Some 1,5000 members of Swedish Port Workers Union impose boycott in all country's ports which handle 95% of foreign trade to protest Israel's raid on Gaza-bound flotilla, which included several Swedish nationals
Gothenburg docks - a dozen Israeli containers
already held as Swedish Port Workers Union
boycotts Israeli ships
Swedish dockworkers launched a weeklong boycott of Israeli ships and cargo on Wednesday to protest Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists last month.
Some 1,500 members of the Swedish Port Workers Union began the boycott at all Sweden's ports which handle more than 95% of the country's foreign trade. The action is planned to end on June 29.
"Even if goods arrive in trucks, dockworkers often have some role in handling them when they arrive in port," said Per Helgesson, the union's chief negotiator.
The union supported the international aid convoy and demands that Israel lift its blockade on Gaza. Several Swedish activists were on the flotilla when Israeli commandos attacked it on May 31.
Israel recently eased the 3-year-old blockade under international pressure, but union spokesman Bjorn Borg said the measure was insufficient.
"We don't think it is far-reaching enough," Borg said. "We want them to lift the blockade."
Borg said stevedores in the southwestern port of Goteborg had already refused to handle about a dozen containers containing cargo from Israel or goods destined for it.
Officials said they expected the boycott to have a minimal impact on Swedish-Israeli trade, which accounts for 0.2% of the Nordic country's total imports and exports.
Last year, Swedish exports to Israel were valued at 2.5 billion kronor ($320 million) and imports amounted to some 850 million kronor, according to the Swedish Trade Council.
Swedish Dockworkers: We’re refusing to handle Israeli cargo in support of the civilian population of Gaza
Report by Björn Borg, Chairperson of the Swedish Dockworkers Union
Erik Helgeson, Ombudsman, local 4 Gothenburg
Published in translation: 25/06/10
(This article was published before the start of the blockade. Some minor edits have been made during the translation process)
From the 23rd of June, the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union members will no longer load or unload Israeli ships or goods to and from Israel. The time-limited blockade will hopefully stop Swedish sea born trade with Israel until the 29th of June. The action of the Swedish Dockers is not an isolated event. We act in coherence with other dockworkers’ unions around the world in this international effort to promote two self-evident demands to the state of Israel: 1. Lift the siege of Gaza. 2. Allow an independent international investigation of the violent boarding of the Freedom-Flotilla.
The Dockworkers’ action has already made an echo around the world. Thousands have contacted us to show sympathy, at the same time we also receive different forms of criticism and threats. Therefore, as the debate tend to focus on everything but the issue of concern, we wish to clarify the reasons behind the decision made by the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union:
1, 5 million Palestinians inside the small Gaza strip have been effectively cut off from the outside world for over three years. The blockade is maintained partly by the almost complete Egyptian closure of its border to Gaza, but mainly because the state of Israel with military means prevents people as well as goods to enter or exit the area. During the war on Gaza in 2008/09, vital infrastructure war bombed into ruins and Israel’s ban on imports of both construction materials and raw materials for industrial purposes, has prohibited all recovery.
The government of Israel has until today’s date claimed that the policy of isolation is aimed at the elected Hamas government and the movements’ firing of rockets into Israel. Our union does not sympathize with Hamas nor their acts towards Palestinian and Israeli civilians. However, today there can be no question about the actual consequences of the Gaza-siege. The power base of Hamas seems unthreatened, while many of Gaza’s children are living at the brink of malnutrition. Unemployment is estimated at about 80 percent, the ports are wiped out and our dockworker colleagues, just like a whole generation of Palestinian youths, are lacking hope and prospects for the future. Regardless of Israel’s intentions, it is obvious that the policy of the Israeli government is de facto collectively punishing of the civilian population. The siege of Gaza constitutes an ongoing attack on the respect for human rights. Despite that the UN as well as the EU repeatedly have established that the blockade and Israel’s actions are in conflict with international law and depletes the civilian population, the situation still hasn’t changed.
It is in relation to this that the Swedish Dockworkers have now followed the request of the joint Palestinian union movement for support actions amongst dockworkers to make Israel lift the blockade on Gaza. We, as part of the international labour movement, want to do what we can to promote change. Therefore, as a way of contributing to the international pressure on the Israeli government, we will not concern ourselves with Israeli goods during a week of solidarity.
The Swedish Dockworkers Union makes no secret of the fact that we have been inspired by the example set by the Swedish Ship to Gaza. During an intense year following the Gaza-war, hundreds of volunteers organized fundraisers and support events around this country. The organization then managed, together with its’ Greece sister organization, to buy a ship bound to bring long-awaited aid to Gaza. At the final stages, we were in contact with our comrades in Greece, who free of charge loaded the cargo ship “Sofia“ with electric wheelchairs and cement at the port of Pireus. Meanwhile 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 the last years. That also inspires us and our colleagues in ports around the world to take action.
Unfortunately it now seems that the attention of the media once again is turning away from the ravaged population of Gaza. Instead, public debate is heavily focused on Israeli governmental and military accusations towards the hundreds of people who were onboard the ship “Mavi Marmara“ of the Freedom Flotilla when Israel boarded and nine people were shot dead. The Swedish Dockworkers Union will not take part in this shift of focus from the main issue and thus ascertain the following:
It is a natural requirement from dockworkers as well as all followers of basic legal principles, that an investigation of the Israeli boarding, the killings and the entire course of events must be conducted by an independent, internationally composed committee.
Israel today claims that it has support in international law for the boarding of ships carrying humanitarian aid on international waters. They also claim that “Mavi Marmara“ carried terrorist-sympathizers that illegally provoked violence and tried to kill Israeli soldiers. If that is the case, all the films, pictures and sound materials that Israel has confiscated from journalists and human right activists onboard should be made public to support that claim. An independent international investigation would be able to confirm the official Israeli story, and bring criminals amongst the passengers to justice.
However, If the boarding in fact constitutes a flagrant Israeli crime against international law and at least nine unarmed activists were killed during an illegal act of piracy against an aid convoy, then an international independent investigation would be able to prove that and bring the ones responsible to justice.
The Swedish Dockworkers’ Union have previously acted as pioneers in Swedish boycotts against the military dictatorship in Chile and the apartheid regime of South Africa. From the 23rd of June we will no longer handle containers with Israeli wines, vegetables och fruits by the brands of 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 the hundreds of human right activists from the Freedom Flotilla to Israeli prisons.
The demands of this international dockworkers action is in line with the ones put forward by the UN, the International Red Cross and many world leaders. But we move from words to action. Power should never be confused with right, regardless of Israel’s history or military force. Therefore we take a stand against the siege of Gaza, demanding that all air, land, and most importantly, seaways into the area must be opened.
Björn Borg, Chairperson of the Swedish Dockworkers Union
Erik Helgeson, Ombudsman, local 4 Gothenburg
About the authors
Björn Borg is president of The Swedish Dockworkers’ Union. Erik Helgeson is ombudsman for the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union local 4 in Gothenburg. Soon after the founding of the Swedish Ship to Gaza project, the dockers discussed collaboration with the organizers. The dockers have also been preparing voluntary interventions as to load ships headed for Gaza free of charge from Swedish ports.
Swedish dockworkers have launched a week-long boycott of cargo to and from Israel to protest against the raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed nine people last month.
About 1,500 members of the Swedish Dockworkers Union began the boycott on Wednesday across the country's ports, which handle more than 95 per cent of Sweden's foreign trade.
Rolf Axelsson, a union spokesman, said the blockade was launched "because of the assault on the ship to Gaza, that we supported before they took off ... and the blockade of the Gaza strip, which affects the civilian population".
Union members have described the Israeli military raid on the flotilla as "an unprecedented attack on a peaceful ship convoy".
Bjoern Borg, the union's chairman, said they were calling for an international investigation into the May 31 raid and added Israel's recent easing of its Gaza blockade was insufficient.
"We don't think it is far-reaching enough," he said. "We want them to lift the blockade".
Borg said stevedores in the southwestern port of Gothenburg had already refused to handle about a dozen containers containing cargo from Israel or goods destined for it.
However, officials said they expected the boycott to have a minimal impact on Swedish-Israeli trade, which accounts for 0.2 per cent of the Nordic country's total imports and exports.
The goods most likely to be affected will be fruit, vegetables, spices and skin care products on their way from Israel to Swedish shops.
Eleven Swedes, including crime writer Henning Mankell, took part in last month's flotilla and were briefly taken into Israeli custody.
Israel has opened its own investigation into the deaths on the aid ship but it has been criticised as lacking in transparency, although international monitors will be present.
The deadly raid sparked international condemnation and worldwide protests, and widened a rift in relations between Turkey and Israel.
Eight Turkish nationals and one US citizen of Turkish origin were killed in the raid.
History of action
Erik Helgeson, ombudsman at the Swedish Dockworkers Union, said their action was just one response to Israel's blockade on Gaza, which was tightened three years ago.
"One half of the 1.5 million people living in Gaza are children, 800,000 children, and we have to take action now," he said.
"This is our contribution, this is what we can do."
The Swedish Dockworkers Union has a history of taking action through blockades and boycotts.
Goods were stopped during both the regime of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile and apartheid in South Africa.
"The main aim is to keep the pressure on Israel so that the world focus is not turned away. It is not to paralyse their economy," Helgeson said.
But he added medical equipment and other critical goods will be let through, including equipment for dialysis machines destined for Israel from the southern Swedish port of Helsingborg.
Similar boycotts have also taken place in Norwegian and South African ports, dockworkers in Gothenburg said.
"Everywhere we went (in Gaza) the same question was on every body's lips - 'You are here but where are the Arabs?' One little girl said to me 'where is this Arab world that they teach us about in school? Where is this Ummah that they talk to us about on Fridays? Why did they leave us alone?'. That's what she said to me, with tears in her eyes 'why did they leave us alone?' I had to turn my face away from her when she said it, and I'm not an Arab, I had to turn away.. I couldn't face her in the face of such a question.."