Palestinians are hailing a campaign that has led Israel’s Zim shipping line to halt its routes to Tunisia.
“Zim was forced to indefinitely suspend its services to the Tunisian port of Radès following a popular and trade union boycott campaign in Tunisia and the Arab world,” the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) said on Sunday.
The BNC is the steering group for the worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to pressure Israel to end its violations of Palestinian rights.
The BNC called this “the first victory of its kind in the Arab world.”
The BNC offered particular praise for the “decisive role” of Tunisia’s main labor federation, the UGTT, which called on members to prevent the Israel-linked ship Cornelius A landing in Tunisia, and which has backed demands for an official inquiry into clandestine trade with Israel.
As the Cornelius A affair came to light, the UGTT responded swiftly to requests from Palestinian trade union federations to mobilize against normalization with Israel.
The declaration of victory came after the Turkish-flagged Cornelius A appeared last week to abandon a second attempt to land at Radès.
Israeli ships are forbidden from entering ports in Tunisia and other Arab states under a long-standing Arab League boycott.
Zim therefore offers shipping services to Tunisia using the Cornelius A.
On 9 August, Tunisian campaigners scored a first major win when the ship abandoned an attempt to call at Radès after the dockworkers union threatened to strike.
But amid a denial that the Cornelius A had any connection to Israel, Tunisian activists suspected the ship would make another attempt to enter their country.
On 14 August, a report in The Jerusalem Post citing a Zim official claimed that the Cornelius A “did not belong to the company, was not rented by the company and did not contain any cargo belonging to the company.”
But TACBI, the Tunisian campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, dismissed Zim’s denial.
Last week, TACBI said it had found that the Cornelius A was still listed on the Zim website as undertaking voyage number 12 for the company.
“This is new evidence that the Cornelius A is well integrated into Zim’s logistics, and therefore that the Zim spokesperson is lying,” TACBI said.
Moreover, the right-wing Israeli publication Arutz Sheva has described the Cornelius A as “leased by the Israeli Zim shipping company.”
Meanwhile, TACBI monitored the ship’s movements as it again approached the Tunisian coast.
Suspicions were heightened when the vessel disappeared, as it had done before, from maritime tracking websites.
This prompted the UGTT trade union federation on 14 August to renew its call on Tunisian authorities and its member unions to prevent the ship landing.
But on 15 August, the Cornelius A reappeared on tracking sites, “once again running away,” according to TACBI, as it appeared to abandon any attempt to land in Tunisia. As of Monday, the Cornelius A was docked in Greece.
TACBI called this a “decisive victory” but pointed out that the Cornelius A was only part of a bigger clandestine trade between Israel and Tunisia using ships registered in third countries.
Activists uncovered that a second vessel, the Allegro, a container ship registered in Antigua and Barbuda, had been calling at Radès on behalf of Zim for years.
One voyage that had been listed on Zim’s website in 2016 showed the Allegro stopping at Radès as well as at the Moroccan port of Tangier.
Allegro was again scheduled to stop at Radès as recently as last month.
But after the Cornelius A was prevented from landing, Zim removed all mentions of Radès from the schedules on its website for the Allegro and the Cornelius A, according to TACBI.
“For a week, Allegro has been pottering around in the Atlantic off the coast of Spain awaiting instructions,” TACBI said on 16 August, citing tracking data.
TACBI also claims that the local handling agent for Allegro is the Tunisian firm All Seas Shipping Agency.
The group wrote a letter to All Seas Shipping Agency urging that if its role as “a direct or indirect” agent for Zim were confirmed, then the company must immediately halt its collaboration with operators attempting to violate Tunisia’s laws banning trade with Israel and to “frustrate the choice of the Tunisian people to support the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”
In May, the campaign group BDS Egypt published a report in Arabic about Zim’s role in the violation of Palestinian rights.
Campaigners in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and the Gulf have been supporting TACBI’s campaign on social media with the hashtag “ZIM_degage,” French for “Zim, get out!”
And BDS Turkey has called on Turkish shipping firm Arkas to stop acting as a “Trojan horse” for Zim to bypass the commercial boycott of Israel in Arab states.
BDS Turkey said that Arkas was making itself “an instrument of a company that assumed a substantial role in the establishment of the apartheid regime in Palestine and went on supplying logistic support to the Israeli army in its wars and crimes against Arab countries.”
BDS Turkey urged Turkish society and trade unions “to support this campaign and raise their voice to take sides with the Tunisian people’s volition of boycotting the Israeli state.”
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee asserted that while resisting normalization with Israel was always a duty, it is particularly important a time when Israel is stepping up the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Naqab, and maintaining its maritime blockade of Gaza and its restrictions and lethal attacks on Gaza fishers.
Saluting the achievement of Tunisian activists and workers, the BNC called on trade unions across the Arab world to “follow their lead and prevent Israeli ships or Israeli goods from arriving in Arab ports.”