by Rosa Schiano
19 April 2012 | il Blog di Oliva
To accompany the fishermen of Gaza on their boats, as human shields to protect them, it provides not only an account of human rights violations by Israel, but also the feeling of what it means to live under siege in the Gaza Strip.
Since January 2009 Israel has unilaterally imposed a travel limit of three miles inside the waters of Gaza, which , according to the Jericho Accords, should extend up to 20 nautical miles from the coast. A 3 miles limit is actually illegal.
Israeli navy seals are stationed along this 3 mile boundary, attacking anyone who attempts to go beyond and often attacking the fishermen’s boats well within this limit.
As international observers of the boat “Oliva CPS Gaza” monitor the human rights violations by the Israeli army in the waters of Gaza, we have witnessed many attacks which took place also within two miles from the coast.
Within three miles the fish are not enough, and the waters are often contaminated.
The fishermen, especially all those who sail with the “hasakas,” or local small boats, come back often with nearly empty coffers.
Just over two weeks ago, we left during the night with a fishing boat which headed south from Gaza to Rafah, making a couple of stops to pull the nets (and two stops on the way back) and keeping within two nautical miles from the coast. After hours and hours spent at sea consuming gasoline, we brought home a few small boxes with small fishes and some shrimp. The fishermen can hardly survive on what they earn from a night at sea, also considering the cost of gasoline.
Other fishermen prefer to stop at 2-2.5 miles from the coast and to fish remaining stationary. In this case they can fish more sardines, often of very small size. In order to fish more in quantity and quality, the fishermen should be able to reach at least 4-6 miles from the coast.
While I was accompanying the fishermen on their boats, the Israeli navy attacked us generating waves and shooting.
I recorded a video during one of the latest attacks:
In this case our vessel was around 100/150 meters away from the three miles limit.
On Monday we went out at sea again with the same vessel. We stopped to pull the nets before reaching the three mile limit. Given the scarcity of fish and because the waters were visibly polluted, we decided to move forward going to 3.5 nautical miles from the coast.
The Israeli navy started to turn around us. The soldiers kept switching on and off the headlight of the ship. With the headlight off, the Israeli navy ship was invisible in the darkness.
We could no longer see its movements, we could not know if it was close and if so, by how much.
But we could feel the waves generated by the navy ship.
Bravely enough, the fishermen kept on pulling up the nets in a hurry. I and 3 other internationals placed ourselves in a visible position wearing yellow jackets. The Israeli navy suddenly appeared pointing the headlight towards us then vanished without lights.
At a certain stage the Israeli navy ship approached shooting in our direction. A soldier yelled into the microphone, “Bring up the anchor or I will bring you to Ashdod” (the Israeli Navy often arrests the fishermen of Gaza within or beyond the three miles, taking them to Ashdod, in Israel, and confiscating their boats. The fishermen are usually released after one day, but without their boats).
The soldiers kept firing in our direction. The other internationals and I raised our arms shouting and requesting to stop the shooting.
The captain of our boat decided to go back. We stopped at 3 nautical miles from the coast before returning to the port of Gaza City around 6.30 AM.
This time the boxes were fuller of fish and the fishermen were visibly happy. I smiled. I was pleased, and at the same time I was worried of potential retaliations and targeted attacks towards the fishermen when we were not on their boats.
At sea to be able to fish only 100 meters further can make a big difference.
Some fishermen try to go beyond the boundary of this prison, to be able to earn something more to support their families. To go beyond the three nautical miles means to face Israeli army. The Israeli army against a few fishermen.
Soldiers who do not hesitate to shoot against barefoot unarmed men intended to pull the nets in the waters where they are entitled to fish. This is the siege of Gaza.
I am honored to accompany these fishermen so brave and dignified.
Their eyes speak of their suffering, but at the same time express all their strength, and they pass it on to me.
Tomorrow we expect another night at sea, and many others, sharing with them the cold and the food, the fear and the courage, and the hope to bring back home a little piece of freedom.
Rosa Schiano is a volunteer with International Solidarity Movement (name has been changed).