Public Comment

Israeli Ship Blocked in Oakland

Steve Martinot
Friday August 22, 2014 - 02:53:00 PM

In solidarity with the people of Gaza, and the horrendous attacks upon it by Israel that have killed hundreds, people of the Bay Area came together and blocked an Israeli ship from docking and unloading its cargo in Oakland. Blocking the ship was an enormous effort by the community and the union together. 

The ship, the Zim Piraeus, had arrived on August 16, but had not yet docked. At 3 o’clock that afternoon, some 3000 people marched on the port of Oakland, and blocked any workers or trucks from entering the berth to unload the ship. 

About 1000 of us that met at the West Oakland BART station, and marched from there. By the time we got to the post entrances, there were at least 3000 of us. We had a rally at the berth entrance, with many speakers. Gaza, Ferguson, Haiti, and Oakland were four of the world’s many dots of resistance that were connected that day. The call of the rally was to end the occupation of Palestine. 

The ship was told to stay at sea because it could not be moored at the dock under those conditions. It only docked later that night or early Sunday morning. 

Then, for two days, picket lines were set up at the berth entrance, and the longshore workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), local 10, honored the picket lines and refused to cross them. 

Refusing to unload a ship in solidarity with struggles of the oppressed is somethng the union has done before, always in conjunction and coordination with the bay area community. During the international struggle to end Apartheid, the community took the struggle to the docks, and the union joined by refusing to unload South African ships. This union has also shut down the ports calling for justice for Mumia Abu Jamal. 

Monday morning, at 5:30 am, a small number of people, maybe 20 or 30, showed up and picketed the berth entrance. The police arrived, pushed the pickets around, arrested two, but were unable to clear the entrance. No one was hurt. The longshore workers did not cross. 

Monday afternoon, when the next shift was to come on, about a hundred of us showed up. At first there were only 30, and we started picketing in front of the berth entrance. There were about an equal number of police. It took them a half and hour to figure out how to deal with a legal picket, with TV coverage there. And about another half an hour to finally push us off to the sides, clearing the driveway. But with the chanting, the flags, the signs, the music from people who had brought their trumpets and horns, we turned away truckers and workers, even though we were not standing in the driveway. “Free free Palestine, don’t cross the picket line.” By 7 pm, no workers had gone in to unload the ship. 

If a picket line is legal, walking in public space, and expressing a community desire to stop an unconscionable institution from persisting in its business, then any police action to interfere with said picket line would be illegal, as a police action. Such police action would violate each officer’s oath to enforce the law, not to break it. 

The next morning, the same thing happened, but with no arrests. The union honored the picket line. The ship was three days past its schedule, and no one had touched it. 

And that is when the funny business started. 

Tuesday afternoon, August 19, the ship was expected to sail. Its next port of call was in Russia, and it was due there on August 31. It takes about 13 days to cross the Pacific at these latitiudes. 

And indeed, the ship left its berth at around 2 pm, and headed out into the ocean. Those monitoring its movement then called off the picket line at the original berth. On the public webpage of the port, on which each ship’s movement and status is listed, the destination of the Zim Piraeus was posted as Los Angeles. Okay, so it goes down there to get around us. But it got 10 miles out into the Pacific and turned around, steamed back into the bay, and moored at a different berth, in a different part of the port. Its short voyage out to sea and back again took about 4 hours. 

Some picketers were scrounged together in a hurry, and seemed to be at the port in time to be a presence for the evening shift. But they then found out that some longshoremen were working the ship. The port administration had pulled a fast one. They assigned two crews to a different ship that was not being picketed, but was berthed nearby. After the Zim had redocked, they reassigned one of those crews to it. 

In other words, there was double collusion between the port administration (part of the city of Oakland) and the Zim shipping line. The port administration lied intentionally in listing the next destination of the ship as Los Angeles. And this had to be a planned lie since there was no attempt to take the port pilot off the Zim before it turned around. The port administration was in outright premeditated collusion with the ship in undermining the efforts of the Oakland community and the union by assigning and then reassigning that crew. 

It is highly probable that an FOIA application for the communications between the port administration and the shipping line would reveal some very interesting material. 

The ship was docked for 12 hours, while being worked. Some have said that all the freight destined for Oakland was unloaded. Others have said that only perishable goods were taken off. It will be up to those who know or were there to say. The ship then moved out into the bay, and anchored there. This was the morning of the fifth day (Wednesday, August 20). 

The Palestine solidarity movement in Seattle has said that it will give an Israeli ship due there in two weeks the same treatment. 

By 7 pm. on Wednesday, the ship had sailed, and was passing the Farallones. It was gone. 


It is possible that a number of laws were broken by the city of Oakland, in the person of its police officers and the Port Administration. The police prevented a legal picket line from picketing. The port administration lied to the public. And it lied to the union in its original assignment of two crews to one ship, knowing one of those crews would be shifted to the Zim. In doing so, it acted with duplicity with respect to the union and the community of Oakland, and colluded with one party to a labor dispute against the other party, violating the city’s responsibility to remain neutral in such disputes, and only insure that laws were not broken in the unfolding of that dispute. If laws were broken, then this needs to be brought to public attention, and dealt with.