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International activists in Gaza defiant despite repeated attacks

26 September 2011 | Islam Online, Hama Waqum

The Civil Peace Service (CPS) Gaza human rights observation boat has returned to the waters off the Gazan coast after being grounded for two months due to Israeli naval attacks.

CPS Gaza aims to monitor human rights violations committed off the coast of Gaza, in which Gazan fishermen are invariably the victims.  However in July, the CPS boat, Oliva, was attacked three times, with the final attack forcing the boat to retire to shore after the engine was rammed beyond repair. On September 25th, the boat made her first trip at sea, in which she was not attacked by the Israeli Navy.

Continuation of attacks

On 13 July, the Oliva crew and captain were encircled by one Israeli Navy warship, which fired water cannons continuously for fifteen minutes, aiming for the faces of the crew, as well as their cameras and radio equipments. The engine broke in the attack and the boat struggled to escape as the attack continued.

The following day, the boat was attacked by two Israeli Navy vessels, the force of the water cracking a section of the boat’s floor. The crew was forced to seek refuge on a fishing boat in order to make it back to shore. Once aboard the fishing trawler, one crew member reported that one Israeli naval officer instructed another to sink the boat with the water.

In this attack, the Navy officers also intimidated the fishermen with whom the CPS crew had sought refuge, demanding, ‘Where are your fish? Where are your fish?’ After the crew attempted to deter further attacks on the fishing boat by informing the Israeli Navy that they were international observers, a Navy officer responded by saying, ‘Leave and if we see you here again we will shoot you and the children [on board the fishing vessel] and the Europeans or Americans,’ according to one of the CPS crew members.

We won’t be intimidated

On July 20, Oliva suffered the attack that would ground her for two months, in front of a journalist from the Guardian Jerusalem office. For 20 minutes the boat was attacked with water by two Israeli Navy boats, and then rammed by one of the Israeli warships, which had a maniacal clown poster on its side.  The engine was wrecked in the attack and Oliva had, until now, been stranded ashore.

Vera Macht, a German member of the CPS Gaza project explained that the project will continue to run and document human rights violations, “We won’t be intimidated,” she explained, “Olivia will sail out again to document abuses until international law is respected by Israel in the sea of Gaza. Fishermen are harassed, attacked, arrested and even killed by Israeli armed forces, even within the imposed 3 nautical mile limit.”

On September 25, 2011, Oliva set sail again, despite warnings that the human rights observers would be shot if the project continued. The boat cut its trip short because of weather conditions; the crew experienced reduced intimidation by the Israeli Navy and were not directly attacked.

Every Israeli attack on the Oliva has occurred within the Israeli-imposed 3-mile nautical limit, which forbids vessels from travelling further out to sea. This limitation overwhelmingly affects fishermen in catching adequate fish as the three miles have been fished extensively in the four years since the limit was imposed. According to the Oslo Accords agreements, a fishing limit of 20 miles was agreed, but fishermen have been restricted to three miles since Hamas took control of the costal enclave in 2006. This prevents Gaza’s fishing communities from accessing 85% of the Oslo-agreed fishing waters.

Joe Catron, a US citizen, was aboard the CPS Gaza boat during two of the warship attacks, “The bravery of Palestinian fishermen off the Gaza coast is like nothing I’ve ever seen. These courageous men, who continue struggling to provide for themselves, their families, and their country, despite the raw military aggression they face on a daily basis, inspired all of us. I’m honored to have played a small, fleeting role in supporting their fight.”