#BlockTheBoat: No to global militarism and Israeli apartheid

How dockworkers and pro-Palestine activists united to #BlockTheBoat
6 min read
23 Jun, 2021
Opinion: The recent #BlockTheBoat pickets demonstrate the consensus among multi-racial movements that Palestinian liberation is also central to social justice issues in the US, writes Lara Kiswani.
Activists blocked an Israeli ship from docking in Oakland, California in 2014, and again in 2021 [Twitter]

Simply put, the practice of solidarity makes change possible.

We have not just a moral imperative to act in solidarity, but it's also necessary if we are to win. Our opposition understands that well. They coordinate because they have shared interests in their attempts to consolidate power, exploit people, and extract more resources. As a result, we, too, must work together to shift and build our power.

Palestinians in the diaspora are building on that history of internationalism. We are building on decades of joint struggle, where solidarity is not simply about connecting identities, or parallels and comparisons. Solidarity is about our collective strategies, and shared visions and political projects. Our recent #BlockTheBoat campaign is an example of this.

"Solidarity is not simply about connecting identities, or about parallels and comparisons. Solidarity is about our collective strategies, and shared visions and political projects"

In 2014, we successfully blocked the largest cargo shipping company from Israel -  ZIM - from unloading its cargo at the Port of Oakland. Our #BlockTheBoat campaign made it clear that there is consensus across economic and social justice movements: Entities that do business with, profit from, or are connected to Israeli apartheid are not welcome and will be boycotted.

It also made it clear that the US support of Israel, and Israel's role in global militarism and US imperialism, not only impacts Palestinians but impacts all people on the receiving end of systems of oppression. And it demonstrated that we have the power to disrupt international commerce and global capitalism. As such, these actions became one of the most successful BDS campaigns in US history.

Seven years later in 2021, the ship attempted to return. We responded to the call directly from Palestinian trade unions in Gaza asking workers across the world to refuse to handle Israeli goods, deal with Israeli businesses, or handle Israeli cargo. 

Again, we mobilized to #BlockTheBoat, and in a tremendous show of solidarity with Palestine, dockworkers in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 honoured the six simultaneous community pickets during both the morning and evening shifts and did not work the ship on June 4, 2021.

Thanks to our international call to action, the Israeli cargo shipping company has faced resistance across the US, Canada, South Africa, and Italy. When the ZIM-operated ship that was turned away from Oakland attempted some days later to dock in Prince Rupert, Canada, a small port city of 12,000, mostly First Nation communities, perhaps ZIM did not anticipate any resistance.

But within hours, our First Nation siblings organised pickets, and successfully blocked the ZIM ship from unloading for two days. This powerful demonstration inspired us all and reminded us of our shared legacies of resistances, and the potential of our emancipatory and anti-colonial visions.

"It demonstrated that we have the power to disrupt international commerce and global capitalism"

As African anti-colonial fighter and leader in the liberation of Mozambique, Samora Machel said, "Solidarity is not an act of charity, it is an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains towards the same objective."

On the heels of Juneteenth, I am inspired by the power of labour and community solidarity,  the work of the Black-led ILWU Local 10, and their deep commitment to internationalism, and racial and economic justice - from opposing apartheid South Africa to opposing apartheid Israel.

This weekend, I had the privilege of attending their Juneteenth event where Angela Davis was presented with an honorary membership to the union, the second person to receive such an honour after Dr Martin Luther King.

They even amplified calls for solidarity with working-class people everywhere from here in the US to Palestine. Angela Davis reminded all of us that when ILWU 10 takes action, the world feels it. Indeed, by honouring the #BlocktheBoat pickets, ILWU Local 10 built on their history of collective struggles for racial and economic justice and inspired people across the world to do the same.

In the same way that the global working class has always borne the brunt of state violence, emancipation from systemic oppression will mean the capacity for everyone's freedom. In that light, solidarity with Palestine builds power for all international movements for justice.

As Palestinians, we know we cannot fight for Palestine and against settler colonialism, and militarism abroad without fighting its domestic manifestations - violence against other Black, Brown, and Indigenous people here in the US. 

Embodying this worldview helps us understand internationalism as part of our own history. We know, for instance, that during the Irish Hunger Strike in 1981, a statement was smuggled from the Palestinian prisoners in Nafha prison and sent to the families of the 10 men who died.

Angela Davis was widely studied by Palestinian prisoners during this time. The first youth delegation to the United States from a Palestinian refugee camp, Ibdaa Cultural Center, started their tour by dancing alongside Native siblings at the Indigenous Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz Island in 1999.  And during the rebellion in Ferguson, it was Palestinians who sent advice on how to deal with the US-made teargas that has long been used against them by Israeli forces.

"Solidarity with Palestine builds power for all international movements for justice"

That is the history we are building on with #BlocktheBoat. We are witnessing what is possible when we challenge global militarism, when we put the legacies of Black and Indigenous organising at the forefront, and when we build a base to see our shared experiences as a place of strength and possibility for joint struggle and change.

Today, there is consensus among multi-racial movements in the US that Palestinian liberation is central to any social justice issues, including climate justice, migrant justice and anti-policing movements.  There is also consensus that the fight against war-making, militarism, policing and Islamophobia is essentially also a fight against the exploitation of working people.

What is possible if we continue to equip ourselves, and our allies with the tools necessary to understand the domestic manifestations of white supremacy as inextricably linked to the Zionist colonial project? Can we today, for instance, understand Palestinian solidarity not merely as a sensibility but a call to action?

The victory of #BlocktheBoat is an example of the acts of joint struggle that continues to inspire us, to shape our visions of what is possible, and shape how we should continue understanding our shared legacies of resistance, revolution, and struggle as a place of hope and possibility for us all.

In the words of ILWU Local 10 President, Trent Willis: "Workers' struggle is worldwide... when the workers of the world figure that out and realise that we must band together to make change then it'll be a better world, including for the Palestinian people. Worker power, economic power, is real power - it's more powerful than those bombs Israel is dropping."


Lara Kiswani is the Executive Director of Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), serving poor and working-class Arabs and Muslims across the San Francisco Bay Area, and organising to overturn racism, forced migration, and militarism. She is a faculty member at the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco state university. 

Follow AROC on Twitter: @AROCBayArea

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.