Mask off Maersk targets the suppliers of Israel’s genocide in Gaza

The Palestinian Youth Movement takes on a transnational campaign, targeting logistics giant Maersk which has transported over USD 300 million in weapons components to US arms manufacturers

June 13, 2024 by Natalia Marques
PYM members in the San Francisco Bay Area hold rally outside of. Emeryville Maersk office (Photo: PYM)

On the last day of the People’s Conference for Palestine, a mass convening of thousands of organizers and participants in the movement for Palestine, held in Detroit from May 24 to 26, the Palestinian Youth Movement announced that they would be undertaking a new transnational campaign. The campaign is to target logistics giant Maersk, one of the largest shipping companies in the world, and also responsible for transporting over USD 300 million in weapons components to US arms manufacturers since October. In a context where 68% of Israel’s weapons come from the US, the role that Maersk plays in the ongoing genocide in Gaza is fundamental. 

PYM is seeking to apply enough pressure on Maersk to cut ties with Israel and stop supplying weapons for genocide. This is not an unprecedented demand, as in March of 2022 the Copenhagen-based company suspended all shipments to Russia, claiming it was “deeply concerned” with the war in Ukraine.

“This exception is to underline that our company is focusing on social responsibility and making the efforts to support society despite all the complications and uncertainties within the current supply chain to/from Russia,” the company said in a statement.

On June 11, the Palestinian Youth Movement launched their first day of action against Maersk, in which PYM chapters around the world made efforts to make Maersk a household name for their role in genocide. Peoples Dispatch spoke to a PYM representative in Britain to learn more about their new campaign, “Mask off Maersk.”

PYM will be holding a virtual rally for the Mask off Maersk campaign on Saturday, at 7 pm BST, 2 pm EST, and 11 am PST. PYM organizers have also called on people to sign their petition demanding that Maersk cut ties with genocide, and for organizations to endorse the campaign

Palestinian Youth Movement Members drop banner in Dallas (Photo: PYM)

Peoples Dispatch: Why has the PYM decided to target Maersk in particular? 

Palestinian Youth Movement: We decided to take on a logistics company before we decided to take on Maersk specifically, because we had identified the industry logistics as invisible profiteers of this genocide in Gaza. They play a critical part in the global weapons supply chain, and tend to get away with it. Their role is made invisible, including in this current genocide.

Weapons components are usually manufactured in different countries around the world. So, for example, the wings of the F-35 fighter jet are made by Tata Group in India, and they’re also made by Leonardo in Italy, among other places. Here in Britain where I’m based, we have BAE Systems which has partnerships with companies like Lockheed Martin that make the engines for the F-35 fighter jets. 

These components are made in different places around the world, then they’re transported by logistics companies to the United States, where most of the kind of manufacturing of these weapons happens. For companies like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, Maersk transports weapons from around the world to the US for these companies to then assemble the weapons.

We know that the large majority, almost 70%, of Israel’s weapons come from the United States. Maersk, as the industry leader of logistics, plays a critical part in the weapons supply chain. Since the beginning of this genocide, it has transported over USD 300 million worth of weapons components. And that’s why we’re targeting Maersk specifically.

PD: What are the precise demands that you are leveraging against Maersk? 

PYM: We have three demands. The first one is to stop transporting weapons and weapons components. The second is to cut all contracts that enable the genocide of our people in Gaza. And the third is to enforce an arms embargo.

PD: What is the role of the logistics industry in terms of the genocide in Gaza? 

PYM: Without the logistics companies, the weapons that currently arrive on the shores of Gaza and are being used to perpetrate war crimes in Gaza would not reach the Zionist entity of Israel. It’s these logistics companies that are transporting these components to the US where they’re manufactured. They are also critical in the transportation of weapons from the US to Israel via their relationship with the US Department of Defense.

We’ve seen, since the beginning of this genocide, but also for years now, a real energy around arms embargo as a target, and targeting weapons, weapons manufacturing, and targeting the global weapons supply chain—but there is very little to show in terms of the success of those campaigns.

That’s because in a lot of ways, the governments themselves are not willing to stop transporting weapons to Israel because it is in their imperial interests. And for the weapons manufacturers, it’s their whole business—their whole business is creating weapons. You would need to put them out of business for a campaign to be winnable.

Whereas with a company like Maersk, the transportation of weapons only comprises a small part of their business—14% of their profit margin. If we isolate that part of their business, we can actually launch a campaign that is winnable, that can achieve material gains for our people in Gaza.

A lot of these campaigns we’ve seen so far have been really effective, but have predominantly targeted a single weapons supplier. We’ve seen Palestine Action effectively target Elbit systems. Elbit systems as one of multiple weapon suppliers. By targeting logistics companies that transport weapons for all major weapon suppliers, we’re actually targeting all weapons manufacturers and all weapons component manufacturers rather than just targeting a single one.

PYM Houston members drop a banner denouncing Maersk’s role in genocide. Photo: PYM

PD: Can you elaborate on the details of the strategy? Has a campaign of this nature existed before? 

PYM: This campaign has four fronts: media and narrative, mobilization, labor, and city and campus. 

The purpose of the media and narrative component is to popularize the target. Before I started doing research into logistics companies, I’d never heard of Maersk. Our goal is to make Maersk a household name, so that everyone knows the insidious but invisible role these logistics companies play in the imperial war machine.

The second front is mobilization. This includes protesting at Maersk sites, coordinated disruptions across their logistical networks. They operate by land, air and sea. So thinking about how we can disrupt across all of those different ways in which they function. Days of action with a diversity of tactics. We actually had our first day of action on June 11, where PYM chapters around the world adopted different tactics to target Maersk and popularize the target and their locales. 

Also, agitating the local community around Maersk sites in their area. For example, here in Britain, one of the Maersk offices is in Maidenhead, which is an area of Britain where there’s a big Syrian refugee community. And so thinking about agitating that community to take action around the fact that there is a Maersk office in their backyard. 

These mobilization strategies draw on both mass mobilization, which take inspiration from other anti-war movements, but also direct action. It takes both a mass-based and a direct action approach. 

Our labor strategy aims to advance the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions position that the handling of arms destined for Israel is a Palestinian-led picket line. What we’re trying to do with the labor strategy is to build working class, rank and file power for Palestine through Maersk as a vehicle to do that, through organizing Maersk workers themselves, but also organizing workers outside of logistics to get their workplaces to cut ties or to divest.

In the context of labor, we are inspired by a lot of previous examples of workers taking action. An example from here in Britain is the group of Rolls Royce factory workers in Scotland that refused to handle engines at the factory because those engines were destined for Chile, for the Pinochet regime, to use against the popular masses, as part of their fascist dictatorship. 

And for the city and campus front, the aim is for universities to cut ties or divest from Maersk, to harness the great energy from the student encampments and think about how we can channel that towards something that is coordinated across an international and also student-wide multi-sector approach. Additionally, getting local councils or city councils to cut ties or divest from Maersk, and also pension fund divestment from Maersk.

PD: How does this campaign relate to the role that Palestinian youth organizers have in the diaspora, in the centers of imperialism?

PYM: We understand our role in the diaspora as fighting one of multiple fronts against imperialism and also against Zionism. We understand the ICJ and the ICC as a front, we understand youth organizing in the diaspora as a front, we understand Palestinians organizing in Palestine as a front. We have a really important role to play as part of this multi-front strategy to support the liberation of Palestine.

We understand that the importance of our role from within the imperial core is to create a crisis in imperialism, and there is no better way to create a crisis in imperialism than to disrupt the global flow of capital and logistics. These companies are the par excellence example of how the global flow of capital occurs and has historically occurred. 

The logistics companies first came about as tools of empire to move goods between the peripheries and the imperial core. So we understand the historical legacy of logistics companies in furthering imperial interests. This is the case today as well. 

PD: There was a national day of action on June 11. Can you describe some of the actions that happened on that day, and also what is coming next? 

PYM: The purpose of the day of action was to popularize Maersk as a target, to unmask Maersk. Once you see Maersk, once you recognize the logo, you start seeing it everywhere. That’s the kind of impact we’re trying to have in terms of making people understand the invisible but pervasive role that these logistics companies play. 

Different chapters took up different strategies. The LA-OC-Inland Empire chapter of the PYM did a sit-in at Maersk offices. We had multiple chapters do banner drops on major highways. These are often highways that Maersk trucks pass through. These are people that are likely to drive next to Maersk trucks and have no idea the role that Maersk the Maersk plays.

In Britain, we also did a sit-in at Maersk offices in Maidenhead, and as part of that we also had a community outreach and worker outreach component of the action. We had some of our members leafleting the local community and having conversations with the local community about the fact that there are Maersk offices in their area, and these are the ways that Maersk is complicit. We had people that took up a worker-liaison role ,who were talking to Maersk office workers and Maersk workers as they were coming into work in the mornings, who were there at 8 a.m. A lot of the workers we spoke to had no idea that Maersk plays this role in transporting weapons. Obviously, they know they work for a logistics company, but didn’t know that Maersk was transporting weapons components specifically. 

So a big part of what we were doing was actually raising popular consciousness amongst the local community and amongst Maersk’s workforce themselves about the role that Maersk plays in the genocide of Palestine.

What’s to come is that we’re expecting to kind of continue along all the four fronts of work. 

We’re planning to continue the media and narrative strategy. We have a few opinion pieces that are set to come out in the next week or so, getting deeper into the role that Maersk has historically and contemporarily played in the imperial war machine.

In terms of mobilization, we’re planning on continuing to mobilize and escalate our mobilizations.

In terms of the labor strategy, we’re hoping to work with a lot of trade unions, including the International Transport Federation and with the Longshoremen’s Union to organize workers around Maersk as a target.

In terms of city and campus, we’re planning on making sure we understand which universities and which city councils have investments or partnerships with Maersk, and then supporting student-led and community-led campaigns for divestment.