Israeli navy assaults Palestinian fishermen in Gaza waters

The latest incident is one of many examples of the Israeli navy entering Gazan waters to attack, harass, and detain Palestinian fishermen. The effect of Israel’s control of the waters off the coastal territory has been devastating.  

An Israeli warship approaches a Palestinian skiff, as photographed from the observation boat Olivia (photo: Rosa Schiano/Civil Peace Service Gaza CPSGAZA)
An Israeli warship approaches a Palestinian skiff, as photographed from the observation boat Olivia (photo: Rosa Schiano/Civil Peace Service Gaza CPSGAZA)

According to the Civil Peace Service Gaza (CPSGAZA):

At 10:55 am on Wednesday morning, an Israeli naval warship attacked the Civil Peace Service Gaza (CPSGAZA) boat Oliva, which was carrying international observers and a Palestinian captain, in an apparent attempt to capsize it. The Palestinian captain was injured.

“The Israeli navy passed near us and the fishermen, and started to go around us, creating waves,” said Rosa Schiano, one of the international observers. “The fishermen escaped, but we couldn’t because of a problem with our engine. We couldn’t move, and they went around us very quickly. The Israelis saw that we couldn’t move, and that [our] captain was trying to fix the engine, but they didn’t stop. We told them, ‘Please stop! Please stop!’ But they didn’t.”

When the warship was two meters away from the Oliva, one of the waves it had created nearly capsized the small boat, filling it with water and causing the Palestinian captain to fall out, injuring his left leg.

“Coming so close to us was very dangerous,” international observer Daniela Riva remarked.

After more than twenty minutes, the warship retreated, and the Oliva was rescued by a small Palestinian fishing boat, which threw it a line and towed it toward the shore.

The Israeli navy attacks and harrasses Palestinan fishermen on a regular basis. On November 28, the Israeli navy entered Gaza’s waters and abducted two fishermen, confiscating their boat. On November 29, Israeli forces seized two boats in Gazan waters, opening fire, shooting one fishermen in the arm, and detaining 10 Palestinian fishermen. The men were brought to Ashdod and were interrogated before being released.

Earlier in November, Palestinian fishermen held a sit-in in front of the United Nation’s headquarters in Gaza to protest the Israeli navy’s actions. They also called for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. According to the Palestinian news agency WAFA, the fishermen held signs that read, “We have the right to practice our right to work without fear or intimidation,” “We call on the international community to stop the Israeli aggressions against the fishermen,” “Long live the steadfastness of the Palestinian fisherman” and “No to the blockade policy and the collective punishment practiced by Israel against Palestinians.”

Restrictions on the fishing zone make a serious impact on Palestinian livelihood. Though the fishing zone was initially set at 20 nautical miles in the Oslo Accords’ 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement, Israel has unilaterally restricted this range to between 1.5 – 2 nautical miles. The marine “buffer zone” restricts Gazan fishermen from accessing 85 percent of Gaza’s fishing waters, as agreed to by Oslo.

In 2002, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan tapped Catherine Bertini to negotiate with Israel on key issues regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territories and a fishing limit of 12 nautical miles was set. In June 2006, following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit near the Kerem Shalom crossing, the Israeli navy imposed a complete sea blockade. When the complete blockade was eased several months later, Palestinian fishermen found that Israel was imposing a six nautical mile limit. When Hamas gained political control of the Gaza Strip, the limit was further reduced to three nautical miles. During Operation Cast Lead, a complete naval blockade was imposed.

After Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army instituted a one and a half-mile to two-mile nautical zone. Israeli gunboats often shoot at or ram Palestinian skiffs near the Gazan coast.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Gaza’s fishermen have been devastated. An estimated 65,000 people have been effected by Israel’s restrictions on fishing and the catch has been reduced by 90 percent. The coastal areas are now over-fished and two-thirds of Gaza’s fishermen have been forced to leave the industry since 2000. The General Union of Fishing Workers estimate a direct loss of one million dollars and an indirect loss of 13.25 million dollars since the second Intifada, which began in late September 2000 and saw Israel step up movement restrictions on Palestinians.

Gaza’s fishing industry has been in a steady freefall ever since.

The 2009 fishing catch amounted to a total of 1,525 metric tons, only 53 percent of the amount during 2008 (2,845 metric tons) and 41 percent of the amount in 1999 (3,650 metric tons), when the fishermen of Gaza could still fish up to ten nautical miles from the coast.

A version of this article appears on the Alternative Information Center‘s website.