By Janis Siegel, Jewish Sound Correspondent
Updated August 29, 2014
Chanting “Long live Palestine” and “Free, Free, Palestine” underscored by a mobile sound system playing a booming pro-Palestinian political mixtape, nearly 150 marchers came to Terminal 18 at the Spokane Street Fishing Area in Seattle Monday afternoon to stop longshoremen from reporting for their shifts and unloading the ZIM Chicago, an international Israeli vessel that had been delayed, but not thwarted from delivering its cargo to the Port of Oakland in California last week.
“The ports, the police, the city, the mayor, and the governor’s office – nobody supported the action,” Andy David, Israel’s consul general for the Pacific Northwest in San Francisco, told The Jewish Sound. “They are hurting a lot of Americans and merchants.”
According to David, two ships arrived on the day of the “Block the Boat” protest in Oakland. One was unloaded. However, the Israeli ship wasn’t until day four of the delay and there was damage to furniture, coffee, chemicals, and other cargo, he said.
He lays the blame squarely at the feet of the local International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
“The ILWU was cooperating with the protestors, and there’s enough proof of that,” David said. “The local branch issued a statement saying it was not safe for the workers to go past the line. They were offered to be bused in, but they refused. When they were unloading, they took lunch breaks and didn’t come back.”
David said the Teamster’s Union issued its own press release condemning the protest.
Local and national leaders fear that future disruption at the Port would result in job losses and devastation for small businesses already experiencing financial hardship.
“It’s a cowardly tactic,” said David, “and it hurt merchants, exporters, truck drivers, gas station owners, and warehouse workers.”
Protesters tried to block the Chicago when it arrived at the Port of Tacoma on Aug. 23, but workers bypassed the crowd and unloaded it from another location, surprising protesters.
In Seattle on Aug. 25, Block the Boat only succeeded in blocking the public roadway adjacent to the terminal, impeding cargo-filled trucks and mothers with their kids from driving through.
Protestors also blocked the three vehicle entrances to the dock, restrained by a formidable and mobile Seattle police presence that followed the moving crowd on bikes, in cars and in SUVs.
“Workers reported for work and all of the cargo that was going to be handled was handled,” Peter McGraw, the support and real estate supervisor for the Port of Seattle told the Jewish Sound. “They arrived and left on schedule.”
McGraw said that port police were not involved in this action and that no Port of Seattle property was trespassed.
“In cases like this, we work with our partner law enforcement agencies and that includes the Seattle Police Department,” he said.
Still, organizers claimed victory.
“Our goal is to prevent business as usual,” Nada Elia, one of the organizers of Block the Boat told the Jewish Sound. Elia said the crowd was a coalition of pro-Palestinian groups and national boycott, divest, and sanction supporters in Seattle. “We want to prevent the workers from coming to their shift. We are in solidarity with Gaza because it is under an illegal blockade and cannot use its ports.”
Elia said she had hoped to galvanize a showing of 300 activists — the number she said the group tallied in Tacoma two days before, but a Block the Boat press release reported the number to be closer to 150.
Ed Mast, another protest organizer and an activist in the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, the organization responsible for placing ads on billboards and Metro buses that condemn Israel’s criticism of Palestinians, kept the protestors moving and motivated as they faced down police along their path and at their destinations.
“Any delay works because it’s about sending the message,” said Mast, who also said he believed the action by the crowd accomplished its goals.
Craig and Cindy Corrie of Olympia, the parents of Rachel Corrie, who died in a 2003 protest in Gaza, came to Seattle to support Block the Boat.
“Any delay works because it’s about sending the message,” Craig Corrie told the Jewish Sound. He said their pro-Palestinian movement would like to enlist more support from the unions.
“I think there needs to be an expense to Israel,” he said. “Just like in South Africa, this has gone too far. The U.S. and Israel are becoming more isolated.”
One protestor was arrested and was bailed out later that evening.
Gail Chatfield, 71, of Port Hadlock, echoed Corrie’s Israeli apartheid statements. Chatfield told the Jewish Sound that it was her first time coming to a protest on this issue but that she’s been in sympathy with for a long time.
“I’ve been concerned about the plight of the Palestinians for many years,” said Chatfield. “Nothing changes. I think causing some economic consequences will cause them to become more reasonable — like they did in South Africa.”
Jonathan Sword, 39, of Seattle, said he rejects the use of anti-Semitic and anti-police overtones often found in these kinds of protests, but agrees with their political aims.
“It’s complicated, but I don’t think Israel is going to do this much longer,” said Sword. “It can’t go on like this.”
Though blatantly anti-Semitic signs had been spotted at protests at Westlake Plaza in downtown Seattle throughout the summer, the Block the Boat website stated explicitly that no such signs would be tolerated at these protests and none appeared.