By Teresa Castillo
On the same day that thousands of Israelis held an unprecedented demonstration in Tel Aviv calling for a lasting ceasefire and negotiations with the Palestinians, seven of us represented Fresno and Peace Fresno at the now historic Block the Boat for Gaza action at the Port of Oakland on Aug. 16. We joined groups in the Bay Area in their boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) call to prevent the unloading of an Israeli cargo ship, the Zim Piraeus.
The ship arrived as scheduled to dock and unload at the Port of Oakland on Aug. 16 but remained off the coast of Santa Cruz, despite the backing of the Oakland Police and other law enforcement who protect the Port. The mobilization of 3,000–4,000 people following the call to “Stop Israel at the Port! Zionism is not welcome on our Coast!” prevented the docking of the ship.
We gathered at the West Oakland BART station at 3 p.m. on Aug. 16 and marched, chanting and singing, to the port gates at Berths 57 and 59. The action was organized by a coalition including the Arab Resource Organizing Center, the ANSWER Coalition, Arab Youth Organizing and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and was endorsed by more than 125 other organizations.
Protestors in the rally also showed their solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Mo., and the family of Michael Brown, the latest U.S. victim of a police shooting. The chanting of “from Oakland to Palestine” changed when hundreds of protestors turned to face the long line of Oakland police protecting the port gates; facing the police with their hands up, marchers chanted “hands up, don’t shoot.”
During the rally, a representative from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) spoke of the irony that Israeli ships can enjoy coming weekly to dock at U.S. ports and have their goods unloaded, but no ship has been allowed to dock and bring goods to Gaza’s ports in seven years due to the blockade imposed by Zionist Israel.
The Zim Piraeus finally pulled into dock at the Port of Oakland on Aug. 17 and was scheduled to be offloaded that evening. While dock workers were getting the call to come work, activists were getting the call to block the dock. Through text alerts and social media, hundreds of protestors arrived at the port and formed a moving community picket line, preventing the workers from unloading the ship.
Chanting “Long Live Palestine” and “Zim ship you can’t hide, you support genocide,” community picket lines at four gates lasted for hours. In the spirit of solidarity, ILWU Local 10 dock workers refused to cross the picket lines and did not go to work. The ILWU acts of solidarity have been seen in the struggles against many fascist and repressive governments, including apartheid South Africa in 1984, when the dock workers refused to cross picket lines protesting the unloading of goods from the South African regime.
Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource Organizing Center read a statement to the crowd the evening of Aug. 17 stating:
Palestine was once again victorious in Oakland, California. For the second day in a row, the Bay Area community held off the Israeli Zim ship from unloading at the port. Thousands of people rallied on Saturday and successfully kept the ship at Bay on its regular scheduled day. Today, we got word that the ship had arrived and workers were being called to unload it. Within 30 minutes, we mobilized over 400 people back to the port and we won! Workers honored the picket and stood on the side of justice, as they historically have. Oakland has said no to Zionism and blocked the boat for an entire weekend. This is the first time in history that this has happened. Israeli apartheid is falling one port at a time! Palestine will be free from the river to the sea! Long live international solidarity and the struggle for liberation!” (www.answercoalition.org/sf/news/double-victory-israeli-ship.html)
Community picket lines continued throughout the day Monday, which dock workers continued to honor. The Zim Piraeus left Oakland’s Port Tuesday afternoon, with its cargo! History has been made in the Port of Oakland by the solidarity of activists and dock workers alike, telling Zionist Israel that the apartheid actions against Palestine will not be tolerated.
Peace Fresno, in collaboration with the local Palestinian community, has participated in and organized six weekly actions showing support for Palestine and the people of Gaza since the Israeli attack, Operation Protective Edge, began on July 8. Peace Fresno has followed the conflict and has continued to speak out and protest against the disproportionate brutal aggression imposed on Gaza by Israel. Evidence of this disproportionate aggression is reflective in the high number of casualties and the percentage of civilian victims in Gaza. Peace Fresno has also continued its stance in telling our Congressional representatives and President Obama that we do not agree with U.S. involvement in this conflict. We oppose military aid in the form of money, jet fuel and weaponry that is being provided to Israel by the U.S. government, by calling for an arms embargo on Israel.
While protests, marches and vigils all help to keep the issues in the public’s eye, Peace Fresno feels that education is also important, especially when the conflict is controversial. Therefore, Peace Fresno is hosting a Palestine Forum on Sept. 6 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center (5340 N. Fresno St.). Speakers will share eyewitness reports and the people’s story, as well as history and background information regarding the current conflict between Israel and Gaza. For more information, visit www.peacefresno.org or the Peace Fresno Facebook page.
Teresa Castillo is the president of Peace Fresno, founder of Peace Madera, a member of Fresno WILPF and the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley.