US activists to block Israeli cargo in mass shutdown of West Coast ports

Illustration by Nidal El-Khairy (full size)

The Port of Oakland, California is one of the busiest shipping ports in the United States. On 16 August, it will also be a flashpoint of the growing global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

A diverse coalition of groups is coming together to shut down the port and prevent the offloading of an Israeli vessel scheduled to dock Saturday morning. They are targeting Israel’s largest cargo shipping company, Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.

They join several other West Coast port cities including Seattle, Vancouver and Long Beach in organizing port shutdowns. If all actions are successful, the US and Canadian West Coast will be effectively locked out to Israeli commercial shipping.

Direct response

On 30 July, the Palestinian trade union movement called on Palestine solidarity activists to work with US labor rights activists to oppose Israel’s onslaught in Gaza.

As of 11 August, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that 2,008 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since Israel’s attacks began on 7 July. The Bethlehem-based International Middle East Media Center has published the list of names of those killed.

More than 8,100 Palestinians have been injured, and 386,000 internally displaced. The damage to buildings, homes, schools and infrastructure is, thus far, estimated at $6 billion, not accounting for the decimation of people’s jobs and livelihoods in Gaza.

The direct action at the port is a direct response to the Palestinian trade union movement’s call and Israel’s current assault on Gaza. But Bay Area organizers emphasize that this is just one part of a coordinated escalation of efforts to mobilize for Palestine.

“We really want to take the conversation beyond the massacre in Gaza, and to the whole Zionist project in Israel and what it is being imposed on Palestinians because we know this is cyclical,” Reem Assil, an organizer with the Bay Area’s Arab Resource and Organizing Center, told The Electronic Intifada.

“It’s not just about the military offensive in Gaza. That sparked an international outrage, but we know this is nothing new. The ceasefire is still up in the air, and we want to make sure to use this point in our history to make sure this never happens again. Part of doing that is to isolate Israel,” she said.

Since the Palestinian trade unions released their letter, organizers have been working closely with the members of the local chapter of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, ILWU-10, to build and create a sustainable coalition.

“This is the kick-off of what we hope to be many. We hope this is the beginning of a continued coordinated strategy of working with local rank and file and educating union members,” Assil said.

“Building solidarity”

A shutdown of the port scheduled several weeks back was postponed in order to build more solid ground support, seen as a critical part of an action of this magnitude.  

“Symbolically, the port shutdown is a way to build solidarity with civil society and trade unions all over the world,” Assil said.

According to Assil, ILWU-10 members have been coming to meetings, flyering the port and helping to mobilize their rank and file members. “We hope the workers will be on the picket line with us on the day of [the action],” she added.

On 6 August, the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee declared its full support for the picket, writing:

“The Transport Workers Solidarity Committee calls on transport workers the world over to refuse to work Israeli cargo on ships, rails, planes or trucks on August 16. If we can stop the Israeli capitalists’ profits, even for a day, we send a message to the racist Zionist regime that we will not oil their bloody war machine.”

Furthermore, the workers’ vision doesn’t stop with Oakland: “It needs to be a whole West Coast strategy; it can’t be just one port but needs to be coordinated on the West Coast,” they stated.

Coalition support

Over the next week, Long Beach, Seattle and Vancouver all have upcoming actions planned at their respective ports. Activists with Labor for Palestine, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, New York City Against War and Al-Awda: Palestine Right to Return Coalition are planning to demonstrate in New York at the Israeli consulate in solidarity with the Oakland port shutdown.

Assil told The Electronic Intifada that Zim offloads at the Oakland port every Saturday, carrying goods that are made on confiscated Palestinian land — both in settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and within present-day Israel.

Activists will meet at 5am at the West Oakland BART (the Bay Area’s subway) station, from where organizers are providing shuttles to the port’s entry.

The strategy for Saturday involves picketing and peacefully blocking several entrances to the Port of Oakland. If an arbitrator — an arbiter from the Port Authority, which is not affiliated with the workers’ unions — determines that the presence of a significantly-sized picket line raises concerns of safety for the union workers, ILWU must cancel workers’ shifts with full pay.

Organizers are hoping to attract around 5,000 protesters to the port on Saturday. The number of participants is key — without the robust presence of a large number of people, it is difficult to be seen as sufficiently disruptive to call off work.

ILWU-10 are currently in negotiations for a new contract, but that has not affected union members from working with the Arab Resource and Organizing Committee and other organizing groups.

Second shutdown

Activists and dockworkers prevented an Israeli ship from unloading in Oakland in June 2010.

The Electronic Intifada
This is not the first time activists have attempted to shut down the Oakland port to an Israeli vessel. In summer of 2010, in response to Israel’s lethal attack on the Mavi Marmara — the Turkish-led humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza, in which ten activists were killed by Israeli navy commandos — Bay Area activists successfully prevented the Zim line from unloading.

It was the first time in US history that activists had stopped an Israeli cargo ship from unloading. The action was seen as a significant victory for US labor and Palestinian solidarity activists and their Palestinian counterparts, who issued a warm response of appreciation that was read to the crowd of participants. Activists had been marching for nearly twelve hours to make sure the ship was not allowed to complete its business at the port.

In addition to respecting the picket line in 2010, members of ILWU had issued a resolution denouncing the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara, supporting union protests of Israel’s repression of Palestinians and demanding an end to the Israeli siege on Gaza and US military aid to Israel.

In a testament to the success of that action, representatives of the Israeli consulate and the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs requested to meet with ILWU to urge the workers to withdraw their solidarity with Palestine. However, heeding the calls of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, ILWU rejected the group’s request.

The ILWU has a long history of leveraging their union power to support global human rights struggles. In 1984, for example, they refused to unload cargo from apartheid South Africa.

International calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions have grown louder and more urgent amidst Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip and its refusal to grant basic demands put forth by Palestinian civil society: to give Gaza access to their own borders and to the outside world through land and sea.

Under Israel’s ongoing siege, Gaza’s fishermen are prevented from sailing more than three nautical miles off the coast, and, even then, risk being arrested or subjected to lethal fire by Israeli naval forces.

It is fitting, activists say, for Israel’s largest cargo shipping company to meet a firmly-locked door at US ports.




See what can happen when ordinary Americans form together in protest? Boycott, divestment and sanctions will work. Banding together in protests will work. Demanding responsibility and decency from politicians will work. We simply have to be steadfast in our objection to any form of support that aids Israel's brutal occupation and oppression of the Palestinians the the continued illegal settlements on Palestinian land.


Dear Friends, please make sure everybody that will go .. to bring their visas, I have heard a rumor that US Customs will be checking for papers there.. please be very careful.


if they do not want to make money others will do. Let's hope non union people or companies take advantage if this.


The next task is to spread the BDS movement all over the world and take the solution out of the hands of Israel - its paymaster the US government and its client states.


unions have always operated under the motto 'an injury to one is an injury to all'

if you don't know this, you might wanna engage in a bit of study of union history . unions will act in favor of worker rights . thanks to u.s. sponsored israeli violence and aggression, palestinian workers have no rights at all

next question ...


Hear hear wiseoldsnail, your comment is spot on.Hit the zionist thugs where it hurts!
Solidarity has no borders.


Though the notion may seem odd to supporters of Israel, many people have consciences and do not wish to be complicit in war crimes. Unionized workers may lack the power of, say, Sheldon Adelson or other corporate executives who profit from Israel's theft of Palestinian land and resources, but they do have the power to withdraw their labour -- and thus express their humanity and their solidarity with Israel's victims. "An injury to one is an injury to all."


Labor unions are part of an ongoing effort to protect and advance the rights and interests of workers. They act in solidarity with each other because it's necessary to overcome the far greater wealth and power of those who oppose their interests. Israel prevents Palestine from functioning and prospering by blocking their exports. US labor unions are acting in solidarity with Palestinian labor unions in response to their request.


Such a question, while sounding clever-logical in the manner of seriously rational conservative analysis, indicates a need for a refresher course in the history of capitalism and the adversarial relationship between capital -- the wealthy owners of property -- and labor, the masses or descendants of those dispossessed of their lands by enclosures and forced to work for a cash wage. The contract between capitalist and worker is inherently unequal, unbalanced power relationship, in which workers are at a serious disadvantage because of how laws got written during monarchical, warlord eras leading to the rise of secular republics and the political assertion of the rights of man by aristocrats who joined forces to reduce the authority of the biggest-toughest warlord, i.e. the king. Politics is about asserting your rights or the rights of others whom you in principle defend because as a union member you are in solidarity with all workers whose freedoms are subordinate to the legalized privileges of capital.
Is this beginning to make any sense? Labor unions were invented, and fought for in long bloody struggles against private armies and local police forces all backed by the state, which has always been beholden to those with the most weapons (hidden these days by bank accounts, so the rich can hire their armies, thugs often in the form of police forces beholden to the 1-percent's paid serf, aka elected politician).
See, we still haven't arrived at real democracy, egalitarian rule of law.
Struggle's never-ending, The Long Haul's the title of a great memoir on the subject.
Ranciere: being political is taking public action on behalf of your or others' rights, dignity. You're a agent of police when you take action to suppress political expression by others. In other words, being political is a necessity for human beings. Police agents refuse to admit everyone's absolute dependence on productive people and use violence to enforce the status quo.


The comparison of Israel - Palestine to capital - labor is quite flawed, and its use is ultimately problematic for supporters of Palestinian rights. While Israel has violated Palestinian human rights, it is incorrect to describe the relationship between the two entities in a way that obscures the true dynamics of capital - labor in the region historically and for both peoples. In fact, I will show the capital - labor dynamic as central to Zionist ideology. If you are opposed to Zionism, I would be very careful about invoking the motivations of the dispossesed as a rationale for violence; these are essentially Zionist arguments. The first flaw in this comparison: labor exists both in Israel and Gaza, as does capital. Gaza is controlled by Hamas and Hamas is controlled by elite figures who do not live in Gaza. Israel is controlled by the far-right serving US and Euro economic interests. Israel and Gaza both have individual capital - labor dynamics w/in their systems and are largely populated both by...labor. The second problem with this comparison was pointed out by Noam Chomsky in reference to S.African apartheid, via the negation of a similar economic relationship; Israel does not use the Gazans as a labor force, they just wish they were gone, that's part of the problem. The third problem with this comparison is that all gorups in this region (Muslim, Jewish, Druze, are descendents of the victims of ethnic cleansing. The original Zionists were hoping to avoid centuries of ethnic cleansing in Russia and Germany and so used their identity as labor fleeing the guns of capital as rationalization of their ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Palestine. So actually this comparison that you made is built into Zionism. All parties claim to be dispossesed. It is also an argument used by the 60% of Mizrahi Israelis' who were refugees from the region. The most important human rights violations here have nothing to do with class struggle history, they are unique to the region.


by Peter Cohen

a Dutch Jewish WWII Survivor

“Huffington Post“ - -The view that Jews are a nation is the primary belief underlying Zionism. Other ideas too are inherent to Zionism, but no useful purpose would be served by discussing them all here. The notion of Jewish nationhood is a 19th-century invention,2 and like many other 19th-century inventions it is taking a long time to unravel and lay to rest. The following addresses the question of how the damage caused by the Zionist project might be reduced, or even reversed, by peaceful political means.

Zionism is a conceptual ideology in which it is assumed that part or all of the land of Palestine belongs to “the Jews.” Of course, we should all be free to assume whatever we want, but where such assumptions lead to organized conquests, expulsions, land dispossession or the kind of repetitive episodes of brutal violence we have just seen in Gaza, that is quite another matter.

Many words have been devoted to the question of how to attain “peace” between the Zionist colonists and the people who were living in Palestine prior to the Zionists’ arrival. This article is not about that kind of peace. Defining grounds on which to make peace within the status quo is not my concern here. What I have in mind is something far more fundamental: the return of Palestine, through political inducements, to the people we have come to call the Palestinians. It behooves those who seek an end to violence and a just peace to at least remain open to my argument, as follows:

By Palestinians, I mean all those who inhabited this region in the centuries during which it was under Turkish rule (1517-1917). Some of those people were Jewish. I include these Jews among the Palestinians, since they took no part in the Zionist colonization of Palestine from about 1890 onwards.


This news is most welcome. Let's build to the point where no port will accept Israeli products, until the Zionist state agrees to meet basic demands for freedom and equality for Palestinians. So long as Gaza is blockaded and the West Bank colonised, so long as East Jerusalem is subjected to demographic strangulation, and unless Israel relents in its brutal occupation of the entirety of historic Palestine, boycott and sanctions must be extended to comprehensive levels. It's clear that governments won't lead the way, so it's up to citizens- workers, activists, consumers- to see that Israeli products go unloaded and unsold around the world.


Wow! This action, when successful, will send a powerful message to Israel and also make our evening news, bringing a U.S. response to Israel's state terrorism and exploitation of the Palestinian state they have so mercilessly occupied and taken advantage of, without significant repercussions from other nation states.

Let's see if they get the message as actions like this mount around the world and more people take a stand against Israeli's inhumane treatment of their closest neighbor.


I sure hope this report is true ... it will definitely put a kink in the israel chains on Palestine.


wow.....this is awesome powerful action....i will march with you in spirit....keep up the amazing work....i have always believed....hit them where it hurts most...their pockets....


This is an entirely positive development! The Longshoreman's Union ought to have some balls, a'la Harry Bridges in the thirties, and lock-out the whole United States.


I am an American and am glad that people in my country are coming together to condemn Israel for there years of occupation of Palestine and the current war crimes they are commiting in Gaza. And one of the best ways to carry the message is to make them feel it in the poketbook.


who, which representative that has been involved, or is involved in this action at the port? and the one in 2010? which city, state, &/or Nat'l representative has been involved in this action, past discussion, etc.?
I haven't read too far back, in the archives, but I didn't see anyone that is/was holding an official position mentioned?

these are things I would want to know before joining an event like the one on 8/16...


After so many years of taking from the Palestinians, Israel will have to pay some kind of financial punishment.... but now will we ( I should say our gov't officials ) fund Israel's financial punishment always ?
=The key is to VOTE OUT any Israely backer out of congress ....


I have come to believe that the BDS movement might be effective if it impinges on the consciousness of the Israeli people, above their Revisionist government and brings about a change in their view of the world, and gets them to see that Netanyahu and his religious-nationalist government is really betraying both them & the true Jewish religion. (See the recent articles by Gideon Levy, Michael Lerman & Zeev Sternhell).


While I think this is a valuable exercise in solidarity and applaud it, I would also remind everyone that this is likely a secondary boycott under Allied International v. ILA, a 1982 Supreme Court case. As I have written elsewhere, I disagree with the holding in that case. It is nevertheless binding, which is why any local under the jurisdiction of the NLRA will likely not engage in a direct action after the inevitable federal court injunction is issued.


Well are you also going to block other ships like ones coming from say Egypt? Because aren't they keeping the Palestinians blocked too? Plus, I'm sure you could do a number on Syria too. Keep up the good work, but please don't just focus on one country. There are other people out there causing problems in their countries. Where do we start and where do we end?


Israel's plan since its inception has been the genocide of the native population. They have been carrying out this incremental genocide for the last 66 years in the most vicious, cowardly and inhumane fashion.
There is a book entitled "How Israel Lost its Soul". As far as I can see Israel never had a soul to begin with.


all anyone who cares about what has really been going on in the so-called Promised Land, Holy Land, or simply Palestine, is read the written and spoken words of Israel's founders. Ben-Gurion may be the most representative. He talked himself into believing there's nothing immoral in "transfer" of the native Arabs of Palestine to "other Arab lands" -- it was common for white colonialist regimes pre-WWII -- yet he seems to have understood it was immoral, since he bent over backwards in his diary entries reported by Benny Morris in The War for Palestine to place all responsibility for transfer on the Brits' Peel Commission, over which he practically wet his pants in glee over as THE SINGLE GREATEST OPPORTUNITY to befall the Zionist colonizing project. They are especially good at excuses. As Michael Neumann in his The Case Against Israel noted, quoting General Dayan, the "pretext of security" is the key propaganda phrase to use in the liberal West, following the tactic of covert-as-much-as-possible harassment until the target responds, then retaliating with overwhelming force: "the right to defend ourselves." Sadly, grasping the transparent cynical sadism of this is impossible for those who believe the Leon Uris Exodus legend. Thank you, Paul Newman. Don't buy his salad dressings.


its about time the world woke up to the racist policies of the state of Israel. The damage Israel has done to the Palestinian society must be revenged in the future. Unless there is justice and Israel stop saying such stupid statements like..." and what do we get in return" as if they have not already stolen enouph land and resources from the Palestinians


The sad truth is that the rest of the world, in particular the elite of the western world, are well aware of the true face of the evil state of Israel but choose to do nothing.
Israel should be forced, at its own cost, to fully reconstruct Gaza, including the building of a seaport for which they always refused to give a permit, an airport which they destroyed years ago and compensation to each and every Palestinian for all the trauma and loss inflicted and to immediately lift the blockade on the biggest open air prison in the world.


Good comment Tess. There are various web sites to start petitions for causes, is one. If we started a petition to bring the facts out about the suffering the Israeli's have caused the Palestineans for all these years, I am sure we could get millions of people around the world to sign same and get their governments to act, including my own gov't whose silence is deaffening.


thank you, we the people can change the world if we unite. thank you to all who are helping our Palestinian friends they sure need all of us to stand for them. Thank you for working for the human rights of all people and Thank you dockworkers I will support you.

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.