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ISM Rafah: Fishing under occupation

Report written by Donna Wallach, ISM volunteer in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine

Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine, 21st September, 2008. On Sunday 21st September, about 5 fishing boats trawled the coast from the Gaza City port. I was on a boat that had been water cannoned the previous day and many of their nets had been damaged as a result. The crew spent most of the morning repairing the nets and at 11:40am we finally left the port for a full day of trawling.

At 12:30pm in the distance we saw two Israeli Naval gunboats, one was very large and was equipped with the water cannon. The regular sized gunboat started patrolling between three fishing boats that were in the same area. At 12:55pm that gunboat started harassing and shooting at one of the fishing boats headed south. I don’t know how far it was offshore, but it definitely wasn’t beyond six miles. At 1:10pm that same gunboat shot at the boat I was on and a soldier yelled “Go south”.

After some time passed and the gunboat was not in the area, the captain of our boat steered towards the north, there are larger fish in the northern Gazan waters, and apparently very tasty – and the fishermen REALLY wanted to catch as many of those fish as they could this day.

As we continued in our north east direction we saw the gunboat with the water cannon pass in the distance. At 1:40pm we saw another regular sized Israeli Naval gunboat approaching. It moved alongside in a threatening move as if to say, don’t go out any further into the sea! Ten minutes later the water cannon gunboat arrived and dowsed our boat and most of the crew with high powered blasts of water. One crew member, Ahmed, fell on the slippery deck and hurt his knee. For some unknown reason the gunboat only water cannoned us once for a brief time, causing no damage to the boat or the nets. I do not know what impact the water cannon has on the fish, much of the high powered blasts of water hit the sea and often times the net too. In any case, as in previous occasions, the smaller gunboat positioned itself on the opposite side of our boat from the water cannon gunboat, ready to shoot and posing a threat, besides blocking us in from escape from the deluge of high powered water. In addition, there were strong waves from the movement of the larger gunboat making our boat rock from side to side and increasing the danger from the blasting water and wet, slippery deck.

Later on in the afternoon, around 3:10, another Israeli Naval gunboat approached very quickly and forced us away from our position in the north of the Gazan territorial fishing waters. Soldiers were shouting to go south, among other things. The gunboat continued to circle our boat in very close proximity and was threatening to shoot. As we changed course and headed south, the gunboat proceeded to circle the boat for a while, and then left.

After the gunboat had been gone for a while, the captain of our boat changed course again and returned to the north, heading closer to shore, the goal of catching that specific fish had not been abandoned. At 4:00pm an Israeli Naval gunboat quickly approached, as it drew nearer I spoke on the VHF informing the Navy that “we are Palestinian fishermen, we are pulling in our net of fish. We have the right to be here. These are internationally recognized Gazan fishing waters. Over.” I repeated this a number of times. Finally a soldier on the gunboat arrogantly replied: “You don’t have the right to be here. Take your fish and go south.” We continued to pull in the net and headed south and out to sea. Only two netfulls of fish and neither of them were big catches, however, they did succeed to catch a number of boxes of the fish they were fishing for and for that they were happy.

The fishing boat headed into port after the sun set, and after eating the evening meal breaking the Ramadan fast for the day. They dropped me off, thanked me for my support, and headed back out to sea for an entire night of fishing. They had been fishing for two days and nights already.

The Israeli Navy controls the Gazan territorial waters under its illegal Occupation of the entire region and its siege of the Gaza Strip. Every day Palestinian fishermen face very real threats to their livelihood, their well being and their lives – a direct result of this decades long Israeli Occupation and this 2 year long siege. The Palestinian fishermen have the human right to a livelihood – to go out and fish, earn a living, feed their families and live their lives. The siege must end, the Occupation must end.