On June 6, about 500 protestors gathered at Maher Terminal in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to demand that the ZIM Integrated Shipping Services cargo ship scheduled to dock that morning be prevented from unloading. ZIM is Israel’s largest cargo shipping company, dealing in Israeli manufactured military technology, armaments and logistics equipment, as well as consumer goods.
The day’s action was organized by the newly formed Block the Boat NY-NJ coalition, which includes the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), the New York 4 Palestine Coalition (Al-Awda NY, Within Our Lifetime, Labor4Palestine, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, and others), the ANSWER Coalition, the New Jersey branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and was supported by over a dozen other local organizations.
The action was inspired by the Block the Boat picket in Oakland, California, June 5 organized by AROC and observed by the ILWU Local 10 longshore workers. The organizers were responding to a direct call to action by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the longstanding Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to refuse handling of Israeli goods. The Oakland picket successfully prevented ZIM from docking in the port–a resounding victory for the BDS movement, as well as a show of labor solidarity with Palestine.
This was the first ever pro-Palestine protest in the NY-NJ ports, occurring during an International Week of Solidarity called for by AROC to “Block Zim everywhere.” Protestors showed up at 6:30 a.m., when the dock’s morning shift began, to inform dock workers about how ZIM upholds the brutal Israeli apartheid system and to encourage them not to unload the ship to prevent ZIM, and ultimately, Israel from profiting.
In the days leading up to and on the morning of the action, intense police presence aimed to intimidate protestors. By 7 a.m., at least a dozen police vehicles, including Border Patrol and counter-terrorism units, had arrived and tried to sequester people into barricades away from the dock’s entrance. However, that didn’t deter the crowd. By 8 a.m., the crowd had pushed past the police blockade and began picketing in front of the terminal gate guarded by about 20 police officers with riot shields.
The energy was high as the crowd chanted “Move boat, get out the way!” and “Fight back! Don’t back down! No Zionism in this town!” Volunteers handed out snacks and water to keep up morale.
During the action, organizers emphasized the need to develop solidarity between pro-Palestine activists and the labor movement.
“I’m happy to say that this is the start of a new New York and New Jersey Block the Boat coalition…That’s going to take work, that’s going to take organizing, building relationships with workers and allies. Today is a beautiful start to this struggle,” said Suzanne Adely of Al-Awda NY.
Nerdeen Kiswani, an organizer with Within Our Lifetime, explained that workers have the power to stop Zionism and be a part of the fight for Palestinian liberation. “If these workers don’t unload the Israeli ZIM ships — those ships which are owned by the Israeli government — [it will lose] millions of dollars every single day. This is one of the strongest and most direct forms of boycott, divestment, and sanctions. It’s good to not buy Sabra, but what’s even better is blocking the boat that makes the Israeli government lose millions and millions of dollars — and also engaging workers on the question of Palestine!”
On Wednesday, June 9 at 4 p.m., the Block the Boat NY-NJ coalition will continue supporting the International Week of Action called by AROC with a protest outside the ZIM America offices, 1110 South Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314.