Three weeks after the massacre on the Freedom Flotilla, ILWU dockworkers in the San Francisco Bay area delayed an Israeli Zim Lines ship for 24 hours, the Swedish Dockworkers Union began a week-long blockade of Israeli ships and containers, dockers in the Port of Cochin, India, refused to handle Israeli cargo, and the Turkish dockworkers union Liman-Is announced their members would refuse to service any Israeli shipping. In South Africa, Durban dockers had already boycotted a Zim Lines ship in response to the invasion of Gaza last year.
On the 5th Anniversary of the United Palestinian Call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, Israel faces the prospect of targetted industrial action to implement boycotts. How did it happen, what does it mean, and how can the solidarity movement respond to the new opening?
At 5am on Sunday 20th June, 800 trade unionists and Palestine solidarity activists from the San Francisco Bay Area marched to the SSA (Stevedoring Services of America) terminal at Berths 57-58 in the Port of Oakland, where the “Zim Shenzhen” was due. Zim Lines is the main Israeli shipping company, with services connecting Israel to the world. The ship sailed from Haifa, calling at Piraeus, Livorno, Genoa, Tarragona, Halifax, New York, Savannah, Kingston, Panama Canal, Los Angeles before reaching Oakland.
When longshore workers turned up for the day shift a mass demo was in place at four gates chanting “Free, Free Palestine, Don’t You Cross Our Picket Line”. . .“An Injury to One is An Injury to All, Bring Down the Apartheid Wall”. . .“Open the Siege, Close the Gate, Israel is a Terrorist State”. . . As union members spoke to drivers, pickets sat down in front of cars. The San Francisco Labor Council and the Alameda County Labor Council had passed their own resolutions and mobilised hundreds of trade unionists to back the demo called by the Labor Community Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It was an unprecedented show of strength from the local and regional AFL-CIO, affiliated unions and their members side by side with Palestinian and Arab-American activists. The Gaza ships were originally organised by Paul Larudee from San Francisco, and Bay Area residents had sailed with him. Now everyone came together for a united action organised in just two weeks.
Local 10 and Local 34 (clerical) are militant sections of the International Longshore Workers Union. The ILWU organises longshore (dockers) and many other industrial sectors on the US West Coast and Hawaii. With a history stretching back to 1934, the ILWU has faced the employers in countless disputes on the docks, carried out industrial solidarity action with other workers, fought against racism, adopted resolutions which characterize the Israeli oppression of Palestinians as “state-sponsored terrorism”, and on May 1st 2008 shut down every port on the US West Coast against the war in Iraq. Labor laws in the U. S. like the Taft-Hartley Act make it illegal for unions to organize solidarity actions.
The Oakland longshore workers arrived for the day shift and refused to cross the picket line on grounds of “health and safety”. The Pacific Maritime Association, on behalf of the employer SSA, immediately called in the Arbitrator (a joint union-management procedure for first-line response to disputes on the docks) hoping he would order everyone to work. The Arbitrator considered the PMA demand that the police use force to open access through the picket line, to make it “safe” for workers to enter the terminal. The union argued that the Oakland police are a threat to the security of workers and demonstrators. In 2003, as the U. S. attacked Iraq, Oakland police fired so-called “non lethal” weapons at longshore workers and anti-war demonstrators alike, injuring scores and sending many to hospital.
The Arbitrator agreed with the union. As per their contract, the dockers were sent home with pay for standing by, however the employers have refused to abide by the Arbitrator’s decision and have paid out nothing, leaving the issue in dispute.
The “Zim Shenzen” had left Los Angeles around 2:30pm Saturday, and could have arrived at the San Francisco pilot station in as little as 18 hours, plus 2 hours to the dock. The ship’s tracking system was removed from the nautical GPS system, leaving the demo guessing when it would arrive. But with several hundred marching at 5:30am swelling to 800 as the morning progressed, the company decided to hold up the docking until 6pm. By then, SSA Terminal realised that the mass picket line would return for the evening shift and the Arbitrator would make the same decision, so they gave up and prudently chose not to call longshoremen to report for work. The ship sat at the quay, untouched. Establishing the mass picket line early and preventing longshoremen and clerks from working the terminal was critical in this victory.
This was the first ever boycott of an Israeli ship by workers in the US, where Zionism has counted on influencing the traditional stance of the mainstream labor movement, as well as elected politicians.
“An Injury to One is An Injury to All” is the slogan of the ILWU. It is also an emblem for South African workers.
The “Zim” action was recognised as a direct echo of Local 10’s fight against apartheid in 1984, when members refused to work South African steel and coal for 11 days until the employer obtained a Federal injunction to break the boycott. Interviewed on video during the “Zim” picket, Local 10 Executive Board member Clarence Thomas stated 
“This is a historic occasion. Everyone remembers the action taken by the community and labor in 1984 at Pier 80 in San Francisco, where the “Nedlloyd Kimberley” was picketed.”
Retired Local 10 longshore worker Howard Keylor, a co-organiser of that action, recalled:
“This was the result of over a decade of education within the Local on the horrors of the South African apartheid regime. South Africa arrested the entire leadership of the black miners union (the National Union of Mineworkers) and charged them with treason, and was threatening to execute them. I made the motion in Local 10, which passed unanimously, not to work the cargo in the next ship that came in. It was the longshore courage in deliberately violating the Taft-Hartley law and the union contract that made that successful.”
Clarence Thomas set out the current strategy:
“People are lacking food, people cannot rebuild in Gaza, construction supplies are not allowed. They haven’t even been allowing chewing gum! The thing that is going to make Israel and the United States both understand that this cannot continue, is the whole question of commerce and trade. Israel is very vulnerable on that question. This was critical in building the mobilisation in 1984 against apartheid, with three prongs: Boycotts, Sanctions, and Divestment.”
Jack Heyman, also from the Local 10 Executive Board:
“If longshoremen decide they’re not going to cross the picket line, then the Zim ship that’s coming in is not going to be worked, and that’s going to be repeated around the world, in Norway, Sweden, South Africa. I think people are beginning to understand that the Israeli government is going to have to be sent a message loud and clear, that their policies towards the Palestinian people are unjust and they’re going to suffer the consequences. It’s not business as usual when they commit acts of murder like this.”
Monadel Herzallah, of the Arab American Union Members Council summed up the impact on the labour movement:
“It’s indeed a significant turning point in the work with labour, and it’s significant because ILWU has honoured our picket line, it is something that we cherish, that we think will make an impact not only in the United States of America but also worldwide. The Labor Councils in Alameda and in San Francisco, responded to the call by encouraging labor unions, members, activists, to support this, with dozens of other community organisations who have worked to make this picket successful. People have wanted to tell this government and the government of Israel that they cannot be above the law, they have to be held accountable for what they did against these unarmed civilians on the flotilla ship in the Mediterranean.”
Palestinian unions appeal
On 7 June, the Palestinian trade union movement had produced a united appeal  to dockworkers unions worldwide. It was signed by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), the General Union of Palestinian Workers (GUPW), the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (IFU), and 11 other Palestinian union and labour movement organisations. It concluded
“Gaza today has become the test of our universal morality and our common humanity. During the South African anti-apartheid struggle, the world was inspired by the brave and principled actions of dockworkers unions who refused to handle South African cargo, contributing significantly to the ultimate fall of apartheid. Today, we call on you, dockworkers unions of the world, to do the same against Israel’s occupation and apartheid. This is the most effective form of solidarity to end injustice and uphold universal human rights.”
This appeal was doubly significant. It gave the basis for dockers to respond, knowing that the call came from fellow workers. And, it showed exceptional unity on the Palestinian side, a big step in its own right.
The joint union appeal developed the call from the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) issued on 1 June, which included: 
We call specifically on transport and dock workers and unions around the globe to: Refuse to load/offload Israeli ships and airplanes, following the historic example set by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) in Durban in February 2009 and endorsed by the Maritime Union of Australia (Western Australia).
The ILWU Local 10 Executive Board met on 8 June, and heard from members of the San Francisco Labour Council, a Palestinian speaker and solidarity activists. The Board unanimously adopted an Executive motion  citing the Palestinian union appeal which they had received, and noting that the flotilla massacre had been condemned by the International Dockworkers Council (IDC), the International Transportworkers Federation (ITF), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and British union UNITE. The Executive motion joined in condemning the massacre and concluded with a “call for unions to protest by any action they choose to take”.
The ILWU also noted that Swedish Dockworkers were planning an action, scheduled to begin on 15 June.
Even before the Palestinian unions issued their appeal, the Swedish Dockworkers Union had announced plans for a week-long blockade of all trade with Israel. The union is a key member of the International Dockworkers Council formed during the Liverpool dockers battle from 1995 – 1998 to regain their jobs after being sacked for refusing to cross a picket line. Former Liverpool dockers and Swedish dockers discussed the possibilities for action and alerted the IDC and its affiliated unions when the Palestinian BNC made contact through BDS activists in both countries on 31 May.
The Swedish Dockworkers Union set out the aims of the blockade and discussed strategy in detailed briefings to the membership and press articles. 
Their blockade was designed to last one week, a temporary measure to be evaluated with the possibility of further action. It aimed to influence the Israeli government to:
“1. Lift the illegal and inhuman blockade of Gaza, which has been going on for over three years.
“2. Allow an independent, international inquiry into Israel’s boarding of the Freedom Flotilla (of which the Swedish Ship to Gaza was a member) in international waters, when nine people were killed and at least 48 people were injured. The requirements are clearly defined and conform fully with the demands that the UN and the EU have made to Israel.”
After the initial announcement, the employers’ association “Ports of Sweden” threatened to sue individual union members, deduct from their wages, and demand compensation for participation in the blockade. The dockworkers postponed their action for a week, to dovetail with plans by the Norwegian Transportworkers Union. The Palestinian unions issued their appeal and Sweden would now be acting in response. In the event, the Norwegian blockade did not take place – yet – but Sweden went ahead.
“From the 23rd of June we will no longer handle containers with Israeli wines, vegetables or fruits branded Jaffa, Carmel or Top, vegetarian pre-fabricated foods from Tivall or the carbonation-machine Soda Stream. Neither will we contribute to the Swedish export of Volvo buses, which were used by Israel to transport hundreds of human right activists from the Freedom Flotilla to Israeli prisons.”
The union was directly involved in the original plans for the Swedish Ship to Gaza, which the dockworkers intended to load for free. When the “Sofia” was eventually purchased jointly with a Greek solidarity organisation, the Swedish Dockworkers were in touch with the Greek Port Workers Union who loaded “Sofia” with electric wheelchairs and cement at the port of Pireus, free of charge. The Swedish also approached the IDC to ask affiliates to protect and handle voluntarily all ships carrying supplies to Gaza.
Björn Borg, Chairperson of the Swedish Dockworkers Union, and Erik Helgeson, Ombudsman, local 4 Gothenburg, stressed the significance of the Flotilla.
“We could see how the eyes of the world were finally turned towards the isolated population of Gaza. Even the night before the Israeli military violently stormed the Freedom Flotilla, this international initiative had done more to bring attention to the catastrophic situation of the people of Gaza, than all the diplomatic moves, declarations and resolutions put forward in recent years. That also inspires us and our colleagues in ports around the world to take action.”
When the blockade began, the dockers identified and isolated 10 containers full of goods to or from Israel. Erik Helgeson commented:
“We thought the flow of goods would be much lower considering the blockade has been announced for twenty days. Our ambition is of course that our action can be one of many grassroots initiatives that will keep the eyes of the world focused on the 800, 000 children living isolated in Gaza. The Palestinian civilian population must be allowed to rebuild their economy, their infrastructure and freely integrate with the rest of the world. The war on Gaza and Israel’s brutal blockade have made all this impossible for over three years.”
As the Swedish began their blockade, news emerged that the dockworkers union Liman-Is intended to join the fast growing movement for boycott sweeping through all levels of society after the murder of Turkish aid volunteers aboard the “Mavi Marmara”. Alongside the Physicians’ Association of Turkey and the Chamber of Agricultural Engineers, the Liman-Is Central Committee stated: 
“. . . The attack that was protested throughout the world and condemned harshly by the UN also brought people out to the streets in Turkey. The government’s announcements indicate that further sanctions against Israel are to be expected.“However, Israel needs to be answered not only through the channels of government, but through all institutions and social organizations, most of all, through NGO’s and unions.
“Our union Liman-Is, has decided to boycott the ships from Israel, which has become a machine of death and torture. In the framework, no member of our union will give service to Israel in any docks where we are organized.
“Liman-Is union invites all unions and NGO’s organized in our country and throughout the world to join this boycott and protest campaign.”
Turning this declaration into an actual boycott will require the active involvement of other unions in Turkish ports.
A few days before the Oakland action, unions in the Port of Cochin, in the state of Kerala, India, had agreed to boycott Israeli ships and cargo.  The boycott began on June 17 on receipt of information that cargo unloaded at Colombo Port from Israeli ship m/v Zim Livorno was bound to arrive at Cochin Port in a feeder vessel. Similar consignments unloaded at Colombo from Israeli ships were set to arrive in feeder vessels.
On June 23, trade unions held a joint protest rally in Cochin Port near the office of Zim Integrated Shipping Services (India) Pvt Ltd – the Israeli shipping line. Addressing the rally B Hamza, general secretary of Cochin Port Labour Union (CITU) condemned the flotilla massacre and expressed the Port workers solidarity with Palestine. Leaders of at least five port unions and the Water Transport Workers Federation of India expressed the unity of Cochin Port workers with the growing world-wide boycott.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) had already responded straight after the attack on Gaza in Dec 2008 – Jan 2009. In three weeks, Israeli forces killed 1400 Palestinians including over 300 children. In the midst of the carnage, the International Committee of the Red Cross had to wait 4 days before the Israeli military allowed ambulances to reach children huddled next to their dead mothers in a house shelled by Israeli forces. A UN compound was attacked with white phosphorus munitions. Schools, hospitals, ambulances, sewage treatment plants, all came under fire. Long before the UN launched their own investigation of possible war crimes (the “Goldstone Report”), South African workers knew enough to act. Members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union SATAWU, affiliated to COSATU, refused to work the Zim Lines “Johanna Russ” – which sailed from Haifa at the height of the invasion – when it arrived in Durban in early February 2009. On the eve of that action, COSATU wrote: 
“SATAWU’s action on Sunday will be part of a proud history of worker resistance against apartheid. In 1963, just four years after the Anti-Apartheid Movement was formed, Danish dock workers refused to offload a ship with South African goods. When the ship docked in Sweden, Swedish workers followed suit. Dock workers in the San Francisco Bay Area and, later, in Liverpool also refused to offload South African goods. South Africans, and the South African working class in particular, will remain forever grateful to those workers who determinedly opposed apartheid and decided that they would support the anti-apartheid struggle with their actions.“Last week, Western Australian members of the Maritime Union of Australia resolved to support the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and have called for a boycott of all Israeli vessels and all vessels bearing goods arriving from or going to Israel.
“This is the legacy and the tradition that South African dock workers have inherited, and it is a legacy they are determined to honour, by ensuring that South African ports of entry will not be used as transit points for goods bound for or emanating from certain dictatorial and oppressive states such as Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Israel.”
|photo: Greg Dropkin
|COSATU Campaigns Co-ordinator George Mahlangu
at UN building, Cairo 28 Dec 2009
Five COSATU officers were amongst the 1400 internationals who converged on Cairo last December, hoping to enter Gaza for the Gaza Freedom March. Zico Tamela, the International Secretary of SATAWU, was on the delegation. Interviewed outside the UN buildings by the Nile, he called on transportworkers throughout the world 
“. . . to assist in the struggle for the liberation of our brothers and sisters in Palestine. We must support and actively participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. This means the total isolation of Israel in terms of arms embargo, economically, culturally, socially, and otherwise. Just like you fellow workers did with apartheid South Africa. This also means that the Israeli labour movement, which is Zionist to the core, must be kicked out of the progressive international trade union movement. It’s not a question of fighting Jewish workers, no, no, it’s a question of isolating Zionism within the labour movement. Just like it was not a question of fighting white workers, but of fighting racism and isolating it within the international progressive trade union movement.“The action we South Africans took in relation to an Israeli ship and a Chinese ship that docked in Durban, when we refused to offload the consignments those ships carried, the Israeli ship carried civilian goods, the Chinese ship carried arms for Zimbabwe, we didn’t offload those goods. As transport workers throughout the world, we need to be at the forefront of the struggle to implement Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign, because we are the ones who transport goods to and from Israel throughout the world.”
Israeli Consulate rebuffed by ILWU Local 10 Executive
Israel is taking this seriously. Their San Francisco based Consul for the Pacific Northwest Akiva Tor sought to meet with the ILWU Local 10 Executive Board on 6 July, hoping to persuade the union to change course. When the PGFTU found out, they wrote to the Executive Board on 2 July, saluting the union’s boycott, their history of international solidarity, and the risks taken by African-Americans in the civil rights movement. They appealed to the union to stand firm: 
…Although we do not live in the United States, we find it highly unusual and somewhat uncustomary that a paid foreign representative of a racist and apartheid regime can demand and get a meeting with the executive board of a local union no less than the ILWU. . .Our civil society has risen and said that justice is universal. We supported the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, the struggle for Civil Rights in the United States, and the struggle for international solidarity. We remember that May 1st commemorates a labor struggle that took place in Chicago, IL, in the US and on May Day 2008, your union the ILWU, shut down all west coast ports to oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, setting a precedent in the U. S. Labor movement.
We humbly ask of you to hold steadfast in the face of backlash and revenge against your union. The call for a meeting with your union by a foreign paid emissary is intervening in the domestic affairs of local community grassroots action in the United States. Israel, an apartheid state, maintaining an illegal war against our people, should not be given the platform at your union house. That platform should be reserved for heroes who champion justice and equality for all.
The Consul may have scented danger, and 6 July his Deputy Gideon Lustig turned up to head the delegation. Lustig spent 10 years in the Israeli Defence Force and attained the rank of Major before turning to a diplomatic career.
|photo: Labor Video Project
|Deputy Israeli Consul for the Pacific Northwest Gideon Lustig (left) and Dr. Roberta Seid (3rd from left)
The Consular delegation was joined by Dr Roberta Seid, an academic at University of California Irvine who believes the IDF was not responsible for the death of ISM volunteer Rachel Corrie, run over by an IDF Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza on 16 March 2003 while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian doctor’s house. Why? Because an official Israeli investigation concluded her death was an accident.
In a major diplomatic rebuff for Consular staff, the Executive Board refused to allow the delegation to enter the meeting, in line with the appeal from the PGFTU.  Dr Seid was given permission to speak. To general amazement, she defended the murderous attack on the Freedom Flotilla. Perhaps she anticipates the official Israeli investigation will clear the Navy of responsibility. What differences would the Israeli government have with her presentation, she was asked. None, apparently. Had the journal “Foreign Affairs” recently exposed Israel’s offer to supply South Africa with nuclear weapons during the apartheid era? Seid admitted they had, but claimed the story was untrue. A former ILWU official recalled his own experience of visiting Palestine in 1989 and described the expansionist aims of the Israeli state in detail.
When it was over, the Executive reaffirmed the union’s position opposing the Israeli blockade of Gaza, the apartheid wall in the West Bank, the continuing bloody Zionist oppression of Palestinians and the murderous Israeli attack on the aid flotilla.
What does it mean?
In the past, with a few very important exceptions, unions have focused on adopting national policies in solidarity with Palestine, donated funds, sent delegations to the West Bank and occasionally to Gaza, invited their Palestinian counterparts to address conferences, but without engaging in any dispute with their own employers over this issue. Although unions have adopted policies in support of BDS, and even overcome strong internal opposition before doing so, these policies have mainly remained paper committments. Yet these small steps are essential preparation. As Howard Keylor remarked, it took years of education within Local 10 before the boycott of the “Nedlloyd Kimberley” became possible.
The first sign of another strategy came in 2006, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the largely secret war in Gaza that same year.  Tram drivers in Dublin were instructed to train their Israeli counterparts on how to operate the planned Light Rail system connecting Jerusalem to the illegal Settlements. In line with the policies of their union SIPTU and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, they refused, risking their jobs.  At the same time, an appeal from sacked Liverpool dockers entitled “Sanctions on Israel: If not now, when?” concluded “If you can, intervene directly to stop trade with Israel while the carnage in Lebanon and Gaza continues”. Possible action against Zim Lines was discussed in San Francisco a few months later.
During the bombardment and invasion of Gaza from Dec 2008 – Jan 2009, Greek dockers threatened to boycott a shipment of US arms to Israel, which was then re-routed, eventually reaching Ashdod in March. 
Now, for the first time, Israel faces the prospect that their trade links are no longer secure as unions across the world are willing to go into dispute to implement the boycott. This is not a dockers issue, it is an issue for any union which wants to make BDS a reality. And the dockers are only able to act because they know there is a strong basis of support in the wider labour movement.
This is exactly what happened to South Africa from about 1978 onwards. Workers at the computer manufacturing firm ICL (now Fujitsu) in Manchester refused to dispatch the machine they had built for administration of the hated Pass Laws. Air France pilots were poised to refuse to fly uranium illegally mined by Rio Tinto Zinc in South African-occupied Namibia. The trade was suddenly switched to sea. But a decade later Liverpool dockers blockaded containers to interrupt the export of processed South African and Namibian uranium, touching off an outcry in Japan where electricity contracts with RTZ were cancelled. Dublin shopworkers refused to sell Outspan oranges, and were sacked. Oakland dockers refused to offload South African steel and coal, and survived.
It all coincided with the emergence inside South Africa of militant independent trade unions ready to strike against the employer and the apartheid system, eventually forming the Congress of South African Trade Unions in 1985. That was the moment when the South African ruling class knew it would have to find a way out of apartheid. Even so, it took another 9 years.
These were not the only factors which brought down the apartheid regime. Nobody should imagine that a week of blockades spells the end of Israeli apartheid, or even the end of the siege of Gaza. But the dockers have broken through the consensus that trade union solidarity begins and ends with resolutions at trade union congresses, education, fundraising and delegation work, important as these are in laying the basis for action.
The blockades connect Palestine to the class struggle which workers live through every day of their lives. In Oakland, Sweden, Turkey, India, and South Africa, a new generation of dockers has joined a fight with echoes of the 1980s. Clarence Thomas:
“Today what you witnessed was the current young membership of ILWU Local 10 answering the call of the brothers and sisters who came before them. We understand what international solidarity means. It is not an empty slogan. You have to give something up. Our members were willing to give up a day’s pay today. That’s what solidarity means. This is indeed a people’s victory, and remember, just because it’s not on the front page of the New York Times, just because it’s not on CNN, we have to get the word out. We claim no easy victories and tell no lies. Solidarity to the Palestinians. Solidarity to the working class around the world.”
Whatever the immediate consequences, Israel’s murderous attack on the flotilla has landed the Zionist regime in very dangerous waters.
 interviews from the Oakland picket line transcribed from the video “Workers stand against Israeli Apartheid”, Labor Video Project. www.blip.tv/file/3806741
 bdsmovement.net/?q=node/712 (from the website of the Palestinian Boycott National Committee)
 www.transportworkers.org/node/1487 (from the website of the Transportworkers Solidarity Committee, which helped to organise the action)
 for English versions see www.labournet.net/docks2/1006/sweden1.html
 for English version see www.labournet.net/world/1006/turkey1.html
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Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard call it a safety zone, a watery sector extending 100 yards from Pier 66 into Elliott Bay, where few boaters dare to go. To critics, it will be a no-protest zone, at least for 12 hours beginning at 8 a.m. August 4, when it’s closed off to protect Navy warships here for Seafair. According to Coast Guard documents, it will be a onetime, temporary measure. But the government has also filed a proposal to make the no-go zone, used occasionally in the past, a permanent rule to be invoked during the Fleet Week Maritime Festival. The Navy would thus find it easier to avoid Glen Milner and his noisy boatloads of Ground Zero anti-war protesters, who have typically shown up on festival day to protest the government armada.
“The Navy often states it exists to defend our freedoms but this proposed [permanent] no protest zone shows how false that is,” says Ground Zero leader Milner, who has been busted in the past by the Coast Guard, among others, for his non-violent protests. “The zone amounts to institutionalized harassment and violates our civil rights.”
Michelle Jensen, a Seattle attorney representing ACLU of Washington, calls it a “defacto no-protest zone,” saying it creates “an impermissible restriction on protesters’ speech rights.” That was true when the USCG imposed the zone in some earlier years, she says. Now that the government is moving to make the zone permanent, she states in a letter to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, “we are prepared to litigate its constitutionality.” Read her legal argument here.
Milner says his group’s opposition and legal threats regarding the permanent zone – proposed by the government in February – seemed to have stalled that measure. He sees the temp-zone plan, announced a few weeks ago, as an end run. Coast Guard spokesperson Ashley M. Wanzer says the service is still mulling over the permanent proposal and didn’t know when a final decision would be made. The USCG considers such a zone necessary to the security and safety of boaters and the Navy ships, she said.
Anti-war demonstrators have been floating out with protest signs to meet the Navy fleet since Seafair 2000, says Milner. In past years, Navy Trident submarines, complete with nuclear warheads, and warships equipped to fire radioactive munitions have sailed into the downtown Seattle pier. The boats of protesters, says Milner, have regularly been boarded by the Coast Guard, preventing Ground Zero from demonstrating its concerns about war, particularly the nuclear kind.
The Coast Guard first established a 400-yard no protest zone “box” in 2008 surrounding Pier 66, where the Navy band and officers assembled to greet the fleet. “The Coast Guard,” says Milner, “never explained how vessels in Elliott Bay could endanger Navy officers on the rooftop of Pier 66 especially when Seafair, as a public event, invites the public to both locations.”
Though the zone is now reduced to 100 yards, his group of demonstrators – familiar sights at the gates of the Bangor N-sub base – still can’t get close enough to gain attention, says Milner. “The Coast Guard did not mention in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that a violation of the safety zone could bring an arrest and a charge resulting in up to six years in jail and/or a $250,000 fine.
“They make the rules, enforce the rules, and then prosecute violators in their own Coast Guard court system,” he says. “It shows us what a true police state would look like if the Coast Guard were in charge.”
The British government’s decision to withdraw troops from Sangin in Helmand province marks a watershed in the relentless conflict in Afghanistan. The military mission has been very costly for the United Kingdom, with a third of the total casualties sustained in one district alone. More than a hundred lives of soldiers lost and many more wounded coming home is a sign of how difficult the mission has been. In a classic display of guerrilla tactics of asymmetrical warfare, the armed opposition has refused to fight a modern army equipped with high-tech weaponry on its enemy’s terms. Instead, the insurgents have fought on their terms, using rudimentary explosive devices and small weapons with devastating effect. Reaction of Afghans in Sangin will shock many in Britain.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph (July 7, 2010), Ben Farmer reported local residents saying little that is complimentary about the British. One resident openly complained that, in their four-year deployment in Sangin, the British brought only fighting and too little development. The previous Anglo-Afghan wars have left a particularly bitter legacy, although there is also a tendency that things look far better on the other side. Afghanistan remains a fragmented country like it has been for centuries. Rubbing salt in British wounds, an Afghan from a small neighboring settlement said that areas under American control had done better. Ask people in US-controlled areas and their reaction would likely be the opposite. Afghans regularly protest against civilian deaths at the hands of US-led occupation forces all over the country, although many die in suicide attacks directed against people supposed to be cooperating with NATO and the US-installed government in Kabul. Among the latest this month were anti-US and anti-government demonstrations in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Residents come out to protest against civilians killings in the south and the east. News travels fast in that devastated country.
‘Afghanistan: Now It’s America’s War,’ said the Independent newspaper’s front-page story loudly in black. For eight years, the British people’s growing unease had been ignored. The United Kingdom, with a population of 62 million and fewer than 200000 regulars (and 42000 volunteers) in the armed forces, had been punching way above its weight. Former prime minister Tony Blair’s personal kinship with George W Bush in his ‘war on terror’ cost the United Kingdom dearly, in economic, political, moral terms. With Blair’s New Labour losing the May 2010 general election, it was relatively easier for the emerging Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government to face up to the reality of the Afghan conflict. The inevitable was bound to happen.
There has been a distinct cooling in the relationship between London and Washington since President Obama’s inauguration. Partly it is because President Bush and Prime Minister Blair are no longer in power. But equally significant, Britain’s new prime minister, David Cameron, and Obama have not made a good start. The Conservative Party is generally pro-military and, in opposition in parliament, voted for war against Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. The Liberal Democratic Party, with a much more democratic structure, has significant sections in its membership opposed to, or circumspect about, war. The overall effect of a coalition between the two parties now runs counter to Britain’s continuing involvement in the Afghan conflict that has taken a heavy toll. The rhetoric about continued military involvement in Afghanistan is gloomy. Official statements emphasize the need for British troops to come home as soon as Afghanistan is ‘stable’. What it means remains undefined. The timescale often mentioned is 3-4 years, meaning before the next election.
Initial encounters have a determining effect on relations between leaders. From this perspective, Obama and Cameron did not appear to connect well. Of course, diplomatic niceties were maintained. The British are particularly adept at that. But the difference of emphasis in Washington and London over Afghanistan cannot be hidden. And the megaphone diplomacy over the BP oil spill laid bare the reality that the days of ‘special relationship’ – an exaggerated claim – were decidedly over. President Obama did not hesitate to resort to raw nationalism undermining that ‘special relationship’ to deflect domestic criticism of his handling of the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
In doing so, Obama stepped back a decade into the past before British Petroleum and Amoco merged to form an international oil giant that was regarded as much American as it was British until the accident. He resorted to new rhetoric, way below his previous standards, to speak of an assault on US shores (not true because the rig that broke down was extracting oil within US continental waters). The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig leased by BP was owned by Transocean, a company that traces its origins to Alabama in the 1950s. With its headquarters now based in Switzerland and offices in the United States and other countries, Transocean quenches the business ethos of ‘drill baby drill’ very well. And Obama’s ‘kicking ass’ remark was not the sort of political language heard in Europe. Senior figures, including ex-diplomats and politicians, began to react publicly, calling for the need to ‘send a message’ to the Americans. A telephone call from the British prime minister David Cameron followed. The conversation was courteous, the message clear. The oil disaster was saddening and frustrating. But it would be in no one’s interest to crush BP and to let the temperature rise any further. Obama responded that he had no interest in undermining the value of BP, but that was precisely the result. Obama was accused of holding ‘his boot on the throat’ of pensioners whose incomes depended on investments in the company.
Expediency, always a strong motive, propels political leaders to do the unexpected. They are not averse to injecting political venom into the body of an ally when they want to deflect domestic criticism. Eight years on, the ‘coalition of the willing’ President George W Bush assembled following his infamous threat ‘you’re either with us, or against us’ to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq, that alliance is unraveling. And we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of yet another phase of great power adventurism in Afghanistan.
Deepak Tripathi set up the BBC Bureau in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and was the resident correspondent in Kabul. His latest book Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan is available from Amazon.com. He can be reached at: DandATripathi@gmail.com.
It is called Spot and Shoot. Operators sit in front of a TV monitor from which they can control the action with a PlayStation-style joystick.
The aim: to kill terrorists.
Played by: young women serving in the Israeli army.
Spot and Shoot, as it is called by the Israeli military, may look like a video game but the figures on the screen are real people — Palestinians in Gaza — who can be killed with the press of a button on the joystick.
The female soldiers, located far away in an operations room, are responsible for aiming and firing remote-controlled machine-guns mounted on watch-towers every few hundred metres along an electronic fence that surrounds Gaza.
The system is one of the latest “remote killing” devices developed by Israel’s Rafael armaments company, the former weapons research division of the Israeli army and now a separate governmental firm.
According to Giora Katz, Rafael’s vice-president, remote-controlled military hardware such as Spot and Shoot is the face of the future. He expects that within a decade at least a third of the machines used by the Israeli army to control land, air and sea will be unmanned.
The demand for such devices, the Israeli army admits, has been partly fuelled by a combination of declining recruitment levels and a population less ready to risk death in combat.
Oren Berebbi, head of its technology branch, recently told an American newspaper: “We’re trying to get to unmanned vehicles everywhere on the battlefield … We can do more and more missions without putting a soldier at risk.”
Rapid progress with the technology has raised alarm at the United Nations. Philip Alston, its special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, warned last month of the danger that a “PlayStation mentality to killing” could quickly emerge.
According to analysts, however, Israel is unlikely to turn its back on hardware that it has been at the forefront of developing – using the occupied Palestinian territories, and especially Gaza, as testing laboratories.
Remotely controlled weapons systems are in high demand from repressive regimes and the burgeoning homeland security industries around the globe.
“These systems are still in the early stages of development but there is a large and growing market for them,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired general and defence analyst at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
The Spot and Shoot system — officially known as Sentry Tech — has mostly attracted attention in Israel because it is operated by 19- and 20-year-old female soldiers, making it the Israeli army’s only weapons system operated exclusively by women.
Female soldiers are preferred to operate remote killing devices because of a shortage of male recruits to Israel’s combat units. Young women can carry out missions without breaking the social taboo of risking their lives, said Mr Brom.
The women are supposed to identify anyone suspicious approaching the fence around Gaza and, if authorised by an officer, execute them using their joysticks.
The Israeli army, which plans to introduce the technology along Israel’s other confrontation lines, refuses to say how many Palestinians have been killed by the remotely controlled machine-guns in Gaza. According to the Israeli media, however, it is believed to be several dozen.
The system was phased-in two years ago for surveillance, but operators were only able to open fire with it more recently. The army admitted using Sentry Tech in December to kill at least two Palestinians several hundred metres inside the fence.
The Haaretz newspaper, which was given rare access to a Sentry Tech control room, quoted one soldier, Bar Keren, 20, saying: “It’s very alluring to be the one to do this. But not everyone wants this job. It’s no simple matter to take up a joystick like that of a Sony PlayStation and kill, but ultimately it’s for defence.”
Audio sensors on the towers mean that the women hear the shot as it kills the target. No woman, Haaretz reported, had failed the task of shooting what the army calls an “incriminated” Palestinian.
The Israeli military, which enforces a so-called “buffer zone” — an unmarked no-man’s land — inside the fence that reaches as deep as 300 metres into the tiny enclave, has been widely criticised for opening fire on civilians entering the closed zone.
In separate incidents in April, a 21-year-old Palestinian demonstrator was shot dead and a Maltese solidarity activist wounded when they took part in protests to plant a Palestinian flag in the buffer zone. The Maltese woman, Bianca Zammit, was videoing as she was hit.
It is unclear whether Spot and Shoot has been used against such demonstrations.
The Israeli army claims Sentry Tech is “revolutionary”. And that will make its marketing potential all the greater as other armies seek out innovations in “remote killing” technology.
Rafael is reported to be developing a version of Sentry Tech that will fire long-range guided missiles.
Another piece of hardware recently developed for the Israeli army is the Guardium, an armoured robot-car that can patrol territory at up to 80km per hour, navigate through cities, launch “ambushes” and shoot at targets. It now patrols the Israeli borders with Gaza and Lebanon.
Its Israeli developers, G-Nius, have called it the world’s first “robot soldier”. It looks like a first-generation version of the imaginary “robot-armour” worn by soldiers in the popular recent sci-fi movie Avatar.
Rafael has produced the first unmanned naval patrol boat, the “Protector”, which has been sold to Singapore’s navy and is being heavily marked in the US. A Rafael official, Patrick Bar-Avi, told the Israeli business daily Globes: “Navies worldwide are only now beginning to examine the possible uses of such vehicles, and the possibilities are endless.”
But Israel is most known for its role in developing “unmanned aerial vehicles” – or drones, as they have come to be known. Originally intended for spying, and first used by Israel over south Lebanon in the early 1980s, today they are increasingly being used for extrajudicial executions from thousands of feet in the sky.
In February Israel officially unveiled the 14 metre-long Heron TP drone, the largest ever. Capable of flying from Israel to Iran and carrying more than a ton of weapons, the Heron was tested by Israel in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008, when some 1,400 Palestinians were killed.
More than 40 countries now operate drones, many of them made in Israel, although so far only the Israeli and US armies have deployed them as remote-controlled killing machines. Israeli drones are being widely used in Afghanistan.
Smaller drones have been sold to the German, Australian, Spanish, French, Russian, Indian and Canadian armies. Brazil is expected to use the drone to provide security for the 2014 World Cup championship, and the Panamanian and Salvadoran governments want them too, ostensibly to run counter-drug operations.
Despite its diplomatic crisis with Ankara, Israel was reported last month to have completed a deal selling a fleet of 10 Herons to the Turkish army for $185 million.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.