Trade union leaders in Tunisia are calling on their members not to unload an Israel-linked cargo ship if it lands at the port of Radès in coming days.
According to tracking data, Cornelius A left the Spanish port of Algeciras on Sunday night headed towards Radès, where it is predicted to arrive on 9 August.
But over the weekend, there were indications that the journey had been canceled, prompting Palestine solidarity activists to celebrate a victory.
Last week, activists and Tunisia’s UGTT trade union federation demanded that Tunisian authorities prevent the Cornelius A from entering the country’s waters because the ship, owned by the Turkish company Arkas, appeared to be operated on behalf of the Israeli shipping line Zim.
The vessel has apparently been plying the Mediterranean as part of a network that offers cargo shipping between Haifa, a port in present-day Israel, and Tunisia’s Radès, via Spanish ports.
Activists see Zim’s use of a Turkish-flagged vessel as an attempt at covert normalization between Israel and Tunisia, which have no formal relations.
Last week, the Tunisian port authority OMMP and the Turkish embassy in Tunis denied any Israeli connection to the Cornelius A, but this failed to convince campaigners.
On Friday, three major Palestinian trade union federations wrote to UGTT secretary-general Nourredine Taboubi urging the Tunisian labor organization to mobilize all efforts to stop the Cornelius A being unloaded in Radès and to prevent normalization of ties with Israel more generally.
The next day, Taboubi reaffirmed that the UGTT would block any “Zionist entity that attempts to enter Tunisian territory.”
On Sunday, TACBI, the Tunisian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, declared a victory when Cornelius A appeared to stop at sea, and references to the ship’s planned arrival in Tunisia disappeared from the internet.
The Tunisian port authority OMMP removed the announcement for a scheduled stop by Cornelius A from its official website.
Yet as the ship appears once again to be sailing towards Tunisia, trade union leaders are escalating their calls on the government to stop it.
On Monday, the UGTT demanded that the government and port authorities reveal all the facts about the ship and called for a parliamentary inquiry into Zim’s covert dealings in Tunisia.
The labor federation urged its member unions and port workers to mobilize in order to “prevent this ship from sullying Tunisian territory.”
The UGTT also called on Turkey to investigate the ship’s connections with Israel that had been previously denied by its ambassador, and not to invoke Turkey’s warm relations with Tunisia as a cover to fend off criticism and concern.
UGTT said that its “rejection of the entry of this ship to our ports is a national stance taken only by those who are most vigilant for Palestine, our central cause.”
It demanded that the Turkish line Arkas that owns the Cornelius A abide by Tunisian law and refrain from any activity that “harms Tunisia’s sovereignty and interests or negates its principled position that Tunisia has no economic or diplomatic ties with the Zionist entity.”
The UGTT also wants the government to compile a list of foreign-owned vessels that are used by Israeli companies in order to ban them from entering Tunisian ports or surreptitiously delivering Israeli cargo to the country.
Second flotilla boat commandeered
In 2014, US activists and labor organizers spurred by Israel’s military attack on Gaza successfully prevented Zim ships from unloading at the port of Oakland.
Now, Tunisian activists say that it is especially unacceptable for an Israeli-linked ship to land in Tunisia while Israel maintains a maritime blockade on the occupied Gaza Strip.
On 29 July, Israeli military forces stormed and commandeered the Al Awda, one of two boats carrying activists, journalists and medical supplies in an attempt to break the siege of Gaza.
On Saturday, flotilla organizers said they had lost contact with Freedom, the second boat attempting to reach Gaza.
“We have reason to presume that the Israeli occupation forces have now begun to attack it and that it has been surrounded in international waters,” the Freedom Flotilla Coalition said. “The latest reported position was approximately 40 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza.”
This article was published initially by Ali Abunimah in the Electronic Intifada on August 6, 2018