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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Locals push for ceasefire resolution, point to explosives shipped from Wilmington harbor

The Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point leases land to Carolina Beach which was used for an unauthorized fleet maintenance facility resulting in the need for environmental remediation (Port City Daily Photo/MIKE KANE)
Trade statistics compiled on Wilmington’s port shipments show the most exported commodity was explosive ammunition and its top destination to be Israel. The country received 70% of the export that came from Wilmington.(Port City Daily Photo/file photo)

WILMINGTON — Calls for the Wilmington City Council to support a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war have not let up over the last few months and at least one council member has indicated support. 

READ MORE: Wilmington council mum on calls to pass Gaza ceasefire resolution

In an email obtained by Port City Daily, council member Salette Andrews told a constituent she had signed an open letter on the matter, but was the only member to do so.

“You will need to get a commitment from another member of the council to bring a resolution forth in order for it to at least get a second on the council,” Andrews wrote.

Council has fielded calls for a ceasefire resolution from several speakers for months now. The request isn’t abnormal; 100-plus municipalities have passed one, including the Raleigh City Council.

Andrews is the only member to so far indicate support for the cause; she did not return PCD’s request for comment Monday. 

Council member Charlie Rivenbark wrote he agreed with a constituent’s wish for council  to not sign a resolution. Council member Clifford Barnett told PCD in February he was gathering more information; he did not respond to PCD’s request for an update.

Per internal emails, council member Kevin Spears agreed to meet with some members of ILM for Peace in Palestine, a local coalition that supports the nonviolent BDS Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel. The group has facilitated multiple rallies, one at Thalian Hall with more than 100 protesters, calling for a ceasefire.

When asked to share how the meeting went, Spears told PCD on Monday “it was just a convo.” 

ILM for Peace in Palestine authored the resolution submitted to council, which states: 

“The federal government holds immense diplomatic power to save Israeli and Palestinian lives, and local governments play a role in our democracy as representatives of the community to urge needed legislative and policy changes at all levels.” 

Though fewer than the pro-ceasefire speakers, anti-resolution speakers claim passing a resolution will mean nothing in the grand scheme of an international conflict. 

“If the Wilmington City Council adopts the resolution, it will have a zero impact on the war in Gaza,” former council candidate Amy DeLoach said to council on March 2. “It will however drive further division in our city.”

However, as some pro-resolution speakers have noted in their remarks to council, Wilmington’s role in the global supply chain makes it an important piece of the military-industrial puzzle.

“Local CSX workers, longshoremen, tug operators, port workers and river pilots are party to the shipment of over a billion dollars of munitions shipped annually out of Wilmington and Sunny Point,” resident Steve Lee said at the April 2 council meeting.  

Trade statistics compiled on Wilmington harbor’s port shipments — the harbor is home to not only the Port of Wilmington, but also the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point — show the most exported commodity was explosive ammunition and its top destination to be Israel. The country received 70% of the export that came from Wilmington.

Port City Daily obtained the data through the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a visualization platform spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The site compiles trade data from government sources, including the U.S. Census.

The tool indicates Wilmington’s top export of 2023 to be explosive ammunition, making up 18.6% of its exports — no other item has anywhere near that high of a percentage. Top destinations included Saudi Arabia (32.8%), Qatar (20.7%) and Bahrain (13.2%). Israel made up 6% and would not become a top destination until 2024.

So far this year, explosive ammunition has made up 12.4% of Wilmington Harbor’s exports. Destinations other than Israel include the Netherlands, Spain, and Finland.

It is not clear if these exports come from the Port of Wilmington alone. At the mouth of the Cape Fear River sits the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, one of the largest military terminals in the world.

The terminal serves as a transfer point between rail, trucks, and ships for the import and export of weapons, ammunition, explosives and military equipment for the United States Army. It transferred munitions to every major armed conflict since it was established in the 1950s and was especially active during the Vietnam War. 

Port City Daily asked the Observatory of Economic Complexity for a breakdown of how much Sunny Point contributed its data on Wilmington shipping data. It did not provide a response by press. 

PCD also reached out to the U.S. Department of Defense; it said it does not typically provide information on military sales and transfers to the public. Between October and the beginning of March, the U.S. approved more than 100 military sales to Israel, but publicly disclosed details of two only. 

The North Carolina Ports Authority also would not verify its share of the data, spokesperson Elly Cosgrove stating it did not want to speculate when asked about the OEC data. 

“We don’t currently in our matrix of services have a service that goes to Israel,” Cosgrove said. “For clarity, this is referring to vessel services.” 

No further clarification was provided. 

In addition to port business, U.S. military contractor General Electric employs 3,300 locals at its Wilmington plant. In March, the company, which makes engines for Boeing’s (the U.S.’ third-largest military contractor) Apache helicopters, announced an expansion of its aerospace production in Wilmington.

“We have weapons exports right in our backyard,” resident Hanna Hearn said to council at its meeting on April 16. 

In October, transport workers at Belgian port refused to handle military equipment being sent to Israel. Other protests of shipments thought to be Israel-bound have occurred across the United States and abroad, including in Oakland, California; Tacoma, Washington; Melbourne, Australia; and Vancouver, Canada.

Earlier this month, the U.N. Human Rights Council called on countries to halt supplies of arms and munitions to Israel “in order to prevent further violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights.”

The Human Rights Council approved the resolution by a vote of 28-6, with 13 states abstaining. The United States and Germany, Israel’s two biggest arms suppliers, voted against the measure.

It’s been over a half-year since the war between the state of Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza began; Hamas took a hundred people hostage and murdered 1,200, mostly civilians. Since, the death toll for Palestinians in Gaza has surpassed 30,000 — over double that figure for injuries — and though the Gazan Health Ministry does not separate civilian deaths from combatants, the bulk of those killed are thought to be women and children.

Allegations of genocide have been taken up by the government of South Africa, who instituted proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice in December. In an interim ruling in January, the court found it is “plausible” that Israel has committed acts that violate the Genocide Convention. It also ordered Israel to ensure “with immediate effect” that its forces not commit any of the acts prohibited by the convention.

“Imagine that we would have to live our lives in fear every single day,” Horn told Wilmington City Council, imploring them to support a ceasefire. “Imagine that no matter how much we tried, we cannot protect our children from being killed. Imagine seeing the place you love and seeing the people that you love being decimated right before your eyes. And you have to count on decision makers that you’ve never met to decide to stop it.” 

Still, some community members worry signing a ceasefire resolution could sow division. 

DeLoach reported on March 2 that her synagogue has had to take up further security measures and create a safe room after it received a bomb threat in January. She said criticism of Israel does not equate to anti-semitism, but that anti-semites can weaponize the current discourse against the Jewish community. 

At the most recent meeting, Rabbi Benjamin Shull said some people in his community had received threatening emails and phone calls. 

“I wish they would put their signs down,” Rabbi Benjamin Shull said April 16, in reference to the pro-ceasefire activists. “Because the majority of people here in this community know that you are taking the valuable time of these people, who are here to serve the needs of this community, by your misguided efforts.”

However, the issue is not split cleanly along ethnic or religious lines. 

“This is not about division; this is about calling for the violence to end,” Jewish resident August Schaller said. “This is about our city using its position on the state, national and global stage to denounce brutality.”

[Editor’s Note: The spelling of Hanna Hearn’s name has been updated. PCD regrets the error.]

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at

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