On Friday 31st October, 2008, seven trawling vessels from the port of Gaza City were accompanied by ten international human rights observers. Activists from the International Solidarity Movement were joined by volunteers from the Free Gaza Movement who reached Gaza on October 29th on the MV Dignity. The fishing fleet left port at about 07:30.
By about 10:00 the fleet had scattered slightly and a couple of Israeli naval gunboats were on the scene, followed by a naval ship bearing a high-pressure water cannon on its bow. Two fishing vessels, approximately ten nautical miles offshore, endured a drawn-out onslaught from the water cannon. Throughout the morning different fishing boats were harassed by a number of Israeli naval vessels.
One of the fishing boats suffered particularly brutal attacks both in the morning and then later in the afternoon. From 11:00 to 11:50 it was attacked by an Israeli naval gunboat marked ‘832’ which fired machine guns in its general direction as well as shells from a cannon mounted on its foredeck. At one point, rounds of live ammunition were fired just a metre away from fishermen and an ISM activist onboard, seriously endangering their lives. They were at the stern of the vessel as the fishermen worked to raise their net and the navy was shooting at the net as it was being hauled in. The fishermen were experiencing some difficulties due to damage caused to their equipment. The navy was contacted via VHF radio but no reply was received. At 12:30, gunboat ‘832’ reappeared and began to threaten the trawler with intermittent gunfire, lasting until 12:45.
At 14:45 the same fishing boat headed out to approximately nine nautical miles offshore and was approached by a different naval gunboat – this time marked ‘907’ – which opened fire in a similar fashion to gunboat ‘832’. It was then joined by the naval ship armed with the water cannon. The navy proceeded to use this weapon against the fishing vessel and the persons onboard in a sustained attack.
A Palestinian fisherman was injured by flying glass when the high-pressure water smashed all the windows in the wheelhouse, despite them having been boarded up. He suffered a deep laceration on his right arm and was bleeding profusely. The fishermen signalled to gunboat ‘907’ that they had an injured person onboard, but the navy continued its assault regardless. The ISM activist on-board received blows from the water jet to the right-hand side of her body, particularly her head, neck and shoulder. It was not possible to communicate with the navy via VHF radio, as the set onboard the fishing vessel had become waterlogged and was no longer functioning.
One of the trawlers accompanied by both an ISM activist and a Free Gaza Movement volunteer was also severely attacked. According to David Schermerhorn of the FGM,
“Three naval vessels attacked us with machine gun fire and water cannons. All three boats have machine guns on board, one of them has a huge water cannon. The water from the cannon was so fierce, it blasted a lot of the equipment overboard as well as my GPS locator. At the time of the attack, we were about 9 miles offshore fishing. Several of us got on the radio to the Israeli navy and shouted, “We are human rights watchers. We are unarmed internationals, and we are recording everything you are doing. They completely ignored us and continued menacing all of the boats.”
These incidents constitute a serious breach of the current ceasefire agreement, not to mention a violation of international human rights law.