) victories for Palestine in U.S. history.

In mid-May, we were alerted that the ZIM shipping line was, for the first time in seven years, scheduled to dock at the Port of Oakland. This, at a time when Israel was bombing Gaza, and Palestinians across all of historic Palestine, and in the diaspora, were rising up against Israeli settler-colonial expansion and violence. 

AROC immediately put out a call to action to prepare people to mobilize. The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in Gaza put out a statement on May 18th calling on workers in the U.S. to support Palestinian workers, by boycotting the Israeli occupation and its institutions, including refusing to unload their cargo. We shared this call to action with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10. We set up a text alert system and within days, had thousands of subscribers. We regrouped members of the 2014 Block the Boat coalition, and renewed the #BlockTheBoat campaign.

After over two weeks of the ZIM “Volans” ship avoiding our protests and remaining at bay, we called on an international week of action so we could have people in different port cities act in solidarity with Oakland at their port cities. As a result, thousands of people have mobilized against ZIM across the world, and we have more activities to come.

The Block the Boat campaign was endorsed by over 100 organizations which are longtime supporters of AROC and the movement for Palestinian liberation, including the largest federation of trade unions in South Africa, COSATU, Grassroots Global Justice, About Face: Veterans Against War, Anti Police-Terror Project, Chinese Progressive Association, BAYAN USA, Critical Resistance, Jewish Voice for Peace, Causa Justa: Just Cause, SEIU 1021, and The Rising Majority. 

After weeks of preparing to mobilize, ZIM ship attempted to dock in Oakland on Friday, June 4th. We mobilized by the thousands to the Port of Oakland at 6 a.m., and again at 4 p.m. We held six powerful simultaneous pickets across the terminal. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 honored the pickets during both the morning and evening shifts, and did not work the ship. In a dramatic move as community members watched, the Israeli apartheid-profiteering ship — knowing that it could break neither our blockade nor the workers’ demonstration of solidarity — left the port of Oakland! And as we speak, it is now headed through the Pacific Northwest where communities are organizing to block it once again.

The work and support of the various committees, made up of over 70 people, and the different organizations that led and amplified actions across the world as part of our International Week of Action, all made possible this momentous victory for labor and community solidarity organizing. This was a true cross-movement effort.

Like with any other social justice issues, when it concerns Palestine — clear, principled, anti-racist, and anti-Zionist voices are instrumental. They are instrumental in disrupting Zionist hegemony and this anti-semitic narrative that Zionists speak on behalf of all Jewish people. And they are essential in countering Zionist repression against Black, Brown, and Indigenous-led organizing in solidarity with Palestine. In fact, as we geared up for a community picket, a Zionist lawfirm attempted to intimidate ILWU Local 10 by submitting a legal letter threatening them with lawsuits. This only further exposes how apartheid-Israel is not only racist, but is also anti-worker. And for those of us at the receiving end of racism, Zionism, militarism, and systems of exploitation — it fortifies our commitment to joint struggle. 

The amount of work and planning that went into making last Friday a seamless community mobilization, an accessible mobilization, and an inspiring mobilization, is an illustration of that commitment. This type of solidarity, and grassroots organizing, makes so much possible, and we are hopeful about what that means for the future. 

Our objectives, like all movements for justice — are freedom, dignity and liberation. In the case of us Palestinians, we are an occupied people being terrorized by one of the largest militaries in the world, that is backed by the largest military in the world, being the United States. The struggle for the liberation of Palestine, is in turn, is a fight against U.S. imperialism. And through initiatives like #BlockTheBoat, we prove that people power, worker power, can have a significant impact on aparthied Israel — politically, economically, and culturally. We demonstrated that grassroots power can interrupt international commerce, and global capitalism.

This victory, the work that went into it, the solidarity that was demonstrated throughout, is a reflection of Oakland and its history of internationalist movement building. It builds on the radical history of ILWU Local 10. It is also a reminder to the world that Palestine is an internationalist issue, and an issue that concerns all social justice movements.

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