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ISM Rafah: ‘Ban the Israeli navy from Gazan territorial waters’

Gazan Territorial Fishing Waters, Gaza Strip. 17th September 2008. On Wednesday 17th September I, along with two other volunteers from ISM Rafah, went out with three different fishing boats from the Gaza City port to trawl for fish. We left the port at about 8:30am.

I was on a boat with fishermen I already knew. We went out about seven and a half miles, put out the net and began to trawl. It wasn’t long before an Israeli Naval gunboat approached, and circled around. The fishermen requested from me to speak with the Israeli Navy. I did make contact with them, telling them that “we were Palestinian fishermen fishing in Gazan waters. Palestinians have the right to fish in Gazan waters, they have the right to a livelihood and to feed their families.”

Someone on the Israeli Naval gunboat said in Hebrew that it was forbidden for the Palestinian fishermen to be out past six miles. I replied that according to International Law, the Palestinian fishermen had the right to fish beyond twelve miles in their territorial waters. His response was to call me “bitch”. Soon after the gunboat opened fire on the fishing boat, aiming, what appeared to me to be toward the center of the boat. The fishermen quickly pulled in their net, not wanting their boat or any of the equipment to be damaged by the gunfire.

We drove back towards the Gaza coast until we reached about six miles out and began trawling again. The gunboat came by again and circled around menacingly. Off in the distance we saw the large Israelli Naval gunboat that has the water cannon stationed at the fore of the boat. We were expecting to get drenched, but were pleasantly surprised when it continued past us without stopping or even aiming the water cannon at us.

The Israeli Navy contacted the boat via VHF again reiterating that it was forbidden for them to fish out beyond six miles. This is an abomination! The large quantities of fish are out beyond the six mile limit, as are the larger fish. The fishermen need to be able to fish in their territorial waters, when and where they want.

It is an outrage that Israeli Naval gunboats patrol the Territorial Gazan Waters at will. They harass, threaten, shoot, damage and terrorize the Palestinian fishermen, their boats and fishing equipment. The Israeli Navy often limits the Palestinian fishermen from fishing beyond three or four miles, and sometimes they aren’t permitted to fish at all – this would not be tolerated any place else in the world. Fishing is one of the few sources of Palestinian food left in Gaza Strip. The Israeli Occupation Forces have destroyed much of the farm land and have established an illegal buffer zone on much of the agricultural farm land within the Strip, denying Palestinian farmers their livelihood and the right to feed their families. Making 80% of the Palestinians living in Gaza Strip totally dependent on food aid from UNWRA.

It is time that these collective punishments upon the entire population of Gaza Strip end. The Palestinian people have the human right to live in freedom. Parents have the human right to provide for their children. Children have the human right to go to school and students have the human right to attend University. Farmers have the right to farm their land and fishermen have the right to fish in Gazan territorial waters. This siege must end. Be creative, put pressure on the Apartheid State of Israel to end the siege now – tell your families, your friends, your co-workers that this situation can no longer be tolerated. Ban the Israeli Navy from Gazan Territorial Waters.