Local activists are taking the struggle for Palestinian rights to Port Tampa Bay. An Israeli ship, the Zim Alabama, is scheduled to dock there this week, but a new group called Block the Boat Tampa wants to stop it from being unloaded here. It’s part of the nonviolent struggle for Palestinian rights called BDS or boycott, divestment and sanctions.
WMNF’s Seán Kinane interviewed Bettejo Indelicato, who is helping to organize Block the Boat Tampa.
“In solidarity with activists in Oakland, L.A., Seattle and Tacoma, we are working to stop the unloading of an Israeli ship the Zim Alabama, which was scheduled to dock in the port of Tampa on Wednesday [August] 27th. We are holding an all day outreach at the docks hoping to outreach to workers and let them know why we are asking them not to unload the boat, to disrupt the service of the Zim. And we’ll have a presence there from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a rally from 11:30 to 12:30.”
Why are you looking at an Israeli boat in particular to stop it unloading? Tell our listeners what is it about Israeli companies you’re focused on.
“Well this is actually a part of a much larger movement: boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS]. And it was a call from the Palestinian civil society in 1995 for the world to boycott Israel, much as it did in apartheid South Africa. The company Zim is an Israeli shipping company, the largest shipping company in Israel and one of the largest in the world. Their production, their money supports the Zionist state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine. So we are blocking the boat to stop Zim from unloading apartheid into Tampa.”
You’re using the word like apartheid and Zionist why you won’t define them so people know what you are talking about when you are using words like Zionists and apartheid?
“O.K., thank you. Because that’s always an issue that people might think we are anti-Semitic. We are not. Zionism is a political movement to steal the land of Palestine. And Judaism is a religion that has nothing to do with Zionism. Zionism has been working since the early 1800s looking to take over land for a Jewish State. When I talk about a Jewish State I will go into the Apartheid: residents of Israel who have Palestinian ancestry do not have the same rights, do not have the same access to infrastructures and social services than do the Israeli people. And in the West bank, apartheid affects every aspects of Palestinian life: travel, school, medical issues, villages being raided in the middle of the night, teenagers being arrested and taken away with their parents has no way to know where they are for sometimes months. So Apartheid is hell.”
And you have been to Palestine?
“Yes, I have.”
Where and when — and why you we’re there?
“I’ve travelled to Palestine with International Women’s Peace Service and we are human rights activists, a small group, with members from all over the world. We are located in the Salfit region of the West Bank which is a central farming area, but we travel to Nablus, Ramallah wherever we were needed. And in fact, the village we stay in Deir Istiya has been a quiet village since the second intifada and yet, just recently the entrances to the village have been bulldozed over. So the villagers have to take back roads that are dangerous and take a lot more time for them to get where they’re going because this senseless blockade of their village.”
Moving geographically back to Tampa — in order to affect what you are saying is the apartheid actions in the West Bank, you’re doing what you want to do here, which is stopping this Israeli boat from unloading its cargo — have you reached out to the docks’ workers and what do you hope their response will be?
“We have sent messages through the official channels. We are going to be at the docks today with some literature and hoping to talk to workers, let them know why we are out there; we don’t want to alienate them. We want them to understand we’re there for justice and that we are going to ask them to be in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Oakland and other ports in the West Coast as well as the Palestinian civil society and the unions that have requested that unions around the world honor ‘boycott.’”
Describe what happened in Washington State, in Oakland, at some of these other ports where Israeli shipping companies have tried to come in. What’s happened with the activism there?
“In Oakland, activists were able to block the ship from being unloaded for four days which cost the shipping company a considerable amount of money. A large police presence alongside the activists made the workers feel that it was an unsafe situation for them to cross the picket line. In essence they honored the picket line. In Tacoma and Seattle, there’s been varying degrees of success. We know that one ship has just been circling around in Puget Sound not wanting to dock and have the difficulties that were present in Oakland.
“We need a lot of support. We need more than ever at least the understanding of the workers. And our action is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow with a rally 11:30 to 12:30. And the situation is fluid. Things are changing rapidly; the organization is just going on tremendously. But for more information and to date, please visit our Facebook page ‘Block the Boat Tampa’ and our event page will come up. We are working on a website which should be done by the end of the day (Tuesday).”