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Activist puts himself on the (front) line of Gaza’s fishing war

By Ben Lynfield

To view original article, published by MidEast Youth on the 3rd November, click here

Friday was a typical day at sea for Scottish pro-Palestinian activist Andrew Muncie, with Israeli machine gunfire raking the waters around the boat carrying him and the Palestinian fishermen whose cause he has embraced..

Mr. Muncie, 34, from Glasgow, Scotland is a non-violent participant in the little known battle off Gaza’s coast between the state of the art ships of the Middle East’s most powerful military and the rickety motor boats of Gaza’s fishing fleet.

On Friday, “there were three or four bursts in the general direction of our boat,” said Mr. Muncie, who makes his living as an online poker player. “In such a situation when we have cameras we start filming.”

“Two hours later, at around 1:00 pm, a large Israeli navy ship fired its water cannon against the boat for three or four minutes precisely when the fisherman were pulling in their nets.” Mr.Muncie added

Mr. Muncie said that the first incident occurred about 9 miles off the Gaza coast but that other boats he has been on have been stopped with Israeli machine gun fire as little as two or three miles off the coast. In response to a question for this article, Israeli army officials declined to specify what the fishing limit is.

The Israeli military says it takes action against the Gaza boats in order to thwart attempts to smuggle weapons and explosives into the Strip “Unfortunately, Gaza is turning more and more into a barrel of explosives, smuggled through the sea and through tunnels from Egypt,” says Israeli army spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovitch.

But Mr. Muncie and Israeli human rights groups say that Israel is harming fishermen who are simply trying to make a living. “Israel has the right to protect its population from threats but these measures have an impact on a greater population instead of those involved in attacks,” says Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman of Israel’s B’tselem human rights group. “The impact of this, like other Israeli measures is to harm the economy. Fishermen can hardly leave shallow water before they are harassed.”

Maj. Leibovitch, the army spokeswoman, counters:“We have no intention to harm and do not act in a way to harm innocent people trying to make a living. The problem is with people smuggling explosives.”

Mr. Muncie is one of six volunteers affiliated with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement who escort fishermen. He arrived in Gaza in August from Cyprus on a boat that successfully—to his surprise—challenged the Israeli blockade of the Strip.He plans to stay in Gaza for another two months, he said.

One fisherman Mohammed Musleh, who was without foreign escort was seriously wounded in the leg by Israeli gunfire last month. “The Israeli soldiers and higher commanders are quite well aware they can shoot Palestinian civilians without any recourse and even without negative publicity,” Mr. Muncie says. “They are aware that the same doesn’t apply to foreigners like myself.”

“You see the soldiers on the boat with large machine guns opening fire. The feeling is they are firing at you and your heart jumps. But in retrospect I don’t believe they were trying to hit me because if they wanted to they would have done so.”

“All forms of non-violent resistance involve some calculated risk, what we do is a non-violent reaction to violent oppression and one has to accept these risks. The fishermen accept that they must face risks to just go about their jobs and feed their families. If they were to take no risks whatsoever they wouldn’t be able to fish at all, the Israelis would just push them further and further back to shore”

Mr. Muncie first became interested in the Palestinian issue in 2002 when a television report prompted him to find out more about the conflict and he “became aware there was a military occupation of several decades violating human rights and that it wasn’t two equal sides, it wasn’t a conventional military conflict.” He previously volunteered with ISM in the West Bank flashpoint of Hebron.

Maj. Leibovitch, the military spokeswoman, said that any explosives smuggled into Gaza would end up being used against Israeli civilians. “Unfortunately, our long and sad experience shows us there is no specific criteria for the average terrorist. It could be a fisherman, it could be a grandmother, it could be an educated scholar, it could be a woman who has a family. That’s why we suspect different angles of the population.”