On 28 October, San Francisco Bay Area activists organizing to block the unloading of Israeli shipping vessels declared their most significant victory yet: Israel’s Zim Integrated Shipping Services appears to have cancelled all future shipments to the Oakland Port.
This past summer, at the peak of Israel’s brutal bombardment of Gaza, the Bay Area’s Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) mobilized the community in response to the military assault. Deciding to focus on a tangible, highly-visible and big-money target, the group set its sights on Israel’s Zim lines, determined to block the company every time it tried to dock a ship at the busy Port of Oakland.
But they didn’t know it would take only three months to send Israel’s largest shipping company packing — possibly for good — in what looks like an effort to avoid the tireless activists who have consistently out-maneuvered the cargo ships.
Over the summer, AROC spearheaded the original Block the Boat coalition. The movement quickly caught on in major shipping cities along the West Coast, and last week, Los Angeles activists delayed the unloading of a Zim shipping vessel for two days.
“The recent victory of the Block the Boat coalition lays the groundwork for a revived BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement in the Bay Area that centralizes Arab leadership, is clearly anti-Zionist, and focused on cross-movement building,” Lara Kiswani, the Executive Director of AROC, wrote to The Electronic Intifada via email.
During weekends in both August and September, Bay Area activists from a diversity of organizations delayed or entirely prevented Zim lines from offloading cargo, costing the company many thousands of dollars each day of the delay.
On the days leading up to planned port actions, organizers closely monitored Zim ships’ movements via the publicly available Marine Traffic website, as well as a subscriber-based website that tracks ships through satellite. In addition, activists have fostered close alliances with members of the local International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) who have provided crucial insider information at every step.
Organizers with Block the Boat have maintained records of the ships movement that show Oakland and Los Angeles as absent ports on future shipping routes.
Zim has not responded to The Electronic Intifada’s request for confirmation that the ships won’t dock at either port in the future. However, one can see in the below screenshot that in mid-September, Oakland and Los Angeles were scheduled ports for Zim container ships — but now they are absent on the schedule.
Dramatic change of course
On 22 October, three days before the Zim Beijing was supposed to dock in Oakland, organizers could see that the ship had dramatically changed course, appearing to head directly to Russia and skipping Oakland altogether.
Organizers also spoke with several employees of the port terminal, all of whom said Zim was no longer scheduled to dock in Oakland. Nevertheless, activists have asked the community to come out to the port on 26 October in order to celebrate the local community and labor support the action has had since August.
Sustainable BDS movement
From the start, Block the Boat intended to create a sustainable boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that incorporates a myriad of stakeholders, including labor and marginalized communities.
In early September, a few weeks after the first Block the Boat victory, AROC helped mobilize against the Urban Shield weapons expo and SWAT training event that has been held in Oakland every year since 2007. Urban Shield came under heightened scrutiny in 2013, and again in 2014, as a symbol of the militarization of local law enforcement agencies, which disproportionately target communities of color.
In the past, police departments from around the world, including Israel and Bahrain, have traveled to Oakland to take part in the exercises and weapons convention. As a result of community opposition, Oakland’s mayor recently announced that the city will not host the event in the future.
“It is a win for all impacted communities because it sends a message to the city, and to the state, that we reject the role the Israel plays in importing weaponry and repressive tactics to further police, militarize and occupy communities all across the US,” Kiswani wrote.
Meanwhile, as AROC and Block the Boat have declared the events of last weekend a decisive victory, they’re not letting their guard down.
“Every indication tells us that Zim is not coming to Oakland again. Ever. But it’s a situation where they could change their mind next week,” said one of the leaders in the Block the Boat coalition known to a large following on Twitter as @ViolentFanon, in a phone conversation with The Electronic Intifada. He declined to give his name.
“We have every intention to stay vigilant and keep watching the ships, like we have before, which has prevented them from tricking us,” he added.
Zim may very well be finished doing business in the Bay Area — a solid victory for the BDS movement — but as Block the Boat keeps their eyes on the Oakland port, they are also moving forward.
“We want to build on this momentum and continue the work of de-normalizing Zionism in the Bay Area through sustained BDS work,” Kiswani stated. “This includes assessing ways to continue making it impossible for Zim to do business here and supporting activists around the country to do the same.”