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Launch of international boat to monitor human rights in Palestinian waters

17 April 2010 | Civil Peace Service Gaza

Civil Peace Service Gaza

Civil Peace Service Gaza

On Wednesday April 20th, the “Oliva”, a human rights monitoring boat with an international crew, will launch from the port of Gaza City. The crew of the Civil Peace Service, which currently consists of citizens from Spain, the United States, Italy and Belgium, will accompany Gazan fishermen within Palestinian waters. Violations of international law will be monitored and documented. Data and video materials will be collected and disseminated.

Vittorio Arrigoni, the murdered human rights activist, was involved in setting up this project and therefore a commemoration will be held at the end of the press conference. As Vik was involved in choosing the name of the boat and expressed his desire for it not to be named after an individual, the boat will be going by the name Oliva, which he supported, but the mission will carry on in his spirit.

The launch of Oliva, an 8-meter long white motor boat, will inaugurate the Civil Peace Services mission in Palestinian waters. Since Operation Cast Lead, access to fishing grounds has been unilaterally restricted by Israel to 3 nautical miles. This dramatic reduction of the 20-mile limit which was agreed upon in the Oslo Accords has resulted in the over-exploitation of fishing grounds in which stocks are close to exhaustion. Fishermen are threatened by gunfire, confiscation of their boats and fishing tools and arrest by the Israeli Navy which regularly launches attacks and incursions in Palestinian waters.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, nearly 90% of Gaza’s 4000 fishermen are now considered either poor (with a monthly income of between 100 and 190 US dollars) or very poor (earning less than 100 dollars a month), up from 50% in 2008.

The launching of the Oliva is a response to this situation of extreme vulnerability. A wide range of international organizations are supporting this initiative which comes in cooperation with local organizations, such as the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committees, the Union of Agriculture Committees and Fishing and Marine Sports Association.

Media information:

  • Audio-visual and graphics materials are available.
  • Interested media can board the Oliva.

A Civil Peace Service for Palestinian waters: Press File

The Gaza Strip: General Overview
Steadily deteriorating since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has worsened dramatically in the last decade. From the launch of the Second Intifada in 2000 to the current escalation of violence, Israeli policies have done nothing but keep 1.6 million people-over half of them children-condemned to a situation of extreme vulnerability.

The deceptive disengagement plan-unilaterally approved by Israel and enacted in 2005-did not result in an effective easing of Israel’s control over fundamental aspects of the lives of Palestinian in Gaza such as their access to farming land and fishing stocks and their right to move freely within and out of the Strip’s territory. In 2007, following Hamas’ victory in the 2006 legislative elections, Israel imposed an unprecedented land, air and sea blockade, which turned the area into an open air prison.

On 27 December 2008, without warning, Israeli forces began a devastating bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip codenamed Operation Cast Lead. According to figures cited by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 1,440 Palestinians were killed over a three week period, including 431 children and 114 women. A further 5,380 Palestinians were injured[1]. For almost a month, the population of Gaza was subjected to incessant bombing raids by the Israeli forces. These attacks targeted not only military assets but also civilian infrastructures and densely populated areas in a clear case of collective punishment in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. The war further compromised the already precarious situation of Gaza residents. The destruction of livelihoods, key medical and educational facilitates, and private property left the Gaza Strip in an utterly desperate situation which, due to the extreme restrictions still imposed by Israel, has not been overcome.

After the deadly and illegal attack on the Freedom Flotilla, Israel announced in June 2010 a package of measures aimed at “easeing” access restrictions. However, as stated in OCHA’s latest Special Focus report, these measures have not resulted in significant improvements in people’s livelihoods due to the pivotal remaining restrictions[2]. Six months after the measures were announced, inflow of building materials was at only 11% of pre-blockade. The minimal increase in food imports has been further compromised by the global rise in food prices. As of February 2011, according to OCHA’s projections in its February Humanitarian Monitor, close to 54% of Gaza’s households are food insecure and, according to UNRWA, unemployment rate has reached a staggering 45.5%[3].

The Sea of Gaza: fishermen’s endangered livelihood
Israeli control over Gaza’s crucial resources has also been imposed on the sea. Palestinian territorial waters have been progressively reduced from the 20 nm offshore established in the Oslo Accords to the current 3 nm limit, imposed by gunfire from the Israeli Navy. This limit has further exacerbated the hardships imposed upon Gaza’s fishing industry, which sustained 4000 families at the end of 2010[4].

In Gaza, the majority of profits from fishing have traditionally come from sardines. However, as schools of sardine pass beyond the 3 nm mark, catches are down by 72%[5]. Considering that adult fish are mostly found beyond the 3 nm limit, fishing within the current zone is less profitable and, most importantly, depletes new generations of fish, thus threatening the future sustainability of the already overexploited stocks. Further endangering the marine environment and the fishermen’s livelihoods, the power supply interruptions, the acute shortage of fuel and the lack of spare parts caused by the Israeli siege have impeded the proper operation of Gaza’s sewage treatment plants, which daily pump large quantities of raw sewage water off the Gaza shore.

According to Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, due to this deterioration, poverty among fishermen was the highest of all population groups in Gaza at the end of 2010, when it was estimated at 90%; up from 50% in 2008[6].

Israeli attacks on Palestinian Waters
Besides having to rely on increasingly decimated captures, fishermen are constantly threatened by Israeli military forces deployed in Palestinian territorial waters. According to Al Mezan’s report on the subject, between May 2009 and November 2010,the IOF carried out 53 attacks against fishermen. As a result, two fishermen were killed and up to seven were injured; 42 fishermen, including two children, were arrested and 17 fishing boats, together with fishing equipment and nets were confiscated and destroyed.

These Israeli attacks aim at restricting the access of Palestinian fishermen to their areas of work. According to Oxfam, in practice, access is sometimes restricted by Israeli military forces to as little as one nautical mile, banning access to around 85% of Gaza’s fishing water[7]. Attacks on fishermen are yet another example of the widespread violations of international law perpetrated by Israel in the Gaza Strip. Israeli attacks violate Palestinian fishermen’s right to life, security, and personal safety. The targeting of fishermen, and their property, including seaports, boats, and fishing equipment, constitutes serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Israeli forces periodically escalate their attacks: as stated by OCHA in a recent weekly report, Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats in six separate occasions between March 16 and 29 alone.[8]

  1. UN OCHA, Field Update on Gaza from the Humanitarian Coordinator: 3-5 February 2009 (pdf)
  2. UN OCHA, “Special Focus: Easing the Blockade, Assessing the Humanitarian Impact on the population of the Gaza Strip”, March 2011 (pdf)
  3. UN OCHA, Monthly Humanitarian Monitor, February 2011 (pdf); UNWRA’s representative statement, February 2011 (link)
  4. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, “Fact Sheet:Gaza Fishermen: Life with Poverty, Harassment and Suffering”, November 2010 (pdf)
  5. UN OCHA, “Fact sheet:Farming without Land, Fishing without Water: Gaza Agriculture Sector Struggles to Survive”, May 2010 (pdf)
  6. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, “Fact Sheet:Gaza Fishermen: Life with Poverty, Harassment and Suffering”, November 2010 (pdf)
  7. Oxfam, weekly update, 30 January- 5 February 2011 (pdf)
  8. UN OCHA, “Protection of civilians weekly report 16-29 March 2011” (pdf)