The Israeli navy continuously attacked Palestinian fishing boats in Gaza throughout yesterday (4th November), using live ammunition and a high-powered water cannon containing a noxious chemical substance.
International Human Rights Observers (HROs) accompanying several fishing boats off the coast of Gaza approximately 8 nautical miles from shore reported that the Israeli navy constantly shot live ammunition extremely close to the boats, damaging many of the fishing nets in the process.
The international HROs also reported the use of a high-powered water cannon that was continuously used against the boats. Not only does this water cannon regularly damages the fishing boats themselves, the HROs have reported that recently the water has contained a foul smelling chemical substance. It is assumed that this substance is the same that has been frequently used by Israeli forces against the non- violent protests against the construction of the annexation barrier in the West Bank villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin. The substance have however been taken for separate chemical analysis.
With the boats fishing 8 nautical miles from shore, this is 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.
The use of chemical substances by the Israeli navy on Gazan fishermen outside of internationally recognised Israeli territorial waters, such as that occurred today, also directly contradicts the Chemical Weapons Convention that took force in 1997 and that is ratified by 149 countries. Within the convention it is detailed that “Each state party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), while citing the Chemical Weapons Convention, has made repeated statements on the use of chemical weapons, whether deemed ‘lethal’ or ‘non-lethal’, notably, “It should be emphasized that in situations of armed conflict this absolute prohibition applies to all biological and chemical agents, whether labeled “lethal” or “non-lethal”
Israel cannot claim that it has ‘disengaged’ from the Gaza Strip and not be in clear and direct contravention of these statements.
The violent attacks on Gazan fishermen by the Israeli navy appears to have escalated in recent weeks. International HROs have reported that
live ammunition is being fired continuously closer to the boats, while the damage to fishing boats has also increased.
On the 5th of October Mohammed Musleh was severely injured while fishing off the the coast of the Gaza Strip. He was shot with a 50mm bullet in the leg. He was recently transferred to Jerusalem, after much delay at the Erez, crossing in efforts to save his leg.
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.
Not only this, but the brutal effects of the siege, 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.