War on Gaza: Pro-Palestine protesters block Israeli ship from port of Melbourne
Around 4,000 pro-Palestine protesters in Australia's Melbourne rallied on Saturday and Sunday for the 15th week in a row, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and blocking a major freight terminal.
The protest came amid an ongoing blockade of an Israeli ship at the city dock.
The blockade at the Port of Melbourne has been ongoing for over two days, starting on Friday, and has prevented an Israeli-owned ship from being unloaded. It resulted in four cargo ships being stranded along with 30,000 containers.
Mohammed Helmy, one of the protest organisers, told Middle East Eye that the protest and blockade has been effective so far and is intended to pressure the government to take action on the atrocities unfolding in Gaza as a result of Israeli aggression.
"The action has completely blocked the port at the moment to send a strong message to the government that Melbournians are not happy with Zim ships being loaded from the Melbourne port," he said.
"Currently, the port is completely blocked from loading and unloading ships and this was possible because of workers' unions support. It is intended to pressure the government to take action and stop the genocide in Gaza," he added.
Helmy said that police presence has been varied, but on Saturday riot squad police used pepper spray to try to disperse protesters but were unsuccessful.
'The action has completely blocked the port... to send a strong message to the government that Melbournians are not happy with Zim ships being loaded from the port'
- Mohammed Helmy, protest organiser
"Protests are largely peaceful," he said. "In the absence of police aggression protesters are relaxed, some are playing music, chatting, others are reading, playing board games or praying."
He also said that since the blockade started, not a single loading crane has moved in the port, making them anticipate a heavy police crackdown anytime.
"With the genocide in Gaza, the world can't simply go on with business as usual. People want the genocide to stop, and if governments are not willing to take action or pay attention, then we will force them to pay attention," he said.
Union workers at the protest said that they will not be entering the port as long as the picket is on due to safety concerns.
Impacting the Australian economy
According to 7News Australia, the protest is costing Australia millions of dollars a day, as protesters also prevented workers from getting to work.
Some of the protesters held up banners with the words "block Zim ships" on them, saying that they may be carrying weapons.
Victoria police said the rally initially started at the State Library of Victoria before carrying on through to the streets of Melbourne and then towards Parliament House.
Australia's Palestine Advocacy Network president, Nasser Mashni, said that the decision to create a blockade and demonstrate came after months of peaceful protests that seemed to have "fallen on deaf ears", as Israel's bombardment of Gaza continued, killing over 25,000 people, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Mashni added that it was "time to elevate our action".
Police officers used capsicum spray and arrested one person on Saturday during the protest. A police spokesperson said that around 85 protesters were asked to move off private property at around 4am.
The protest at the dock grew on Sunday, with many protesters chanting "block the dock" and urging others to join them.
Bruno Porchietto, International Container Services CEO, told reporters that the protests were costing the industry hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.
"We're really desperate because every hour that passes, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being lost…it's not just us that are losing, it's the Australian economy," he said in an interview.
Many of the protesters rallied after journalist Antoinette Lattouf was sacked by ABC in December after sharing a social media post about the war on Gaza.
The radio host claimed she was discriminated against due to her Lebanese heritage and her political expression, and has since launched legal proceedings against ABC.
Since 7 October, Gaza has been plunged into a deep humanitarian crisis, after Israel cut off all fuel, food, water, electricity and aid to the besieged enclave.
This is not the first time Palestinian rights activists block ships in an effort to stop and shed light on Israeli aggressions.
In June 2021, a campaign to pressure Israel over its numerous violations of international law was launched in key US port cities, where protesters blocked ships from unloading cargo.