Block the Boat: the Inside Story
Jane Jewell: 23rd August 2014
What really happened at the Port of Oakland those five days in August
It’s been an amazing week. San Francisco Bay Area human rights activists managed to prevent an Israeli ship from docking in Oakland and unloading all of its cargo for four solid days!
The container ship Zim Piraeus belongs to Zim Integrated Shipping Services, of which 32% is owned by Israel Corporation. The ship was due to dock in the port of Oakland on Saturday August 16th, 2014, and leave the same day, having unloaded its cargo of 176 containers. It didn’t leave until Wednesday August 20th, with most of its cargo still on board. Human rights activists and other members of the local community, outraged by the Israeli genocide currently being committed by the state of Israel against the Palestinian people in Gaza, launched the “Block the Boat” campaign, to delay or prevent the boat from unloading. Horrific pictures have been coming out of Gaza via social media since early July, of children with limbs sliced off by DIME bombs (dense inert metal explosives), of thousands of homes destroyed, as well as several hospitals, and even UN schools where people were seeking safe haven. Over 2,000 people have now been killed, including over 500 hundred children. Many more have been wounded, with hideous, life changing loss of body parts. The people in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond gathered in Oakland to say, “Enough”. A massive boycott of Israeli ships has now begun, with other actions continuing the campaign in Los Angeles, Tacoma and Seattle. The blockade of the Zim Piraeus was the longest blockade of an Israeli ship in USA history.
Many false reports have been put out, both by the mainstream media who misunderstood information they had received, and deliberately by Zionist media.
This is what really happened, my own day by day account:
Friday 15th Aug:
Activists tracked the passage of the Zim Piraeus up the west coast of California. I followed it from off San Luis Obispo to Monterey Bay, where it unexpectedly stopped at 5pm.
The other boat associated with the Zim shipping line, the Everlasting, which had been behind the Zim Piraeus, overtook it, went straight past, and docked in Oakland around 3am Saturday morning.
Saturday 16th Aug:
Zim Piraeus had originally been scheduled to arrive early on Saturday, and leave later the same day.
However, it stayed off Monterey the whole of Saturday, drifting 6 nautical miles in one direction and then back again. The schedule was changed to say that the boat would now come in on Sunday evening at 8.30pm, according to the tracking device, VesselFinder.
A large protest was organised by a coalition of groups working for freedom and justice for the Palestinians. The March from West Oakland Bart Station to the port of Oakland, berth 57, was originally scheduled for 5am. The protest changed to 3pm, however, even though the boat was not coming in now until Sunday. The ship spent the whole of Saturday idling off the coast of Monterey Bay. Some activists questioned why the protest was not postponed to the Sunday, when the boat would come in. However, had this protest not been held, there is always the possibility that the boat might have changed plans and come in on Saturday after all
You can see a video of the march to the Port of Oakland here.
Sunday 17th Aug:
At 7am, the Zim Piraeus set off from Monterey Bay to the SF Bay, arriving Sunday 5pm. Since the activists had all been at the port on the Saturday, Zim perhaps assumed that we would not be back again on the Sunday. How wrong they were! Activists scrambled to get to berth 57, and by the time the new shift was due to go to work, there was a sizable picket line, accompanied by a police presence. Because of “concern for the health and safety of the workers” the shift was called off and the longshore workers (dockers) sent home.
Monday 18th Aug:
Once again, the company expected to be able to get their cargo unloaded, this time on the Monday morning shift, as many of the protesters would be at work. However, many of us are retired, or teachers not yet back at school, and about 20-30 protesters got up early to form a picket line at 5am. Once again the police were there (150 of them!), but the activists, although small in number, managed to prevent workers from entering, and this shift, once again, went home. These activists were the real heroes of the whole five days, as without their admirable dedication, the whole thing would have collapsed that dark and drizzly morning.
Buoyed by this success, another protest was organised for Monday afternoon, and again, the workers graciously would not cross our picket line, and went home. Protesters came from near and far. While most of us were from the SF Bay Area, one person drove all the way from Stockton to take part. Outrage over the ethnic cleansing in Gaza and a desire to do something has touched many people.
About 80 – 100 people attended the Monday afternoon protest. This time the police managed to divide us into two groups and herded us onto the sidewalks on either side of the main gate. There was plenty of space for the longshore workers to enter, but they refused to cross our picket line. We discovered later the reason why. Back in April 2003, anti war activists had held a protest at the docks. “The police fired wooden dowels, projectiles, sting balls, concussion grenades, tear gas, and other non-lethal weapons when protesters at the gates of two shipping lines at the port refused an order to disperse. Longshore workers and protestors were injured in the exchange.”
Because of the injuries sustained by the workers back in 2003, they now refuse to pass through a gate that is being held open by the police, citing “Health and safety concerns”. Thus it is not the activists who pose a threat to them but the police! Our own presence, stuffed on the sidewalks behind barricades, had no physical effect on stopping workers from going to work. However, our presence attracted the police, and their presence deterred the workers from entering, doing our job for us!
As with all the demonstrations, it was peaceful, and a lot of camaraderie created an atmosphere of exuberance. People who had been there since the early morning had tweeted that they needed food and water, and the rest of us responded with abundance. There was fried chicken, rice, other platters of cooked meals, bananas, cookies, yogurt and plenty of water to drink. We even offered food to all the police (“Chicken?”) but being on duty they had to refuse. Must have been tough. We had a feast! The two groups on either side of the gate chanted “Free, free Palestine, Don’t cross the picket line!” accompanied by a tuba and trumpet, while activists drummed on the barricades to provide the rhythm. Unfortunately the two groups were one beat out, and, as a music teacher, I pleaded with the police to let me stand in the middle of the road to conduct. They refused. They were all standing in a line with gaps in between, which reminded me of the formation we used to use doing folk dancing when I was a kid. I suggested we all do Hay-for-three, skipping in and out down the line, but they refused that idea too. One policeman said he would love to dance but couldn’t while in uniform. They must have got so bored, just standing there. I managed to get a few to smile to pass the time. They were trying hard to keep a deadpan face, standing in a row like frozen folk dancers. On the whole the Oakland police were reasonable, just regular folk doing their job, unlike the police in Ferguson we have been hearing about recently who have been alarmingly racist and aggressive.
It was past 9 pm when we heard that, once again, the workers were not going to work that night, and we all went home. The lady from Stockton had a long way to drive.
Tuesday 19th August:
Yet another morning picket prevented the early morning shift from going to work, and at 3pm the ship gave up and left the port of Oakland, berth 57, and headed out to sea, stated destination, Los Angeles (so the tracking devices told us). Under the Golden Gate it went, and we all thought “Good riddance” except for one or two protesters with inside knowledge, who insisted that the ship was relocating to berth 22. “Really?”, I thought. It had long gone past berth 22, and was now well past Marin Headlands. However……………
At 5.30pm the ship suddenly turned around, not far from the Farallons, and headed straight back into port! By the time it had moored at berth 22, the next shift had already gone through the gates and started work on another ship. They were pulled off that ship and sent to work on the Zim Piraeus, much to their irritation. According to one source:
“ILWU Longshoremen didn’t want to work the Zim ship, but one of their leaders, Melvin Mackay, threatened to cite anyone who didn’t work that night. The Longshoremen were pissed and slowed down work in protest. No one, including port managers, wants to deal with the Zim ship…..”
In addition, several workers left the premises at midnight for their meal break, despite the pizza that was brought in to keep them there during that time. (The activists also got pizza brought to them, but not by the Zim shipping line!) One worker who did leave told the activists to get more people there to make sure he couldn’t get back in! “They’re w/ us if we show up!” tweeted one activist. Accordingly, more people showed up and others decided to stay until after 2 am, so even less workers worked the second part of their shift, and those that did were going slow anyway.
We will probably never know if the decision by the longshore workers to “go slow” was because of their solidarity with the Palestinian people, their solidarity with those protesting outside, because of irritation from having been deceived, or a mixture of all three.
176 containers were supposed to be unloaded that night, but no more than 50 got unloaded, comprising the “perishables and high-value goods”. (A corporate Port of Oakland official told one activist that the Zim Piraeus was supposed to unload 176 containers but only unloaded 26. Other reports say 50, but no more than that.)
However, the leader of the longshore workers told the media that they had “unloaded everything that was intended to be unloaded”. No one thought to ask “intended by whom?” The media took this to mean everything that the Zim shipping line intended them to unload. However, it actually referred to everything the longshore workers intended to unload, which was the perishables and the high-value cargo. That was all they did!
Wednesday 20th Aug:
The media duly announced that the unloading had been completed that night, and the ship left the port at about 8am. Instead of going out to sea straight away, being 4 days late now (it was supposed to have left on the Saturday) it turned left and went down to anchor in the south bay, just north of Hunters’ Point. Many other ships were anchored there too, as it is much cheaper than staying in port. It anchored there for 8 hours, until 5pm. None of the media who had reported that the unloading had been successfully completed seemed to wonder why the ship was sitting in the south bay for no apparent reason. No one asked why it hadn’t set off to Russia, being already so late. Many of the activists knew the real reason; that the boat was hoping to go in to a berth – any berth – to finish unloading its cargo. However, no berth was found for them. Whether this was because they were all full up (the Zim ship’s space was supposed to have been Saturday morning) or whether the port was fed up with it all and just wanted to see the back of them, we will probably never know. Either way, the boat once again passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, and set out to sea. Of course we were all tracking it obsessively to see if it was going to do another U-turn like it did the previous day, but it continued, and then turned north into the main shipping channel, and by midnight when it was far out to the north west parallel with Eureka we knew we were shot of it at last. Now the Zim Piraeus is on its way to Russia, taking about two thirds of the containers with it that were supposed to have been unloaded in Oakland!
By the time that the Zim Piraeus ship had left, it was four days behind schedule, but the estimated time of arrival in Russia had only been changed by one day, from August 31st to Sept 1st. This means that it will have to cross the Pacific in 12 days flat, instead of 15. It will have to go much faster, and burn up much more fuel which will cost the company a lot of extra money. In addition, the company would have had to have paid increased fees to stay in port longer than planned, as well as having to pay for a pilot going in and out of the SF Bay twice.
Throughout the five days of action, the longshore workers were terrific in supporting us. They have a long history of supporting human rights. For example, they refused to unload South African ships during the Apartheid era. Now they are doing the same against Apartheid Israel.
The whole boycott action was a terrific success, and we really feel that we made history. The four day delay caused considerable inconvenience to the Zim shipping line, and customers in the future will no doubt think twice before using them, especially those whose stuff is now on its way to Russia.
During all this time the Israel propaganda machine was working non stop to spread false information. They even tried their hand at prophesying the future! On Wednesday morning Jewishpress.com reported that “Members of the ILWU dock workers’ union in Oakland, California on Wednesday afternoon unloaded the ZIM ship that anti-Israel picketers blocked last week.”
(What, while it was anchored in the South Bay? How did they get the cranes out there? Next time they must examine their crystal balls more carefully.)
Our next job is to contact all the companies that use the Zim Shipping Line, to suggest that using Zim could mean delayed deliveries, as our protests will continue. This may persuade them to switch to another company from one that is so heavily involved in human rights abuses.
Other protests scheduled by human rights activists on the West coast involve the Zim Chicago in Tacoma and Seattle, Washington, and the Zim Haifa in Los Angeles from Sat Aug 23rd.
Groups of activists up and down the west coast will be doing their best to prevent Zim ships from unloading on an ongoing basis.
This is the least we can do for the people of Palestine, many of whom have lost their land, their fishing boats, their homes, their limbs, their loved ones, and their lives.