24 July 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, Gaza
On Saturday the ISM crew for CPS Gaza rode out on the trawler that rescued us during the second attack on the Oliva on Thursday, July 14th. As I mentioned before, the Oliva project is currently on an indefinite hiatus. Nils, Joe and I went to the port at 7:10 am and we rode out to sea around 7:30. There were 3 adult Palestinian men on the boat and two young boys. Joe, Nils and I sat on the deck of the ship’s bow and the captain and other passengers stayed in the middle and back of the vessel. Around the 2 to 2.5 mile point we spotted the Israelis coming towards us from the north. When they were still about a mile’s distance from us I called them over the radio and said that we were “Unarmed international observers on board, 2 United States citizens and one Swedish citizen.” I repeated this a number of times but they continued to approach us at a high speed. Joe and I were on the bow of the boat when we noticed that the Israeli Navy was now about 100 meters from us and had fired 2 shots into the water. We retreated to the center of the boat where the steering cabin is and I repeated again over the radio that we were “unarmed international observers.” This did nothing to sway their actions and they fired live rounds both in the water and directly at the boat for around 15 or 20 minutes. Joe returned to the front of the boat and tried speaking to them over the megaphone, repeating the fact that we were internationals and that the boat had no hostile or military intentions and the captain and his crew were just going to fish. By this point the trawler had reached the 3-mile limit. The captain desperately wanted to go further out to 4 or 5 miles because the 3-mile area is completely overfished and he said “it’s better to return home than to even bother fishing here.” While the shooting was still taking place, we decided to have Nils speak to them over the radio so they could hear someone with a Swedish accent. We were holding out desperate hope that our status as internationals would save the boat and allow the men to fish. At one point the gunboat retreated slightly—only to double-back and continue harassing us. Nils repeatedly said over the radio, “Israel, why do you do this? We are peaceful people, we mean you no harm.” After at least 30 minutes of creating turbulence and shooting live rounds at us the boat retreated again, this time for good. I jumped back on the radio and told them to “let us go, we are not hostile and the captain only wants to fish.” The Israelis responded and claimed that we were past 3 miles and were somewhere between 4 and 5 miles out to sea and insisted that I tell the captain to go back to the 3 mile mark. The captain said that we were basically 3 miles, then he corrected that we were 3 miles and about 700 meters. He asked me to tell them that he wouldn’t go past this point and only wanted one hour to fish here because there wouldn’t be any fish within the 3-mile limit. He said they need to fish for food for Ramadan and there would be no food if we were to move further in to shore. I said this to them in English several times awaiting a response since it had only been a few minutes since they had communicated with us directly. After this the captain and his friend took the radio and begged them in a broken mixture of Arabic and Hebrew to let the boat stay where it was for one hour—just to fish—just to get food for Ramadan. It was heartbreaking to watch. It’s perverse that the Palestinians should have to beg for this right from an illegitimate occupying force. Although it seemed that the Israelis weren’t concerned with the status of the international passengers as they were shooting at us, I have to assume that it would have only been worse had we not been on board. The captain seemed used to this procedure and was firm in his decision to stay at sea to fish—in the face of Israeli violence. After about 10 minutes had passed and the captain was still on the radio begging to be allowed a few extra hundred meters for just one hour, the gunboat left and another warship equipped with the water canon took its place. The intensity of the water pressure seemed stronger than ever and the hit the boat for 20 or 30 minutes before we were able to get away. Unfortunately at this point the captain saw no use in staying out there and brought the ship back to the port. While we were riding back I leaned over the edge of the bow and saw the new bullet holes from the day’s attacks.
When I went out today, one of my intentions was to observe the situation in the absence of the Oliva, and after this experience I can say two things with confidence. My first conclusion is that this harassment is a frequent, if not daily occurrence for Palestinian fishermen. The second is that Israel’s claim that the Oliva is a “constant provocateur” has not a shred of validity (not that it did before, but this confirms it) as the Israeli Navy is equally if not more violent without the Oliva and its observation crew at sea.