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Indian port workers refuse to handle Israel weapon shipments

A trade union representing workers at 11 major Indian ports says it will refuse to operate shipments carrying weapons to Israel amid the ongoing war in Gaza, days after reports emerged that Indian-made drones are being shipped to Tel Aviv.

The Water Transport Workers Federation of India said in a statement that it has decided to “refuse to load or unload weaponised cargoes” from Israel or any other country which could handle military equipment for “war in Palestine”.

“We the Port workers, part of labour unions would always stand against the war and killing [of] innocent people like women and children,” a statement by the union said.

The union represents more than 3,500 workers at 11 government-owned ports in India.

"Women and children have been blown to pieces in the war. Parents were unable to recognise their children killed in bombings that were exploding everywhere," the statement added.

Israel has continued its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip after vowing to eradicate Hamas following the group’s terror attack on southern Israel on 7 October, in which some 1,200 Israelis died and hundreds of civilians were taken hostage.

More than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed in the four-month war since, the Gaza health ministry said on Monday, as hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been pushed to the brink of starvation and much of the Strip’s civilian infrastructure has been destroyed.

In an interview with the Middle East Eye, T Narendra Rao, general secretary of the Water Transport Workers Federation of India, said they will “boycott” handling of any vessel carrying arms or ammunitions or weaponised cargo to Israel.

At this stage the move is largely a symbolic measure to express solidarity with the Palestinians as, he said, the union’s workers have yet to be involved in any weapons shipments to Israel since the Gaza war began.

The boycott comes after The Independent previously reported that an apparel manufacturing firm in India decided to halt further orders to make Israeli police uniforms on “humanitarian grounds”.

Palestinians mourn over their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardments of the Gaza Strip at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Palestinians mourn over their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardments of the Gaza Strip at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The trade union is an affiliate of the World Federation of Trade Unions, a global body, and it was inspired to take this measure at a recent meeting in Athens where a number of union representatives expressed solidarity with Palestinians dying in the war.

“We decided them that we would do our bit and not handle any weapon-laden cargo, which will go onto assist Israel to kill more women and children as we are seeing and reading every day in the news,” the union told Indian news website The Wire.

Palestinians chant Islamic slogans while carry the bodies of children killed in the Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip in front of the morgue at Al Aqsa hospital (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Palestinians chant Islamic slogans while carry the bodies of children killed in the Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip in front of the morgue at Al Aqsa hospital (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

It comes days after it was reported that the Israeli army received 20 Indian-made Hermes 900 drones that have been used on the besieged strip.

A source at Adani Group, which runs 12 ports across several states, told The Wire that the drones were supplied to Israel.

The deal has not been acknowledged publicly by India or Israel, which share close relations, despite India being among the international allies of Tel Aviv that have called for a two-state solution to the war.

India has also been actively recruiting and training a migrant labour workforce to be sent to Israel to replace Palestinian workers, amid an acute shortage during the war. Recruitment drives are going on across Indian cities to recruit 10,000 to 20,000 workers for Israel in the coming months.