Once Again Israel breaks an Agreement

One of the parts of the agreement that led to the freeing of
Gilad Shalit was that Gazan fishermen would not be prevented from fishing up to
12 miles from the coast.  This is quite
normal but Israel fires on anyone going beyond 3 miles.  There is no possible ‘security’ justification
for this – its purpose is clear – to destroy the Palestinian economy and make
Gazans dependent on Israel.  Of course it
also destroys an indigenous economy and causes yet more unemployment.

Far from preserving Israeli ‘security’ the actions of Israel
ensure even more Gazans are unemployed and therefore attracted to those who
shoot rockets in retaliation for Israeli actions.  This kind of starvation blockade is, of
course, ignored by the BBC which is only concerned when Israel complains.
From Alan Hart to Tim Llewellyn and Orna Guerin, BBC
correspondents have complained about the way coverage is distorted (Orna was
simply banished to cover other countries) but policy is laid down by the BBC
& Foreign Office – don’t do anything to upset the United State’s watchdog
in the region and being the government’s lapdog, after Hutton in particular,
the BBC oblige.

Gaza fishermen protest as Israel breaks pledge to stop attacks

  Israel Continues Siege on Gaza by Harrassing & Attacking Fishermen
One of the enduring characteristics of Israel’s occupation is that whatever pledges it makes as part of an agreement, sooner or later it breaks them.  In November last year, as part of the prisoner exchange with Hamas, it agreed not to harass or limit fishing within a 12 mile border.  Suffice to say that it has been seizing and shooting at fishermen from Gaza regardless.

This is on a par with all of its agreements, Oslo included.  Land is confiscated, water stolen, unarmed demonstrators shot  – all by the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’.

The prolonged Israeli naval blockade has destroyed Gaza’s fishing industry and marine sports
Under years of Israeli blockade, the Gaza fishing industry has become the hardest hit sector, leaving thousands of fishermen struggling to make ends meet, especially in light of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli navy on fishing maritime areas and frequent harassments, that prevent Palestinian fishermen from practicing their right to fish freely along Gaza’s 40km coastline in the Mediterranean Sea.

The naval blockade was imposed following the second Palestinian uprising which broke out in September 2000 and was tightened in mid 2006, since then fishermen have been forced to fish in shallow waters.

Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, Palestinians are allowed to fish for up to 20 nautical miles from the shoreline but in 2006 this limit has dropped to three. Due to the restrictions enforced by the Israeli navy, the number of active fishermen has dropped from approximately 10,000 in the year 2000 to around 3,500 today.

PTC: As a result of the naval blockade and restrictions at sea, as you can see 100’s of these fishing boats are anchored at Gaza seaport, simply because fishermen cannot reach areas abundant with fish.

Following the November 2012 ceasefire agreement, Israel announced that fishermen can reach up to six nautical miles, but since then many attacks have been reported within this limit.

(Interview: Gazan fisherman)

Transcript: (I’m a fisherman struggling to support my family, the current limit of 6 nautical miles is not enough, we need to reach at least 10 miles to be able to fish in areas abundant with fish. In the past, I was injured, abducted while fishing, my boat was confiscated, when they approached me they asked me via a loudspeaker to take off my clothing and jump into the water and swim towards their military gunship)

According to the Union of Fishermen, since the year 2000, nine Gazan fishermen have been killed and hundreds injured and abducted while fishing in Palestinian waters. Many fishing boats were attacked and drowned and just this last year 36 boats were confiscated and taken to Ashdod port.

(Interview: Michael Colman, Australian Activist)

Transcript: (Palestinians should be allowed to fish in Palestinian waters without the threat of attack by the Israeli occupation force, the 36 boats that are currently in Ashdod need to be returned to the Palestinians, that is directly affecting 36 families who no longer have a livelihood, this is unacceptable).

Israel claims that Palestinian militant groups smuggle weapons via the sea, and the naval blockade is necessary to stop them. Some here say that these attacks aim to sabotage the already weak economy in the tiny coastal strip, as Gaza’s 3500 fishermen’s income supports about 40,000 people.

(Interview: Gazan Fisherman)

Transcript: (3 to 6 nautical miles limit is not even enough for swimming and fishermen come under fire even in that zone. All Israeli claims of weapons smuggled via the sea are baseless, we demand that the international community put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade).

Due to the strict restrictions on fishing and ban to reach areas rich with fish, Gazans are forced to import fresh fish from the Egyptian side or frozen fish from the Israeli side.

Some here think that Israeli restrictions at sea aim to prevent fishermen from getting close to the gas fields which were discovered recently in Palestinian territorial waters.

Meanwhile, fishing boat construction is dying in Gaza and only boats damaged by Israeli gunship bullets are repaired on the beach. Fishermen say there is no point in making new vessels due to the naval restrictions

(Interview: Boat Builder/Maker)

Transcript: ( We only fix damaged boats, as there is no point building new boats in light of the imposed fishing limit at sea, most of the needed materials that we need such as fiber are brought in from the underground tunnels )

Although Gaza is located on the Mediterranean Sea, marine sport is also banned simply because any boat built for fishing or recreation can come under fire even within the allowed fishing distance.

(Interview: Mahfouz Kabariti, Fishing and Marine Sports Association)

Transcript: (people are afraid from sailing on recreational boats, or even practicing any marine sport, especially in light of the daily shooting at fishermen that could be heard day and night. The Israelis prohibit the importation of any kind of marine sport equipment such as jet skiing and speed boats for what they say due to security concerns and people here are denied their right to practice any marine sport )

(Interview: Adie Mormech, International Solidarity Movement)

Transcript: (There are so many aspects by which Gazans cannot just achieve a normal life and sport is one of them, it’s not only about fishing, life is way beyond work, it’s also about leisure and there has been a long history of sport activities along the sea, whether it is boat races or surfing and a lot of other sports activities, they are no longer possible because of the attacks by Israel)

PTC: Many maritime sports like Jet Ski are forbidden by the Israeli navy, Israel justifies the measure for security concerns. Palestinian sailors wish to sail from Gaza to take part in international sailing championships.

Since 2008, five siege-breaking missions organized by international activists succeeded in breaking the blockade by sailing to Gaza port from various European ports, but a new project called “Gaza Ark” aims to break the blockade by building a big boat using existing resources with the help of a crew of internationals and Palestinians and sail it out of Gaza port, the only Mediterranean port closed to shipping. They will carry Palestinian products to fulfill trade deals with international buyers, to challenge the Israeli blockade and bring the worlds’ attention to the plight of Gazans under the sea blockade.

Yousef Al-Helou, For The Real News Gaza.

Joe Catron
The Electronic Intifada Gaza City, 5 March 2013

“The situation for fishermen is very bad,” Mos’ad Baker said in the Gaza seaport Sunday. “We still face the Israeli navy daily.”

He had just returned from a flotilla that spent the morning sailing the Mediterranean coast of the Gaza Strip from the seaport to Beit Lahiya and back.

With more than 50 boats, the flotilla was part of a campaign against the Israeli navy’s attacks on Palestinian fishermen and to demand that Israel return 36 fishing boats it has seized. The protest was organized by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).

The event followed a series of protests the UAWC mounted last month as part of a global day of action for boycotts of Israeli agricultural companies.

For the several hundred fishermen who spent their mornings in the seaborne rally, accompanied by international activists and television cameras, it offered a rare window of relative safety at sea.

Israel gave a commitment in its 21 November 2012 ceasefire agreement with Palestinian resistance groups to “stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals” and “refrain … from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas.”

The Hamas-run administration in Gaza announced the next day that negotiations for the truce in Cairo had expanded the three-nautical mile fishing limit imposed by Israel, as part of its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, to six nautical miles.
Violations of ceasefire deal

But attacks on fishermen quickly resumed. According to Zakaria Baker, another fisherman who facilitates the UAWC’s five local fishing committees in the Gaza Strip, Israel has captured nine more boats since 21 November.

“They have kept more boats since the ceasefire than between 1994 and 2005,” he said, adding that since the truce, at least five additional boats have been shot and three fishermen wounded. “As for the boats the Israelis capture, they shoot nearly all of them first.”

I was injured when two Israeli warships approached my boat” on 17 December, Mos’ad Baker said. “One circled it, creating turbulence, while the other sprayed it with gunfire.” A bullet struck his left thigh, he added. “Then they arrested me and confiscated my boat, which is now in Ashdod [a port in Israel].”

Zakaria Baker said that since the ceasefire, most of the boats Israel has targeted lay within the six-nautical-mile area Israel has unilaterally declared permissible for fishing, but several were north of Gaza’s al-Shati (Beach) refugee camp, where he, like Mos’ad and much of the extended Baker family, lives.

Israel has claimed to agencies like the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that fishermen can sail northeast along the Gaza coast to 1.5 nautical miles from Israeli waters safely. But according to Zakaria Baker, the miles of sea between this nautical extension of the “buffer zone” and the camp are now the most dangerous.

“The Israelis are trying to push the limit down to al-Shati camp,” he said. “They want to drive fishermen further from them and establish new boundaries for the siege.”

Because the Baker family includes many fishermen, the Israeli navy’s targeting of the profession has hit the family particularly hard.

“Three of my family’s other boats have been confiscated,” Mos’ad Baker said. “They are also in Ashdod. Three of my nephews have been detained at sea.”

Boats rarely returned

The limitations and threats against fishermen have driven many from the profession, while impoverishing many who remain. A 2010 report by the UN’s Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that the territory’s registered fishermen had declined from 10,000 in 2000, just before Israel began tightening its restrictions, to 3,500. The same document estimated that five years of the siege would cost fishermen 7,041 metric tons of fish and $26.5 million in income (“Between the fence and the hard place,” August 2010 [PDF]).

Israel rarely returns boats it has impounded, Zakaria Baker said. “Five boats have been returned over the last year, without their engines, GPS systems, or nets. Only the bodies of the boats came back. Each fisherman had to pay 600 new Israeli shekels [$160] for his boat’s transportation.

“They have said they will return two other boats, but with terms that the fishermen must sign,” Baker explained. “The first [term] is that the fisherman must pay for storage of his boat in the Ashdod seaport. The second is that they will follow the orders of the Israeli military. The third is a continuation of the second: if the Israeli navy captures the same boat again, the fisherman will have already agreed for them to confiscate it forever. The fourth is that if the engine of the boat is over 25 horsepower, the Israelis have the right to do whatever they want, including shooting the boat with the fisherman in it.”

In August 2011, eight fishermen refused to pay for the return of boats, stripped of their engines and equipment, which Israel offered under similar conditions.

Adalah and Al-Mezan, two Palestinian human rights organizations involved in their cases, wrote then “that the impounding of the fishing boats and the conditions imposed by the Israeli navy constituted a grave violation of the rights of Gaza residents to occupation and property under both Israeli domestic law and international law.”

For Zakaria Baker and the other fishermen who sailed the coast of Gaza Sunday, crimes against them by Israel are routine.

“Israel’s violence against Palestinian fishermen has not only continued, but escalated,” he said. “These attacks could only happen with the silence of the international community. Our action is an appeal for global support to end them and make Israel return the boats.”

Joe Catron is a US activist in Gaza, Palestine. He works with the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and other Palestinian groups and international solidarity networks, particularly in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions and prisoners’ movements. He blogs at joecatron.wordpress.com and can be followed on Twitter @jncatron.