Wednesday, 24 October 2012 00:00
Fahmi’s wife, son, brother and mother at their home in Salatin area
On 28 September 2012, Israel’s forces shot and killed Fahmi Abu Riash (22), a Palestinian fisherman, and wounded his brother Youssef (19), while they and a group of other fishermen were pulling out their fishing nets a few meters from the shore in the northern Gaza Strip. According to investigations conducted by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), an Israeli infantry unit crossed the northwestern border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, and moved nearly 20 meters into Palestinian territory, along the beach area of the northwestern town of Beit Lahia. Israeli soldiers took position behind a hill at the beach, facing a number of Palestinian fishermen who were fishing a few meters offshore, and opened fire at the fishermen. The majority of the fishermen were able to flee. However, two fishermen, who were located nearly 15 meters away from the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, were unable to escape. According to fishermen present in the area, Israeli soldiers fired directly at the two fishermen, wounding them. One of the men, Fahmi Abu Riash, died of his wounds later on the same day.
Fahmi’s brother, Youssef, was also shot. He gives the following account: “We left the house at around 5am and went down to the sea. I was with my 2 brothers, Fahmi and Ahmed, and 2 of my cousins. We were not out on a boat that day. We just had our nets and we were fishing near the shore. It was at around 9.30am, when I heard someone screaming. I then realized that it was my brother, Fahmi, and he had been shot in his left leg. I remember seeing about 10 soldiers standing on an elevated piece of land and there were many more mobilized behind them. I rushed to help Fahmi and started shouting for help from the other fishermen on the shore. I carried my brother, and then they shot at us again. They were firing from behind and I also got hit on my arms and legs. I carried Fahmi, and then walked about 30 meters before I fainted.”
The fishermen on the shore called an ambulance and the 2 brothers were rushed to Kamal Adwan Hospital. Youssef had sustained several injuries but was in a stable condition. He recalls: “When I finally came to, I was in hospital. I was treated for my wounds and discharged. I had been shot in the left arm and I developed partial paralysis as a result of damage to my nervous system. I also had shrapnel lodged in my arms and legs. Some of the shrapnel was removed but some of it requires surgery.” Youssef’s brother Fahmi, however, died of his injuries some hours later.
As she remembers the incident, Mariam recounts what had become a tradition for the family. Most days, from 11am until 6pm, she used to accompany them to the beach and make them lunch as they worked: “On that day, I did not go with them. I was at home making them lunch when the incident happened. My sister came and told me that Fahmi and Youssef had been taken to Kamal Adwan Hospital and I rushed there. I never expected this to happen. I would have never sent my sons to fish if I had known it was dangerous. We used to go to that same place all the time and the soldiers used to watch us. My whole family used to swim, cook and have fun there over the weekends. They knew who we were. I never let my sons go beyond the fence. I would never put my children in danger. It was normal to fish there and there had never been any threat, yet on that day they decided to shoot at my sons for no reason.”
Fahmi’s mother, Mariam Abu Riash
The Abu Riaj family was fully dependent on fishing as a means of income before the death of Fahmi. Since the attack, the family is facing hard times financially, as Marjam explains: “Fishing was the only thing sustaining my family. It is the only thing my sons knew how to do. Fahmi had been fishing since he was 10 years old. He had been arrested twice by the Israeli Forces while he was fishing and released at Erez on the same day. They only used to question him and release him afterwards. My sons had a boat but it was damaged in a previous incident and can no longer be used. Now Fahmi is dead, Youssef is wounded and I will not send Ahmed back there to be killed. My husband was injured in the First Intifada and he is in no condition to work. Ahmed has now taken up temporary work at a construction site and his income is what the family is living on. Fahmi was the first born son and he was responsible for the family. We do not know what to do without him.”
The death of Fahmi has been particularly hard for his mother. She goes quiet then breaks down in tears as she speaks of him: “My son was so close to my heart and they killed him. Everything was destroyed by his death. I was proud of how good he was at sports, such as volleyball, football and swimming. He always promised me that when he got enough money, he would take me to have surgery to correct a problem with my eyes. He had only been married for two years and he has left behind a 1-year-old son. This little child lost his father and he will never know how it feels to have one. Fahmi’s wife is still young, only 22. She stays at home mourning her husband. What does the future hold for her? All my hope in life is lost. I do not know how to move on without my son. In the past, we were a bit hopeful that everything would be okay but now we know that nothing is ever going to change. The Israeli occupation is full of liars and criminals. They claimed that Fahmi had gone beyond the border fence. I never allowed my sons to do that. They have never done that. There was no reason for my son’s death.”
The targeting and killing of a civilian, a protected person, is a war crime, as codified in Articles 8(2)(a)(i) and 8(2)(b)(i) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Similarly, under Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the destruction of private property is prohibited unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.