Tom Vee

Oakland activists block Israeli ship for third day

They are considering making the action a weekly event, to coincide with the arrival of new vessels

Pro-Palestinian protesters on Monday continued a campaign to block an Israeli commercial vessel from docking in Oakland, California, for a third day.

About 20 protesters arrived at the port at 5 a.m. local time to block the container ship, owned by Zim Shipping Services Ltd., one of the world’s largest container shipping companies, from entering the Port of Oakland and unloading cargo. Two demonstrators were detained and cited, according to the Oakland Police Department. 

Another protest was planned for 6 p.m. — an action quickly organized after rumors spread that the ship would again attempt to dock. In addition to picketing at the docks, protesters have been attempting to gain the support of the longshoremen who would handle the unloading.

“It’s not clear yet whether this will be a sustained action,” said Daniela Kantorova, who spoke with Al Jazeera on her way to the port. “It takes a lot of effort and energy to sustain this action. But these ships arrive every Saturday. People are thinking of making this a regular action, a weekly action.” 

Inspired by a call from Palestinian civil society to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel until it ends its occupation of Palestinian lands, the action was part of a series of events organized by Block the Boat, a loose Oakland-based coalition of grass-roots organizations.

Saturday’s protest, which launched the campaign, drew 3,000 to 5,000 protesters. Block the Boat organizers are planning similar actions in Seattle, Vancouver and other U.S. and Canadian ports in coming weeks.

Organizers said the Palestinian territories weren’t all that was on protesters’ minds. Also figuring prominently were recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, where protesters have clashed with police after the killing of an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, by a white police officer on Aug. 9.

“There were numerous signs that said things like ‘Global intifada from Oakland to Ferguson to Palestine,’” said Mollie Costello, 42, one of the protesters at the port event. Black fists, a symbol of the black power movement, adorned many signs held by demonstrators.

“It may be difficult for people to see the connection between black America and the struggle of Palestinians in the Middle East,” Costello said. “It comes down to oppression, occupation and basic rights that are denied people to hold them down, like Palestinians, like black America. It’s easy for people living in those communities, under those conditions to see the similarities.”

Another protester, Russell Bates, 67, who was detained Monday, said Palestinians and African-Americans share similar experiences of social immobility.

“It seems like the people in Gaza in particular are packed into a ghetto-like situation, where they aren't allowed to leave except in exceptional situations,” Bates said, whereas in Ferguson, people are “captive in their own ghetto — not surrounded by walls necessarily. Invisible walls keep them down.”

The port blockade, organizers say, aims not just to put a dent in the Israeli economy but also to expose Americans to all elements of the U.S. relationship with Israel — a partnership they say is also resulting in the militarization of U.S. police forces nationwide. This, the organizers charge, has led to a recent surge in police brutality against communities of color and the killings of young black men like Brown.

“We will no longer stay silent as our governing bodies play a role in what’s happening with Israel as we will no longer stand for the violence against communities here in the U.S.,” said Reem Assil, one of Block the Boat’s organizers.

It remains unclear whether Israeli police techniques are being employed in Ferguson, but St. Louis County police have received instruction from their counterparts in Israel. 

In April 2011, then–St. Louis County Police Chief Timothy Fitch was sent to Israel “to study counterterrorism” measures, where he was “briefed by senior members of the Israel National Police as well as the Israel Defense Forces and intelligence/security organizations,” according to a press release from the St. Louis County Police.

“I am confident that this will be a unique learning experience offered nowhere else in the world,” Fitch said in the release.

Fitch traveled to Israel as part of the National Counter-Terrorism Seminar in Israel, an initiative by the Anti-Defamation League, which "fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all," according to its website.

Since 2004, more than 175 law enforcement executives have participated in the NCTS programs in Israel, according to the ADL website.

“The same police that orchestrated the brutal crackdowns on protesters [in Ferguson] were trained by Israeli police,” said Mohamed Shekh, 26, another organizer of the Oakland port protest Saturday.

The ADL was not immediately available for comment.

Shekh said his fellow activists are organizing a protest at a police weapons and training expo, Urban Shield, which will be held in Oakland Sept. 5 through 8. Israeli police and vendors have in recent years figured prominently at Urban Shield events, according to the Urban Shield website. Participants have also hailed from nations across the Middle East. 

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