Gaza City, 10 a.m.- Fifteen Palestinian fishermen and 3 international Human Rights Observers (HRO’s) were surrounded by the Israeli Navy and taken from their boats 7 miles off the coast of Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip.
The fishermen and the HRO’s were transferred from 3 separate boats to the Israeli warships. Other Palestinian fishermen reported that the 3 boats were seen being taken north by the Israeli Navy.
The Human Rights Observers are Andrew Muncie, a Scottish British citizen, Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian citizen, and Darlene Wallach, an American citizen. They have been volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) since they entered Gaza on ships with the first Free Gaza Movement voyage on the 23rd August 2008. All internationals have previous experience working with the ISM in the West Bank.
Fellow activists have been unable to establish contact with the HRO’s or with the fishermen since they were abducted.
Since their arrival, the ISM volunteers have been regularly accompanying Palestinian fishermen who are regularly attacked by Israeli navy vessels from as little as 3km from shore. They have regularly filmed Israeli forces using live ammunition, shells and water cannons against unarmed fishermen.
When confronted by the Israeli Navy, the boats were 7 nautical miles from the shore of Deir al Balah, well within the fishing limit detailed in the Oslo Accords of 1994.
With regular claims that from the Israeli government that it has ‘disengaged’ from Gaza, these patrols and attacks from the Israeli navy, regularly occuring from as little as 3 miles from shore, represent a clear signal of the continuation of occupation of Gazan territory as well as regular breaches of the current cease-fire.
Over 40,000 people in Gaza make a living from the fishing industry, yet this community has been decimated by Israeli restrictions on fishing rights and the prevention of fuel from reaching the Gaza Strip.
According to the Fishing Syndicate in Gaza, fishermen need 40,000 litres of fuel and 40,000 litres of natural gas each day to operate throughout the high fishing season.
Starting in April each year, there is a migration of fish from the Nile Delta to Turkish waters which Palestinian fishermen have traditionally relied upon. Yet Israel limits fishing 6 miles from the Gaza shore and regularly attacks those who venture further than 3 miles – over 70 fishermen were arrested last year by the Israeli forces. The large schools that form the migration are usually found 10 miles from shore. The average catch of fish was over 3000 tons a year in the 1990’s, now it is around 500 tons directly due to the Israeli siege of Gaza.
Also, the water in which the fishermen of Gaza sail in is now receiving 50 million litres of sewage per day because the people of Gaza have no alternative due to the lack of power supplies to sewage treatment facilities.