Friday, October 31, 2008

Maan: PLC member - Israeli navy fired on activists off Gaza coast

To view original article, published by Maan News Agency on the 31st October, click here

Israeli navy ships fired on activists assisting Gaza fisherman on Friday, according to a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

PLC-member Jamal Al-Khudari, who is also the head of the Popular Committee to Break the Siege on Gaza, claimed that Israeli navy boats fired toward the activists on Friday afternoon.

“Israeli navy boats fired on [the activists] intensively while they were helping the Palestinian fishermen,” he said in a statement.

“This incident is a violation of the rights of Palestinians to use their territorial water,” Al-Khudari added.

Israeli navy ships were “attacking the fisherman and preventing them from gaining their daily livelihood,” on Friday, the PLC member said.

He called for international and Arab human rights organizations to intervene and “stop such attacks,” including attacks against the group that came in solidarity to break the ongoing siege on the Gaza Strip.
Updated on October 31, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Israeli navy escalates attacks against Gaza’s fishermen

Wednesday 22nd October, 2008 – off the coast of the Gaza Strip.
Three international human rights observers (HRO’s) accompanied three Palestinian fishing vessels from the port of Gaza City, as they trawled offshore in Palestinian territorial waters.
At about 08:30 (approximately 8 nautical miles from the coast) a Palestinian fishing boat with an international HRO on-board was intercepted by an Israeli gunboat. Despite the international presence, made clear via VHF radio following a request by the Palestinian captain, the Israeli gunboat started to fire its machine guns very close to the fishing boat. This of course constitutes a breach of the current ceasefire agreement. Some of the bullets were hitting the water, not further than three metres from the bow or the stern. There was at least one occasion where an explosion was heard behind the fishing boat, probably from some kind of charge thrown to damage the nets. After being attacked for several minutes the fishing boat stopped. The Israeli captain shouted orders or threats to the fishermen, while the machine guns were pointing at the boat and finally the fishing boat turned and began to sail towards the coast.
At the same time, about ten nautical miles from the coast, another Palestinian fishing boat carrying a second international HRO was experiencing a similar assault. Shots were being fired extremely close to the fishing boat, just two metres or less from the boat itself. The attack continued until 10:20. The navy fired different types of weapons including a cannon. They shot several times in an attempt to destroy the net and its metal cables. Finally, the fishermen retrieved their net from the water earlier than they would have otherwise done.
Meanwhile, the first boat changed its course again, sailing away from the coast and trying to approach a fellow Palestinian fishing boat which was being attacked by another Israeli gunboat (numbered 912). The initial gunboat repeated its attack, but stopped after a while and just followed. All four boats were heading in a southerly direction, more or less parallel to the coast. Later at about 10:30, gunboat “912″ attacked the fishing boat with shots, again fired very close to its stern, forcing the fishermen to retrieve their nets and head towards shore. For the next hour or more, the fishermen attempted to drop their nets again at least twice, but were prevented from doing so by the shooting from the Israeli gunboat. They managed to do so only when they were even closer to shore (about 5.5 nautical miles).
From about 11:00 to 11:30 a Palestinian fishing vessel carrying a third international HRO was harassed in a very similar fashion by an Israeli gunboat marked “832″, approximately five nautical miles off the coast of northern Gaza. At about 11:20, in a different location, the boat accompanied by the second HRO suffered another attack, and yet another at 12:30.
At 13:00 the naval gunboat “832″ withdrew from the area where the boat with the third HRO was trawling (about nine nautical miles offshore) and was replaced by yet another gunboat, this time marked “840″. This fishing boat then experienced a two-hour long onslaught which lasted until nearly 15:00. This included a volley of shells fired from the cannon mounted on the foredeck of the gunboat from 14:15 to 14:20 as it advanced on the fishing boat. The flash from the cannon was observed by the HRO onboard. Gunboat “840″ proceeded to pursue the fishing vessel as it headed north-west, firing intermittently and at one point deploying an explosive device in the water. When the engine on the fishing boat failed, “840″ circled it repeatedly until the fishermen managed to complete their repairs, then opened fire once more as soon as it got underway. This fishing vessel stayed determinedly on its chosen course until it reached a distance of twelve nautical miles offshore.
In the afternoon, the first fishing boat was again in the north, off the shore of Gaza, when the HRO on-board noticed an Israeli gunboat harassing a fleet of six Palestinian fishing boats. When the observer’s boat went south and approached the fleet, it was also attacked with a barrage of shots across its path. However, it continued without changing its course. Later in the afternoon, about seven nautical miles from the coast, the attacks on the second boat continued every hour, until 16:30. Most of these attacks were carried out by gunboat “912″.
Finally in the evening, after sunset at about 17:30, the HRO on the first boat noticed something like a red flare in the sky. A few minutes later a spotlight was seen for some seconds. Then at about 17:40 an Israeli gunboat with no navigation lights (in clear violation of international maritime protocol), suddenly approached the fishing boat and started to shoot over it (also using tracer bullets). Then the Israeli gunboat used its spotlight, obviously noticing the international human rights observer wearing a fluorescent vest, but despite this began to circle the Palestinian fishing boat, creating waves which destabilised it, making it difficult for the fishermen to pull in their nets. Although it was obvious that the fishermen were preparing to leave, the Israeli gunboat continued to shoot extremely close, in front of the bow, over the roof and particularly behind the stern of the fishing boat putting in risk the life of the fishermen that were working in the immediate vicinity. The attack finally ended only after the nets were pulled in and the fishing boat started to sail full speed towards the port of Gaza.
The HRO on the second boat reported seeing a number of fishing boats come under attack during the day, but none more so than the one he was accompanying. It is probably no small coincidence that this was the same boat which was severely damaged by the Israeli navy a few weeks ago when it was purposefully rammed by a gunboat. By the end of the day this HRO had counted nineteen assaults on his vessel alone, three of which came within a metre of the boat - closer than ever before. This included three incidents of cannon fire, also very close to the boat he was on. He noticed that the Israeli commander received orders by phone prior to the closest shooting as if there was a new, more aggressive strategy against the Palestinian fisherman, despite the international presence. It is important to see if this is really a new strategy, or just a reflection of the soldiers’ mood on this particular day. However, shooting so many times and in such close proximity to the boats could easily have resulted in one of them sustaining a direct hit. Fortunately, at the end of the day no-one was injured, no boats were damaged and the fishermen had a decent catch.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Israeli navy currently attacking Al-Mina, Rafah shore

October 20th, 2008
20:00, 20th October, 2008 - Rafah, Southern Gaza Strip.
Palestinian fishermen are currently under attack by Israeli naval forces in Al-Mina, Rafah.
The Israeli navy is firing at the beach and at fishermen in the water, damaging their nets and forcing them to retreat onto the land. Live ammunition is as well being fired at fishermen on the beach.
Since October 2006 the Israeli navy have enforced a 6 mile fishing limit, despite the Oslo agreements designating a 20 mile limit. However, the Israeli navy regularly attack fishing boats as little as three miles out.
Tonight, however, the Israeli attacks on Gaza’s fishermen are taking place on the shore of Rafah, constituting a major breach of the current ceasefire.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Video of latest Israeli navy attack on Gazan fishermen

October 19th, 2008
Gazan territorial waters, 18th October 2008

At approximately 12:30, a Palestinian fishing vessel from the port in Gaza City, was trawling 6km off the coast of Deir Al Balah. An Israeli Dvora class gunboat (no. 831) approached the fishing boat, began circling it and opened fire. The incident lasted several minutes and was witnessed and documented by a human rights observer with the International Solidarity Movement - who was present on the Palestinian boat. A short video of the incident is posted here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Israeli navy again attack Gazan fishermen

October 18th, 2008
On the 17th October, Three Human Rights Observers (HROs) accompanied a fleet of four Palestinian fishing boats, as they left the port in Gaza in the morning at 07:00.
By 08:15 the fishing boats were proceeding in a southerly direction, 8 nautical miles from the Gazan coast. At this point, an Israeli naval gunboat approached the fishing boats, and began to circle them. A loud explosion was heard, the cause of which is unknown. An international HRO close to the gunboat at this time reports that the sound of the explosion was consistent with her previous experience of the Israeli Navy throwing explosive charges into the water next to fishing boats. The gunboat continued circling the fishing fleet for several minutes, as a soldier fired several bursts from a deck mounted heavy machine-gun in their general direction.
At around 09:30, the large Israeli vessel with a high powered water cannon approached. Over the next two and a half hours it fired the water cannon at each of the fishing boats in turn, for long periods. As a result, the fishing boats were incapable of maneuvering properly, and the nets of two of the boats became entangled. One of the fishermen had to dive into the water to attempt to separate them, once the water cannon boat had ceased its assault. One of the HROs whose body was hit directly by the water cannon reported in a text message that he was, “OK but body aching like being beaten”.
As these attacks were taking place, an Israeli Navy spokesperson – Captain Benjamin Rutland – explained on BBC World Radio that the water cannon is powerful enough to cause damage to the fishing boats themselves;
“…it may cause damage to a boat…”
Somewhat paradoxically however he then went on to say that the use of such a high powered weapon
“…minimizes injuries to Palestinian fishermen.”
Captain Rutland didn’t say what precise level of injury the Israeli Navy considers itself justified in inflicting on these civilians on (what is now becoming) a daily basis.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

ISM Gaza: ‘Sailors the world over face danger every time they put to sea. However, their risk stems from the elements, not from state-sponsored terror

October 15th, 2008
Personal account of accompanying Gazan fishermen by ISM activist
On Sunday 12th October, I joined a group of international human rights observers dispersed amongst a small fleet of seven Palestinian trawlers from the port of Gaza City. We left port at 8.00am and headed out to sea in a westerly direction. Soon after leaving port we observed two Israeli gunboats some distance away, their outlines like sharks. Predators patrolling Gazan waters seeking prey. On seeing our fleet, they drew closer. At about 9.30am, whilst off the southern coast of Gaza, the distant image of a larger naval vessel appeared on the horizon. We realised it was the ship carrying the water cannon which has previously assaulted Palestinian fishing boats.
The fishermen were incredibly good humoured despite the anticipation of a water cannon attack. They began singing and this led onto dancing traditional Palestinian dabke, reflecting their irrepressible spirit of resistance. Fishermen on two boats traveling alongside ours saw this and joined in too! They then began boarding up their windows and changing into vests and shorts in preparation for their ‘dush’ (shower).
At approximately 10.00am the naval ship reached two Palestinian fishing vessels some distance from the rest of the fleet and began a prolonged bombardment with the water cannon. An ISM volunteer from Scotland was on-board one of the fishing boats, which sustained severe damage to its wheelhouse. At nearly 11.00am it was finally our turn. Initially, a neighbouring vessel close by came under assault from the water cannon. An Italian human rights observer and I were on the roof of our boat observing the attack. He was filming and I attempted to signal to the soldiers to stop firing the high-pressure water. After a while it seemed as though they were about to turn their attention to us. We quickly clambered down and found the Israeli ship bearing down on our starboard bow.
I was standing on the foredeck watching its approach, when the water cannon was suddenly turned on us, directly at the bow. I was hit by the full force of the high-pressure hose and was thrown off my feet, slamming the deck and smashing my hip against the hull. At first, amidst the confusion, I couldn’t see anything due to the intensity of the spray, then realised I was hanging over the side of the port bow. I scrambled to pull myself back in and narrowly escaped falling overboard as the barrage continued. Fortunately, by now, most of the crew had managed to take shelter behind the wheelhouse, but one young fisherman was still out on the bow trying to shield me from the blast.
Three boats in the fleet were squeezed between the naval ship and the gunboat and had limited space to maneuver, especially as they were still trawling. As they attempted to raise their nets, the cables became horribly entangled. However, the navy continued to attack them whilst they were experiencing difficulties. Machinery on one of the boats was damaged and the net on ours was ripped apart. It seemed like it was all just a game to the IOF.
All this is a mere glimpse of the daily harassment Gazan fishermen have endured for years and my bruised hip pales into insignificance compared to everything they have suffered. Many of the fishermen I’ve been to sea with have shown me deep scars from gunshot wounds inflicted by the IOF. At least they lived to tell their tales. Earlier in the morning I noticed a framed photo on the wall of the cabin of a smartly dressed young man. He gazed down at me with gentle eyes and a serene smile. It was a picture of Hany Alnajar, a Palestinian fisherman shot in the head by the Israeli navy in 2006 whilst out fishing in Palestinian waters. He was merely attempting to earn a living to support his family. He left behind three small children. Sailors the world over face danger every time they put to sea. However, their risk stems from the elements, not from state-sponsored terrorism.
There was a lull in the afternoon and we saw a trio of dolphins playing a short distance from the boat, their backs arching through the sun-speckled water. They somehow signified freedom at a point when the gunboats were a reassuringly long distance away. It struck me how tranquil the scene was, as it should be. As we headed towards shore, the sun began to set, casting a rosy glow over the Gaza shoreline. A rather meager catch was brought in by our boat. Every day is a struggle for these fishermen – not only to sustain a livelihood under the ongoing siege, but simply to survive another day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

ISM Gaza: Israeli navy again open fire on Gazan fishermen and internationals

October 13th, 2008
This Sunday the 12th October 2008, the Israeli navy continued its violent harassment of Palestinian fishermen. A fleet of seven fishing boats from the port in Gaza City initially spotted two Israeli gunboats operating in Palestinian territorial waters at 08:45. The gunboats began circling some of the fishing boats at the rear of the fleet, and demanding that they turn around and head back towards Gaza City. Some minutes later one of these gunboats opened fire with a deck mounted machine gun – none of the fishing boats were however hit.
By 10:30 the fishermen and some of the six Human Rights Observers (HRO) present on their boats observed a large Israeli naval vessel quickly approaching from their rear. Reaching the two fishing boats at the back of the fishing fleet, the Israeli boat then proceeded to mount two sustained attacks on them with a high powered water cannon. It also opened fire with a machine gun during one of these attacks. It was unclear what the intended target of the machine gun fire was. The wheelhouse of one of the fishing boats did however sustain significant damage – several wooden panels were either punctured or ripped from their framework by the water cannon.
The Israel vessel, upon reaching a further four fishing boats that were hauling in their nets, began assaulting them with the water cannon. The jet from the water cannon knocked one o the HROs off their feet, propelled them across the deck and almost into the sea. As a result of this attack the nets of three of the fishing boats became entangled with each other. Despite the obvious difficulty these boats were now in, the Israeli vessel continued its assault with the water cannon.
For the next several hours, the large Israeli vessel continued its series of attacks on the Palestinian fishing boats. As a result, the windows of two of the fishing boats were broken. One fishing boat sustained further damage to its wheelhouse.
No one was seriously injured on this occasion by the Israeli water cannon. It should be noted however that the use of this weapon against civilian fishing boats, severely endangers the safety of all those on-board. Clearly, there is a significant risk of someone being swept overboard, or sustaining severe injury by either being propelled into some object on board, or having some object propelled into them. In recent weeks the lower back of an Italian HRO was badly lacerated after a water cannon shattered a window in the wheelhouse in which he was standing, and propelled the glass shards at him.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

ISM Gaza: Israel continues to breach ceasefire agreement with attacks on fishermen

October 9th, 2008
On Wednesday 8th October, international Human Rights Workers (HRWs) accompanied Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Gaza.
In the morning, while sailing about 7 nautical miles from shore, Israeli gunboats approached the Palestinian fishing boats. After request from Palestinian captain, one of the internationals talked on VHF radio. Despite that fact, Israeli gunboats continued to harass the fishing boats and at some point fired shots (something which also constitutes a breach of the ceasefire agreement).
In the afternoon while sailing always at about 7 nautical miles from shore, internationals observed an Israeli gunboat sailing between 3 Palestinian fishing boats. When the fishing boat that the internationals were on approached the area, again the captain requested one of the internationals talk on VHF radio to make clear that there was international presence on board. The fishing boat continued its course, but later it was intercepted by another Israeli gunboat. After following the fishing boat for sometime, the Israeli gunboat started to sail in front of it and shooting with its machine-gun several meters in front of fishing boat’s bow.
In the middle of the fishing day, we realised that a giant turtle was blocked in our nets. Unlike others, the fishermen of Gaza do not kill when it is not absolutely necessary. The rare sea turtle was immediately assisted back to the sea, free and alive.
After sunset, the internationals again observed an Israeli gunboat sailing without using their lights (apart from a strong spotlight) in clear violation of international nautical law.

Monday, October 6, 2008

ISM Rafah: Israeli navy fire shells at Gazan fishermen

October 6th, 2008
On Sunday October 5th, two international human rights observers accompanied a Gazan fishing boat offshore of Jabalya.

Soon an Israeli gunboat approached. The internationals, after a request from the Palestinian captain, made clear that there was an international presence on board. For a while the Israeli gunboat seemed to leave but then, suddenly, from a large distance began to fire shells very close to two Gazan fishing boats, including the one accompanied by the internationals. The Palestinian fishing boats were about 4 nautical miles from the coast.
Although the 2 fishing boats had already changed their course the Israeli gunboat intercepted them and started to fire machine gun shots in front of their bows (something which also constitutes a breach of the ceasefire agreement). This Israeli gunboat didn’t stop harassing the fishing boats till the moment a larger boat of the Israeli Navy arrived and began a severe water cannon attack on the fishing boat which the internationals were present on. The Israeli soldiers, from a close range were shooting high pressure water directly on to the Palestinian fishermen (including a minor) and the internationals. They were also shooting the water inside the wheelhouse preventing the captain from steering the fishing boat. They caused damages to the fishing boat including to electrical lights and by breaking the glass windows of the wheelhouse, and the wooden panels which had been attached to protect them. Fortunately no one was injured (in a similar incident on 16/9 an Italian activist had been injured by shattered glass and was hospitalized). There were also shots from the machine gun of the Israeli navy boat, while it was sailing side by side with the Gazan fishing boat.
Later, the same fishing boat received continuous harassment by other Israeli gunboats that were shooting with their machine guns around the fishing boat. There were times when the internationals observed at least 4 Israeli heavily armed gunboats having invaded Palestinian waters out of northern Gaza strip in order to harass no more than 3 Palestinian fishing boats in the whole area.
In the afternoon one of the gunboats approached the fishing boat and started circling it producing waves in order to destabilize it.
Finally, after the sunset, as the fishing boat was returning to port a distant gunboat began firing a machine gun in its general direction. Just how close this fire was to the boat was clear from the glow of the tracer bullets. The internationals also observed once more that in clear violation of international nautical law, the Israeli gunboats are not using their lights during night time.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Israeli Naval Violence against Palestinian fishing boats continues

October 5th, 2008
On Saturday 4 October two international human rights observers accompanied a Gazan fishing boat in its daily work, important not only for the fishermen’s families but also for the Palestinian economy in general, especially in the besieged Gaza Strip.
When the fishing boat was at about 8 nautical miles from the coast it was intercepted by an Israeli gunboat that began circling it and from loud speakers ordering it to go back. After a request from the captain, one of the internationals talked on the VHF radio making clear that there was an international presence on board.The Gazan fishing boat continued to fish along the Gaza Strip, maintaining the same distance from the shore and the Israeli gunboat gave up trying to threaten it.
Later another Israeli gunboat approached the fishing boat, again after a request of the captain, one of the international human rights workers announced the international presence over the VHF radio and the Israeli gunboat didn’t proceed in any kind of harassment.
But a little bit after noon, people in this fishing boat observed an Israeli gun boat circling another Palestinian fishing boat and shooting very close to it (something which also constitutes a breach of the ceasefire agreement). The attacked fishing boat appeared to have stopped and was fishing roughly 7 nautical miles from shore. Again the internationals were requested to make a call through VHF radio asking the Israeli gunboat to cease its attack. The internationals also filmed part of the incident. The Israeli gunboat continued its harassment for a while but finally it quit.
International human rights workers will continue to accompany Gazan fishermen and monitoring the daily attacks that they suffer from the Israeli Navy.