Our one-day protest became a four-day blockade of an Israeli cargo ship in the Port of Oakland. This was during the Israeli assault on Gaza, in which over 2,000 Palestinians were slaughtered. We were responding to Israel’s war crimes, taking this action to very graphically show the world that Israeli ships and goods are not welcome here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was one of the many people who walked the picket lines at the docks; this is my day-to-day account of events from the 16th to the 20th of August, 2014.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 16, 2014
We were going to march into the Port of Oakland this morning at 5 a.m. and “Block the Boat.” That is, we’d set up picket lines, asking the dockworkers not to cross, not to go and unload the Israeli ship ZIM Piraeus. However, the ship changed its arrival time, presumably to avoid the picketing, so the demonstration was rescheduled for 3 p.m. This was the second time this event was rescheduled, and that was annoying. Nevertheless, I really hate getting up in the morning and so do a lot of people. It’s hard to get a large number of people — critical mass — to come down to the port at such an hour, and in the pre-dawn darkness. There’d be a lot more people in the afternoon.
The gathering place was at the West Oakland BART Station. As my neighbor Steve Gilmartin and I stepped off the train, we heard loud cheering, then the familiar klezmer music of the Brass Liberation Orchestra. A large crowd had already gathered. Everything was looking good. Then we saw Isis Feral, daughter of a retired longshoreman; she gave us the bad news: The Israeli ship had still not arrived, so there’d be nothing to picket.
So was there any point in marching into an empty port? Three or four of us discussed it briefly, concluding that, yes, of course there was. Since Homeland Security considers the port a strategic security zone where they do not want community demonstrations, it seems appropriate to hold demonstrations in the port, if for no other reason than to assert our right to go there and keep the door open. Our First Amendment rights, all too often not practiced, are disappearing. What better place could there be to express our support for the Palestinians!
The rally continued at West Oakland BART till about 3:30 p.m., then set out for the port. Banners flying, Palestinian flags waving, drums beating, we chanted the now familiar pro-Palestine chants:
“Free, free Palestine!”
“From the River to the Sea — Palestine will be free!”
“Intifada! Intifada! Intifada!”
“¡Viva! ¡Viva! ¡Palestina!
I say these chants are now familiar because of the many pro-Palestinian marches held since the Israelis began their most recent assault against Gaza on July 8th. By this time they had taken over a thousand Palestinian lives.
“How do you spell justice?” asked a speaker over the PA system, as she began another chant, coupled with the mass response “B-D-S! B-D-S! B-D-S!”
It was repeated many times over, and for good reason, because there were probably people in this march who weren’t that familiar with the term BDS, which stands for Boycott, Divest, and Sanction. It was an international BDS movement which helped to bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa, and by such means we hope to isolate Israel economically and at the same time raise awareness, affecting attitudes and even changing policy toward Israel here in the US.
“How do we get justice?” “Block the boat!”
“Block, block, block the boat!”
It was a warm, sunny afternoon, not too hot, just perfect for the march. From the BART station to Berth 57 is a distance of not quite two miles. Marching slowly and occasionally pausing, we went down 3rd street to Adeline, up the bridge over the railroad yard, and down into the port. I’d originally estimated the crowd at about a thousand people, but as we descended down the bridge and into the port, I could clearly see that there were a lot more than a thousand. We were now on Middle Harbor Road, a broad multi-lane thoroughfare designed for the busy traffic of huge tractor trailers. Today there was no traffic, none at all, only us, and we were filling this thoroughfare from curb to curb. Persons with whom I compared notes estimated our gathering at 3,000.
People had come from all around the Bay Area to take part, outraged over the bloodbath. This event was in response to a call from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) which asked people around the world to take action, including the boycott of Israeli goods.
This is the waterfront, the docks, a vast industrial area, almost totally barren of trees or grass or anything green. We couldn’t really see the water either, just a long row of gigantic loading cranes which always remind me of the Martian invaders of the G.H. Wells novel, “War of the Worlds.” The cranes were to the left of us, extending on for miles, curving off into the distance. To the immediate right was the huge railroad yard, dozens of rows of tracks running parallel to Middle Harbor Road. On a normal day this area would’ve been overhung with the noxious fumes of trucks; today there was just the clear blue sky overhead.
Eventually we arrived at Berth 57, where an empty pier awaited the arrival of ZIM Piraeus. This is the SSA terminal, 1717 Middle Harbor Road, where the police attacked antiwar protesters back in 2003, injuring fifty-nine persons. Today the police were maintaining a low profile. Perhaps they wanted to avoid anything that might look like present-day events in Ferguson, Missouri — where police in tanks are making nationwide headlines with their efforts to suppress demonstrators protesting the murder of Michael Brown, a young unarmed black man, by a police officer.
In the absence of the ZIM ship, I could hear in the distance, at the front end of our demonstration, a rally being held. This was as close as I could get in this huge crowd. People around me chatted with each other, renewing old acquaintanceships from the antiwar movement, Palestine solidarity actions, Occupy Oakland and the many other common causes that have brought people together — today’s event was sponsored by a coalition of no less than sixty organizations. I couldn’t hear much of the rally, but I didn’t have to hear a lot of it to know that this was the reverse of a welcoming ceremony — it was, in fact, an unwelcoming ceremony.
The ZIM ship was not welcome, and the company seemed to understand that. The ship did not arrive as originally scheduled on Friday night, and it did not come in this afternoon either. According to marinetraffic.com, a website which reports the locations of ships at sea, the ZIM Piraeus was cruising around in circles off the California coast down by Monterey.
— — —
MORNING of SUNDAY, AUGUST 17, 2014
There’s a flurry of emails, some of them critical of the timing of yesterday’s event, expressing disappointment that we’d marched into an empty port. We’d missed the boat! The Israeli ZIM ship could now slip into port, and our rally would not be there to prevent the unloading.
Like many of the others, I was initially annoyed that the demonstration got postponed from August 2nd to the 16th, but I’m pretty happy with the way things came off yesterday and so I no longer feel disappointed. I think we did well: 3,000 people marched into the port — a mass act of courage just to go into that port where riot police had been known to attack people — and told the world that the Zionists and their ships were not welcome here in the Bay Area.
— — —
AFTERNOON of SUNDAY, AUGUST 17, 2014
At 5:50 p.m. an email arrived, calling for action: “Urgent – Sunday – BLOCK the BOAT Action Tonight.” It was followed almost immediately by another which read: “People are mobilizing to go to the port. No idea how many, but Kate left here an hour ago. She said there was transportation organized from the West Oakland BART station.” Then a third email, this from yet another person: “The ship is now planning to dock and unload at 6:30 p.m. tonight.”
— — —
EVENING of SUNDAY, AUGUST 17, 2014
9:30 p.m. — I just got back from a picket line at the Port of Oakland. The Israeli ship that had been cruising around in circles for the last day or two finally sneaked into port at 5 o’clock this afternoon, apparently thinking we’d be gone. But we were there. Yes, we were there! And the dockworkers refused to cross our picket lines.
We picketed four gates of SSA, which is where the Oakland Police Department attacked protesters back in 2003. I was at the very last gate, and could count about 45 of us there. I was less certain about the other gates, but as we drove by I saw there were a lot more picketers at the other gates. Henry Norr estimated a total of 400, Omar Jaime Yassin put it at 500.
While walking the picket line we chanted, “¡Viva! ¡Viva! ¡Palestina!” and “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!” Word got around that it was my birthday, and the whole crowd sang the Happy Birthday song for me. I’m 73 today. Half an hour later it became a truly happy birthday, when word came that the longshoremen would not unload the ship tonight.
The picketers around me at this gate were mostly young, only three or four in their sixties or seventies. I spoke with a couple of young women, both of them named Rachel. “There are people from your era, and people from mine,” observed one of the Rachels, “but where are the people in between?”
I’d wondered about things like that too. I guess most of us have. I’ve been to events where there’s nobody under 65, and we all sort of wonder what’ll become of the world after we’re gone. Then I’ll go out and find myself at an event where there’s hardly anybody over 30, and they wonder what became of the generation that came in between, their parents’ generation.
Night was falling and lights were shining brightly throughout the port when the announcement came, at 8:12 p.m., that the longshore workers of Local 10 had decided to go home rather than unload the ZIM Piraeus.
Loud cheering and applause. Free, free Palestine! and a loud hearty cheer for the dockworkers of Local 10 of the ILWU!!!
— — —
MORNING of MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2014
Somebody called for a picket line for this morning, and somebody else apparently called it off. (We’re still trying to figure out what happened; it seems to be part of the ongoing confusion that’s been dogging this Block the Boat project, repeated postponements, cancellations, etc. Organizational turmoil.)
Anyway, we were out there at 5:30 a.m., about 25 of us, where a hundred would have been barely adequate, doing our best to cover the four gates of the SSA terminal where the Israeli ship was docked.
The police were there as well, giving us a bad time, telling us to stay on the sidewalk, making it impossible for us to block the entrances. The cops arrested three people, charging them with obstructing a public thoroughfare. George Cammarota was arrested, handcuffed, then cited and released; while at another gate, Russell Bates, was hauled off to the Washington street jail before being released. (It took him over an hour to get back to the port where he rejoined us in our efforts.) A third person arrested was Greg Allen Getty.
Meanwhile, the union told us that they would honor a community picket line. This was extremely frustrating because we simply didn’t have enough people. 8 or 9 people at one gate, 4 or 5 at another, and those at the other gates were simply not enough to cover the wide entrances. And of course the police were hassling us. Actually, the police who outnumbered us were doing a far better and more effective job of blocking the gates than we were.
Things went on like this for about two hours, in the pre-dawn darkness. No reinforcements arriving. A feeling of having been let down by whoever had inappropriately tweeted that the picketing was off. Not sure what to do. Moving from gate to gate. Mass confusion. Intermittent rain. The only good news was an assurance from the dockworkers that they would not cross a community picket line.
Finally, concluding that we were getting nowhere, that our whole effort of this morning was a total, unmitigated failure, the picketers at one of the gates decided to leave, and set about gathering up our people from the widely dispersed gates. However, the picketers at another gate had a different feeling; they were waiting for the dockworkers to arrive to see what would happen. While we were discussing the matter of whether to stay or go home, it started raining. Less than a minute later the rain stopped. Then it started again, and stopped again. Even the rain seemed undecided as to what it needed to do.
Before we’d come to a conclusion on what we’d do, there came an announcement from the union that the longshoremen would not be coming in to unload the ship this morning.
We wondered how that had come to be. Could it have been because of our efforts? Or maybe it was despite our efforts? It’s possible that the dockworkers felt that the large police presence made for unsafe working conditions — they may remember April 7, 2003 when police fired “less lethal” munitions at peaceful protesters and also at uninvolved longshoremen who were waiting to go to work. Several of the longshoremen were injured by the police that day. Another consideration is that the ILWU contract expired on July 1st of this year and the longshoremen are now working without one. In any case, for whatever reason, they did not go to work this morning. Meanwhile, the Israeli ship sits at the dock, still unloaded.
So we won, by default maybe, but we did win. We’re declaring victory.
— — —
EVENING of MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2014
Considering the way things went this morning, I pretty much assumed I’d seen the end of our picketing of the ZIM Piraeus, but this evening I got word, email-wise, that people are going back to the port.
I exited BART at the West Oakland station, the usual gathering place. “Daniel!” I heard someone call my name. It was Bridget Flanagan, whom I knew from “Occupy the Farm” in Albany. She was running a shuttle to the port. Her car was almost full, but there was room for one more and we headed out to Berth 57 and got off at the main gate of SSA at 1717 Middle Harbor Road. It was marked by an office building with a tiny grove of trees, the only living green stuff in this area.
There were about eighty of us there, picketing, or rather trying to picket. Three dozen cops were also there, not permitting us to walk our picket line across the gate entrance. They pushed us back to the sidewalk on either side. Actually there was no sidewalk, just the curb, and behind that nothing but dirt and gravel. No grass at all. The police were not in riot gear, and they were saying “please” and “thank you”, but they were still denying us our right to walk a picket line across the entrance. There was even a row of bulky barriers we had to stay behind, large orange objects, about chest high. On my side of the entrance I counted about 50 of us, and on the other side about 30. I was told that there were 18 or 20 people at another gate, so that made about a hundred of us altogether.
On both sides of the entrance we set up lively chants:
“Send the boat back to sea, until Palestine is free!”
“Free, free Palestine — Don’t cross our picket line!”
We waved signs and banners and a couple of Palestinian flags. One fellow on the other side of the gate held a Veterans for Peace flag on a long pole. That was Jim Dorenkott from the San Francisco chapter of VFP, a Navy veteran; I think he was on one of the destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin back in 1964.
I kept looking around to see who might be running the show. This evening’s action seemed to be pretty spontaneous; autonomous activists had seen what needed to be done — circulating and forwarding emails calling for a picket line. People knew what to do and were doing it.
Actually, that’s how this “Block the Boat” project originally come into being. An ad hoc group of activists came up with this idea of blocking an Israeli ship for a day and printed up thousands of leaflets. I ran into FeiFei Chang, Sri Louise and others who were passing them out at a pro-Palestinian rally in San Francisco some weeks ago, the 26th of July I think it was. That was the first I heard of this project. They put a stack of the leaflets in my hands, saying, “Help pass these out.” It was a large rally, several thousand people, and with a lot of us passing them out, everyone there got one, and the idea caught on. A couple of the larger protest organizations, ANSWER and AROC initially wanted nothing to do with the project, then picked up on the idea, took over and made it their own, though they certainly did help make the Saturday event a huge success. Now ANSWER and AROC seem to have withdrawn from the project and it was back where it had began — in the hands of “autonomous” activists from various social justice and labor activist groups which had who had formed networks over the years.
Between us and the pier was a tall stack of containers, and just beyond them we could see a bit of the superstructure of the Israeli ship, the ZIM Piraeus. Towering above everything were the huge loading cranes. Retired longshoreman Howard Keylor told me what to look for. Right now the cranes were raised at a skyward angle, indicating that they were not ready for use. The oncoming shift of longshoremen drop them into a horizontal position at around 6:30 p.m., getting them ready. But it was now after 7 o’clock, and the cranes were up, implying that the longshoremen weren’t working tonight–at least not yet.
Cars were cruising by on Middle Harbor Road, some of them slowing down as they drove past; some honked and waved at us. We cheered and waved back. None was entering the gate. We guessed that they were longshore workers, looking around to assess the situation. What they could see were around eighty picketers along the fence, and the entrance full of cops, who to all appearances seemed to have taken over our job of blocking the passageway.
What the port administrators didn’t seem to understand was that the dockworkers were not comfortable with a large number of police here in the port. Local 10 had said so in a press release, citing the April 7, 2003 incident when police had used “less lethal” ammunition in the port, injuring fifty-nine people, including dockworkers.
Three or four people across Middle Harbor Road were holding up a large banner reading: “Ferguson, Oakland, Gaza — INTIFADA” The struggle against police repression in Ferguson, Missouri that had been going on for the last couple of weeks was continuing.
The throbbing sound of a deep bass horn, part of the Brass Liberation Orchestra, could be heard along with our chants:
“Send the boat back to sea, until Palestine is free!”
“Free, free Palestine — Don’t cross our picket line!”
“Netanyahu! You can’t hide. We charge you with genocide!”
Night was approaching and lights were coming on throughout the port. Down the road to the west of us, the horizon was lit up in an eerie sort of way that looked somewhat like a huge display of Fourth-of-July sparklers. And it was getting cold. Yesterday had ended with a warm summer evening; today it had been rather cold, with brief rain showers in the morning, and an evening that was almost chilly. How much longer would we have to be out here tonight?
Steve Zeltzer and Kazumi Torii of Labor Video Project were videotaping the picketing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qk9ywbQcid0 At 8:02 p.m. Kazumi announced over a bullhorn that the dockworkers had been ordered to stick around, so if we left, they would have to go in and unload the ship.
Darkness was falling and the evening was getting colder. Last night the workers had left at 8:12 p.m. It looked like tonight would be different. Did the port administrators intended to keep everybody here till morning?
Only minutes later, four autos drove in through the gate, crossing our picket zone. We instantly moved out into Middle Harbor Road, where we marched in a picket line for a few minutes till the police pushed us back to the side of the road.
During the next half hour, a dozen cars crossed the line, driving in the gate. Someone announced that these were Local 34, the clerks, and that nobody from Local 10, the crane operators, had crossed. The night was getting colder. Then at 8:55 p.m. there was a loud humming sound and we all turned to look in the direction it came from. One of the cranes was being lowered into working position.
For the next 20 minutes we held our collective breath. Nothing more seemed to be happening. No unloading was going on yet. Then, at 9:15 p.m. came the announcement: The longshoremen were going home!
This was the 3rd shift that we, with the cooperation of the dockworkers, had shut down.
— — —
MORNING OF TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2014
I didn’t go to the docks this morning as I had a dental appointment in San Francisco. The BART train runs underground through downtown Oakland, then emerges near the port in West Oakland. The rails are high above the ground, and afford a view of the port. I looked out towards the SSA area where I could see the ZIM Piraeus at the dock; the twin cranes pointing up in the air. Not in working position. It was 9:20 a.m.
Later, after returning home from the appointment, I checked online and read that a hundred people had picketed this morning and that the longshore workers had not been called out to go to work. This was the fourth shift of no unloading.
The longshoremen’s reluctance to cross our picket lines seems to puzzle the port administrators. There’s a Bay City News article on several news websites today which quotes port spokesman Robert Bernardo as saying, “Despite tremendous effort by our law enforcement partners… operations at the terminal were still not able to proceed last night due to insufficient labor reporting for duty.” The same article also quotes ILWU Local 10 President Melvin MacKay, who stated, “We will not work under armed police escort — not with our experience with the police in this community.”
The quote from that port spokesman really says something about the mentality of the people who run this world. Their response to every situation is to get the police out there, and when that doesn’t work, they just scratch their heads and can’t seem to figure out why. Police and military — their solutions to all problems. Israel is a nasty example of what’s wrong with that way of thinking. But it’s like Howard Keylor was telling me last night, “They can’t unload ships with tear gas.”
Delaying the ship’s arrival for a couple of days, as we had, would inconvenience the company, but it was far more costly to the ship owner for it to sit at the dock. These docks with their cranes and sophisticated equipment were extremely expensive “parking places.” A ship’s game was to get in and get out fast. The holdup was costing ZIM dearly.
During the past decade we’d carried out quite a few actions in the Port of Oakland, on several occasions shutting down the docks for a shift or even two. But not for three or four. Not since ships of the South African apartheid regime were sent back to sea unloaded; now it was beginning to look as though that might happen again — this time to a ship from the Israeli apartheid.
I must say, this had already gone way beyond our wildest expectations. We began the Block the Boat project with the hope that we could delay the unloading for one shift. Just one single shift! That was the very most we thought we could do. As it was turning out, we were doing more. Much more.
This was quite amazing. Think about it! This in the country where the Zionists have bought up or bullied the Congress, the president, and the power elite. A couple weeks ago US Senators voted unanimously to support Israel in its assault on Gaza. And yet this Israeli ship, the ZIM Piraeus, could not boldly sail into the Port of Oakland simply because the Bay Area community did not want them here; 3,000 people out there in the port with brass bands had said so very clearly. That’s what happened Saturday, August 16th. The ship had to cruise around off the coast and then sneak into port. And now, having sneaked into port, it cannot get unloaded. It just sits there at the dock, Piraeus the floating pariah.
Newspapers quoted the Israeli Consul General as having accused us picketers of “political terrorism.” I could imagine the phones were abuzz between Tel Aviv and Washington. What were they saying, I wondered. Presumably we’ll never know, unless some future Ellsberg or Manning or Snowden reveals it to us.
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MID-AFTERNOON of TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2014
Emails started pouring in around 3:30 p.m. “VICTORY! The Israeli ship is leaving the port of Oakland WITHOUT being unloaded or loaded!” came the news. “We Chased Zim Piraeus Out of Oakland,” read another. People were monitoring it on marinetraffic.com and commenting as they watched. “It’s now passing under the Golden Gate bridge into the Pacific.” “It’s reportedly heading for Los Angeles. Estimated time of arrival is 11:30 p.m. Presumably that’s where it intends to unload.” “Congratulations to all that made it happen.”
Others were not yet ready to celebrate. “That outcome is not guaranteed yet,” cautioned Greg Jan at 4:28 p.m. “One theory is that it could have yielded its existing berth to another ship, be going out into the Pacific to sit and wait for a berth to become available.”
Then, at about 5:30 p.m.: “Uh-oh, ZIM ship made a U-turn.” Another email: “The ship has turned around at sea.” More messages and comments followed. “Marinetraffic.com says it’s going to Los Angeles, but . . . “ The whole world seemed to be watching. A friend in New York wrote me: “Daniel, this is what I saw earlier: had you seen this?” I didn’t have time to reply.
“After clearing the Golden Gate and going out to sea for a bit the ship has made a U-turn. What this might mean is that it is on its way back to dock at Ports America’s berth 22,” wrote Janet Kobren, who’d been on a ship of the Freedom Flotilla which was assaulted by the Israelis in 2010. That was the time the Israelis murdered nine people on the Mavi Marmara. (Actually it was ten people since a passenger who had sustained wounds during the incident died this past May after having been in a coma for 4 years.)
“Get to the Port NOW! The Zim Piraeus is headed back to Oakland!” that was Greg again. “Yikes! The Zim ship . . . So Please get to Berth 22, the Ports America terminal at 1599 Maritime. See map…”
My neighbor Steve Gilmartin phoned. “Are you going?” “Yes,” I said, “just give me 5 minutes to forward that last message.” I fumbled around nervously, taking longer than I should’ve. And having done that, Steve and I set out for the port. He thought we should take the car. I said, “BART is faster and there’ll be a shuttle from there to the terminal.” “What if there isn’t a shuttle?” Steve objected. “There always is,” I assured him.
Steve gave in. We took BART, and getting off at the usual place, West Oakland, looked around for a shuttle. There wasn’t any. In fact, we were the only ones there, not a good sign. We set out walking down 7th Street for a good mile, then onto Maritime Street. This was an unfamiliar part of the port. Not a short walk, and we’d been walking for some time when a car pulled over to the curb. It was Gene Ruyle of Veterans for Peace. “I got your email,” he said, “the one you forwarded a bit ago.”
Not too much farther up the road we came to the main gate of Berth 22, where there was a picket line of a hundred or more people, a lot more than I’d expected to see. “Free, free Palestine — Don’t cross our picket line!” they were chanting, carrying signs, banners and a couple of Palestinian flags. Jim Dorenkott was there with his Veterans for Peace flag. About 20 cops were in the parking lot behind the line. Across the road were piles and piles of large logs. Up and down the road were warehouse that looked like they might’ve been built for the army during WW II. Like the rest of this huge port, it was sort of an industrial wilderness. From time to time a huge tractor trailer rolled by.
We walked the picket line, chanting and sometimes just chatting. Someone was passing out candy bars. There was food. Alyssa Eisenberg was doing a video; she and several others were people I’d gotten to know at Occupy Oakland, Tova Fry, JP Massar, Jaime Omar Yassin, and others. Henry Norr was there, a former columnist for the SF Chronicle till he’d been arrested at an antiwar demonstration some years ago and then the newspaper fired him for being an activist; he’d also been on the board at KPFA. Isis Feral was there with her father, Howard Keylor, a retired longshoreman and veteran from WW II. Howard had written an interesting account from the battle of Okinawa. Russell Bates who’d been arrested a the previous morning was here; he’s also a veteran; his war was Vietnam. And there were others whom I knew, but mostly they were people I didn’t know. It’s encouraging to see new people, people I don’t know; different people; it shouldn’t be the same ones all the time. It’s important for more people to be involved.
Darkness had fallen and lights were on. Last night had been kind of cold; tonight was warm and summery. Good, because it looked as if we’d be here till late this evening. We talked with longshoremen who told us that a gang of fifteen were inside unloading the ship. The way that had come about was that the workers had signed up to unload another ship, and were then transferred to unloading the ZIM Piraeus. Having signed up, it was a deal they couldn’t get out of; despite it being against union regulations. They’d been Shanghaied and perhaps resented it. One of them was a Palestinian. Rumors had it that they were engaging in a work-slowdown. Their lunch break would be at midnight, when they went out to eat, so if we were still here picketing when they came back from lunch, they were likely to just go home.
That’s how the longshoremen we spoke with assessed the situation. There seemed to be no way to directly contact the unloading crew themselves. So what should we do? It was already late, around 9 p.m.; many of us decided it was worth the effort, so we opted to stay.
There were four gates, spread out over a distance of nearly half a mile, that functioned as possible entrances to the terminal. Most people stayed at the main gate; that’s where critical mass was most essential, but we also moved from gate to gate as needed. The fourth gate was way out beyond the others, and that’s where Steve and I wound up. A street sign bore the name “Bataan”; it was a back road into darkness. Was this an entrance the longshoremen might be likely to use? We weren’t sure. A few passenger cars came out, 4 or 5 during the entire time we were there; the drivers we talked with were truckers or railway workers. None seemed to be longshoremen. We blocked a few large trucks from entering, not knowing if they were going to the ZIM Piraeus, but as long as this terminal was hosting that Israeli ship, it seemed like a good idea to stop them.
There were five of us at Bataan, an appropriate sounding name for this remote outpost. Sometimes there were more of us as people moved back and forth between the gates. Someone brought pizza, which was much welcomed. The night was still warm, the road mostly quiet. At times we heard cheering and sometimes chanting from back up the street, from the main gate where most of the people were.
“Free, free Palestine!” could be heard faintly in the distance, and “From the River to the Sea — Palestine will be free.”
We chanted back, though doubting they could hear us. Mostly we chatted among ourselves. Besides Steve and me, there were also Frank, Armin, and Webb. Webb and I remembered that we’d met years before, at the peace walk around Lake Merritt.
“Five cars crossed our line at the main gate. Others turned away,” someone reported. Nobody knew for certain if those were longshore workers or not.
Midnight came and went. Occasional cheering in the distance. Mostly quiet. Finally it was 1 a.m., the dockworkers’ lunch break would be over. Whatever happened, we’d done what we could. According to an unconfirmed report, half of the unloading crew had gone home after the break, and the rest had gone back to work.
Some of the picketers said they’d be back at 5 a.m. I couldn’t make such a promise, I was just too tired. BART shuts down at midnight, so Steve and I found someone with a car who’d be going our way.
— — —
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2014
I stayed in bed and didn’t go to the docks this morning. Pickets who were there reported that no further unloading took place. At 7:45 a.m. the ship left the pier, then anchored out in the bay where it lay for several hours. Thinking the ship might once again return as it had on Tuesday, people stayed around, ready to form a picket line; they sat watching. Some picketers physically watched it through binoculars, others with their computers at www.marinetraffic.com.
“Stand by to picket tonight” read an email from Isis Feral at 11:21 a.m., “Zim ship at anchor near Hunters Point – could dock anywhere in the bay.” Similar notices followed, some from individuals, some from FPM (Free Palestine Movement) News and other groups. Hours went by. We knew the ship was soon due at its next port, Vostochnyy in Russia. Why was it just sitting here, lying at anchor? Presumably it was waiting for a management decision, probably on finding a berth where it could finish unloading its cargo. Finally, at 5:28 p.m.: “ZIM Piraeus is moving again and just went under the Bay Bridge.”
Another attempt to trick us? People were cautious. Janet Kobren emailed: “Although its destination has changed from OAKLAND to VOSTOCHNYY where it’s supposed to be on 9/1/14, the ship still could change direction and veer back over to Berth 24 at the Port of Oakland.” But this time the ZIM Piraeus kept on sailing, out into the Pacific, on and on, towards its next port of call.
— — —
The SF Chronicle and other corporate media reported that the ship was fully unloaded Tuesday night. “Protest-stalled ship at Port of Oakland finally unloaded, sails away” was the headline of the Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune and many other TV and newspaper websites. I wondered about that. None of the reporters seemed to wonder why the ship spent much of Wednesday lying at anchor despite being four days behind schedule — an obvious question which was not asked. Reporters of the corporate media tend to function as stenographers, quoting and repeating at face value statements reflecting the pronouncements of the power structure. In this case there was clearly a need to save face for Israel and the credibility of ZIM Integrated Shipping Services.
Some people do ask questions. One picketer, Adam Mostafa, reported this from Tuesday night: “Corporate Port of Oakland officials stood on the side, so I approached them. I asked one of them if the ship had completely unloaded, and he stated that the ship originally intended to unload 176 containers but only unloaded 26.”
Another person reporting from our picket lines was Peter Turner; he discussed the unloading with a longshoreman who figured that “about fifty containers offloaded is a good estimate.”
More information came out in days that followed. While some of the goods aboard the ZIM Piraeus probably originated in Israel, most of the stuff aboard the ship came from other countries, and was being shipped for customers who in some cases were not even aware of the connection between ZIM and Israel. One researcher, Roqayah Chamseddine, spoke with six of the consignees whose merchandise went to Asia and will not be arriving in Oakland soon.
“Block the Boat was not only successful in keeping the Zim Piraeus from unloading the aforementioned cargo but due specifically to this action a number of companies are now either putting a hold on all products using Zim vessels or reconsidering using Zim,” Roqayah Chamseddine reports.
This suggests an explanation to why the corporate media and shipping news websites reported and are adamantly repeating the official story that ALL goods bound for Oakland aboard the ZIM Piraeus were unloaded here on Tuesday night, August 19th. While ZIM can certainly afford the loss of the few dollars that the delays and extra port fees cost them, what they can less afford is the loss of credibility with their customers.
BDS activists now are contacting ZIM’s customers, asking them to ship their goods on a different shipping line. This is part of the BDS strategy to isolate Israel economically, the message being that mass murder is not only morally wrong, it’s also bad for business.
Daniel Borgstrom’s work can be found at http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/.
URLs of CITED REFERENCES — these are also in the above text
former longshoreman Howard Keylor interviewed by Labor Video Project on August 18, 2014 at
port spokesman Robert Bernardo and
ILWU Local 10 President Melvin MacKay
Adam Mostafa: “the ship originally intended to unload 176 containers but only unloaded 26.” at
Peter Turner — Some Ideas on the Cargo Transfer on the Wednesday Night the Zim Piraeus Was Finally Worked, at
Roqayah Chamseddine — The unpublicized impact of a successful BDS action, at