Long before 5:30 a.m. on June 20 about 800 protesters traveled the mile from West Oakland’s BART station, near San Francisco, to Berth 57 of the Oakland docks. The early risers were determined to block the gates and discourage longshoremen from unloading a Zim cargo ship. Zim is an Israeli shipping company.
A second shift of more than 200 hundred protesters kept the gates closed for the 4:30 p.m. work crew too.
Gloria La Riva organized the personal vehicle shuttle service that transported both waves of protesters.
She said, “There is a provision in their contract that states workers do not have to cross a picket line if their health or safety is at stake. The arbitrator — who is always on call for these kinds of situations — twice reviewed the lines of protesters in the morning. At about 9:15 a.m. he decided that it wasn’t safe for the workers. We consider it a great victory that the arbitrator ruled in the union’s favor and the men did not have to work.”
Since they had already been dispatched and the arbitration ruled in their favor the men will be paid.
* * *
For La Riva this was another full day of dedicated service to her life-long commitment to justice… along with some dejá vu, too.
Back in June 1984, when San Francisco still was a commercial container dock, La Riva supported the ILWU longshoremen who took an official action at Pier 80 and refused to unload apartheid South Africa’s Ned-Lloyd ship. Union members held firm for ten days — the longest political cargo stoppage in West Coast history — despite the multi-million dollar fines levied against them.
Back then, South Africa’s racist apartheid regime was under pressure. As its defense forces cracked down ever more brutally on black South Africans, including women and children, the eyes of the world riveted on images of white policemen shooting black children in school yards and in poverty-stricken segregated townships.
Now Israel is under pressure. On May 31, that country’s navy violently boarded ships in international waters and attacked passengers delivering food, building materials, and medical aid. Nine passengers are dead and six are still missing.
But international anger has been simmering for some time against Israel’s actions in Palestine. The bombardment of Gaza over Christmas and New Year 2009 was an act of sustained brutality that riveted the world. Since then, images of desperate Palestinians are hard to miss. They include babies and children living in what is referred to by some as the “world’s largest open-air prison”.
Israel’s blockade of Gaza extends beyond its land borders. Fishermen are allowed within only 5.5 km of their own coast. Some sneak into Egyptian waters to fish but doing so puts their lives at risk.
Israeli officials insist there is no humanitarian crisis. United Nations aid workers inside Gaza, however, speak of 80 per cent of the people depending on food hand-outs. UN data draws disquieting images: 14 per cent of children suffer stunted growth due to malnutrition.
* * *
At one of three gates blocked at the docks, protester Catherine Orozco puts down her sign (it reads “Let Gaza Live”) and says, “I visited Israel and Palestine in 2002. I went to Jenin and saw the results of the massacre and buildings and homes destroyed. I went to Jerusalem and saw people evicted from their life-long homes. I am very concerned about the disaster Israel is visiting upon the people of Palestine. While we Americans tend to be more concerned about our own troubles like the economy and oil spills, it opens up a lot of peoples’ eyes to see peace ships carrying humanitarian aid attacked in international waters and human rights activists killed.”
As the United States sinks deeper into debt, President Obama insists that Israel is a “true friend” whose security is “top priority…sacrosanct …non-negotiable.” On June 4, less than a week after Israel’s act of piracy in international waters, Obama declared a “strong commitment” to ensure “the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, unbreakable tomorrow, unbreakable forever.” Then he authorized a further $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade. (President Bush authorized $13 billion during his presidency.)
These days, the word “apartheid” is linked regularly with Israel. Indeed, the parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa are clear to anyone who visited both places or studied this form of politics.
In the clear sunshine that poured over the Oakland docks on June 20, it is apparent that ever more people of all ages and backgrounds are looking into the face of this new version of apartheid. What they see makes them unafraid of the omnipresent threat of being labeled “anti-Semitic” or “self-hating Jew.”
If the Israeli government follows the directive of just one sign in evidence on this day – “Boycott Israeli Ships and Goods” – it would consider deeply apartheid South Africa’s history. Then it would steer its ship of state toward a different star…and full speed ahead.
SUSAN GALLEYMORE is author of Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror, host of Stanford University’s Raising Sand Radio, and a former “military mom” and GI Rights Counselor. She was born in apartheid South Africa, lived in Israel from 1975 to 1977, and visited again in 2005. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.