29 March 2009
Since Friday 13th March 2009, 16 fishermen from the Gaza Strip have been abducted by the Israeli Navy.
12 were abducted while fishing off the coast of Beit Lahia;
Zaki Mostafa Tarowsh, 44; Ismaeen Zaki Tarowsh, 16; Thaher Mahmoud Zayad, 45; and Nedal Thaher Zayad, 23 were abducted on Friday 13/02/2009.
Kamel Deeb Alankah, 57; and Yoness Deeb Zayal, 36 were abducted on Wednesady 18/03/2009.
Ramzy Mostafah Alsultan,36; Anes Mohammed Alsultan, 20; Ashraf Hossan Alsultan, 34; Mohammed Hossan Alsultan, 23; Mahmoud Mohammed Zayad, 23; and Fahme Salah Abu Reash, 18 were all abducted on Thursday 19/03/2009.
4 were abducted on Wednesday 25th March while fishing near Rafah;
Mohammed Abulah An Najjar, 26; Khalil abdullah an najjar, 20 ;Yousif Abdullah An Najjar, 18 ; and Ali Hasan an Najjar,18.
The fishermen were forced at gunpoint to strip naked and swim from their boats to the Israeli warships. After being taken to Ashdod they were all released within 24 hours. The Israeli Navy have however impounded all of their boats – 7 in total.
International law, and various agreements to which Israel is a signatory indeed recognise that the Fishermen from Gaza have a right to fish at least 12 miles from shore at a bare minimum. In practice however a “law of the gun” has been enforced by the Israeli Navy, and this right has been denied to them.
According to numerous reports from the international media the Israeli Navy were enforcing a no fishing zone 6 miles from shore prior to the wholesale attacks on the population of the Gaza Strip. It has been commonly reported that in the wake of these attacks, this limit has been reduced to 3 miles.
The fishermen abducted from Beit Lahia however say that this is not the whole story, and that for them, the limit has been reduced to a mere 200m. Were this not bad enough, all of them were actually within this limit when they were abducted. Several of them say that whilst in captivity, when they told Israeli investigators where they had been abducted from, the investigators expressed surprise and told them “… but that is not a forbidden area.”
It is unclear what the Israeli military regard as the official “forbidden” area. There are no official channels of communication open between the Israeli Navy and the fishermen from Gaza. All the information regarding this that the fishermen have is delivered at gunpoint, and is inconsistent with the actions of the gunboat crews. Experience informs the fishermen that at any moment any portion of Gaza’s territorial waters can be deemed “prohibited” by the gunboat crews, no matter how close to shore, and irrespective of what the gunboat commanders have previously decreed (the status of these decrees as both arbitrary and illegal in the context of international law should also be noted).
This uncertainty is further compounded by what the fishermen say are unusually high levels of aggression by the gunboats. On the 17th March 2009 a gunboat crew shot Deeb Alankah, in the arm and the back. He was less than 200m from shore near Beit Lahia, and says that no warning was given to him nor demand made before he was shot. Other fishermen confirm that typically when the Israeli gun boats begin shooting at them, they now do so without warning.
Deeb’s father Kamel Deeb Alankah was one of the fishermen abducted on the day after his son was shot. He says of his interrogation;
“A colonel in the intelligence said “We shot Deeb by mistake.”
I told him “why you shot at us, on the sands and the small boats, you killed us.”
He said all of this by mistakes, I said “no its not by mistake, when the shots hit a boat 3 meters long? Is that by mistake?””
Israel is refusing to return the 7 fishing boats – the sole means of income for fishermen already greatly impoverished by the siege on the Gaza Strip.