Saturday, July 30, 2011

IDF shoots live ammunition at ISM activists at sea

24 July 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, Gaza

On Saturday the ISM crew for CPS Gaza rode out on the trawler that rescued us during the second attack on the Oliva on Thursday, July 14th.  As I mentioned before, the Oliva project is currently on an indefinite hiatus.  Nils, Joe and I went to the port at 7:10 am and we rode out to sea around 7:30.  There were 3 adult Palestinian men on the boat and two young boys.  Joe, Nils and I sat on the deck of the ship’s bow and the captain and other passengers stayed in the middle and back of the vessel. Around the 2 to 2.5 mile point we spotted the Israelis coming towards us from the north.  When they were still about a mile’s distance from us I called them over the radio and said that we were “Unarmed international observers on board, 2 United States citizens and one Swedish citizen.”  I repeated this a number of times but they continued to approach us at a high speed.  Joe and I were on the bow of the boat when we noticed that the Israeli Navy was now about 100 meters from us and had fired 2 shots into the water.  We retreated to the center of the boat where the steering cabin is and I repeated again over the radio that we were “unarmed international observers.”  This did nothing to sway their actions and they fired live rounds both in the water and directly at the boat for around 15 or 20 minutes.  Joe returned to the front of the boat and tried speaking to them over the megaphone, repeating the fact that we were internationals and that the boat had no hostile or military intentions and the captain and his crew were just going to fish.  By this point the trawler had reached the 3-mile limit.  The captain desperately wanted to go further out to 4 or 5 miles because the 3-mile area is completely overfished and he said “it’s better to return home than to even bother fishing here.” While the shooting was still taking place, we decided to have Nils speak to them over the radio so they could hear someone with a Swedish accent.  We were holding out desperate hope that our status as internationals would save the boat and allow the men to fish.  At one point the gunboat retreated slightly—only to double-back and continue harassing us.  Nils repeatedly said over the radio, “Israel, why do you do this?  We are peaceful people, we mean you no harm.”  After at least 30 minutes of creating turbulence and shooting live rounds at us the boat retreated again, this time for good.  I jumped back on the radio and told them to “let us go, we are not hostile and the captain only wants to fish.”  The Israelis responded and claimed that we were past 3 miles and were somewhere between 4 and 5 miles out to sea and insisted that I tell the captain to go back to the 3 mile mark.  The captain said that we were basically 3 miles, then he corrected that we were 3 miles and about 700 meters.  He asked me to tell them that he wouldn’t go past this point and only wanted one hour to fish here because there wouldn’t be any fish within the 3-mile limit.  He said they need to fish for food for Ramadan and there would be no food if we were to move further in to shore.   I said this to them in English several times awaiting a response since it had only been a few minutes since they had communicated with us directly.  After this the captain and his friend took the radio and begged them in a broken mixture of Arabic and Hebrew to let the boat stay where it was for one hour—just to fish—just to get food for Ramadan.  It was heartbreaking to watch.  It’s perverse that the Palestinians should have to beg for this right from an illegitimate occupying force.  Although it seemed that the Israelis weren’t concerned with the status of the international passengers as they were shooting at us, I have to assume that it would have only been worse had we not been on board.  The captain seemed used to this procedure and was firm in his decision to stay at sea to fish—in the face of Israeli violence.  After about 10 minutes had passed and the captain was still on the radio begging to be allowed a few extra hundred meters for just one hour, the gunboat left and another warship equipped with the water canon took its place.  The intensity of the water pressure seemed stronger than ever and the hit the boat for 20 or 30 minutes before we were able to get away.  Unfortunately at this point the captain saw no use in staying out there and brought the ship back to the port.  While we were riding back I leaned over the edge of the bow and saw the new bullet holes from the day’s attacks.
When I went out today, one of my intentions was to observe the situation in the absence of the Oliva, and after this experience I can say two things with confidence.  My first conclusion is that this harassment is a frequent, if not daily occurrence for Palestinian fishermen.  The second is that Israel’s claim that the Oliva is a “constant provocateur” has not a shred of validity (not that it did before, but this confirms it) as the Israeli Navy is equally if not more violent without the Oliva and its observation crew at sea.

A longer version of this report originally appeared on Against Empire, the blog of International Solidarity Movement – Gaza Strip member Alexandra Robinson.
Updated on July 30, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gaza fishermen swamped by Israeli gunboats and water cannon

24 July 2011 | The Guardian, Harriet Sherwood
Hani al-Asi, a fisherman since the age of 11 and a father with 12 mouths to feed, had just begun throwing his lines into the Mediterranean when an Israeli gunboat sped towards his traditional hasaka.

With a machine gun mounted at the rear and half a dozen armed soldiers on the bridge, the navy vessel repeatedly circled the small fishing boat. The rolling waves caused by the backwash threatened to swamp it.
Asi had stopped his boat over an artificial reef created by dumped cars to attract the dwindling fish population. He was just beyond the limit of three nautical miles from the Gaza shoreline set by the Israeli military for Palestinian fishermen, beyond which they are forbidden to fish for “security reasons”.
“We see them every day,” he said, shrugging at the gunboat’s presence. “I got used to this. Every day they are around us – shooting, damaging the boat, sometimes people are injured. If we were scared, we wouldn’t fish. But we have nothing else to do.”
With the boat rocking forcefully, the gunboat’s crew addressed Asi in Arabic through its loudspeaker. “You are in a forbidden area. Go back.” Asi pulled in the lines and headed back to port.
“The best place to fish is more than 10 miles out,” he said. “But every time we exceed three miles, they shoot at us, use the water [cannon], take the nets. Even today when foreigners are with us, they were trying to tip the boat over.”
Under the 1993 Oslo accords, Palestinian fishermen were permitted to fish up to 20 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. Over the past 18 years, the fishing area has been successively eroded, most recently in 2007 when Israel imposed a limit of three nautical miles as part of its land and sea blockade of Gaza after Hamas took control of the territory.
But fishermen and human rights groups say that, since the war in Gaza in 2008-09, the Israeli military regularly enforces a limit even closer to the shore.
The restriction has devastated Gaza’s fishing industry. “It is a catastrophic situation,” said Khalil Shaheen of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. “Sixty thousand people are dependent on [the fishing industry], and 85% of daily income has been lost.”
Fishermen on both sides of the three-mile limit, he said, were subjected to harassment, live fire, confiscation of boats and nets, and water cannon, sometimes impregnated with foul-smelling chemicals.
Since early June, a coalition of Palestinian and international organisations under the umbrella of Civil Peace Service Gaza has been monitoring encounters between fishermen and the Israeli military from its own boat, the Oliva.
But in the past fortnight, the Oliva itself has become a target for the Israeli navy, with repeated assaults on it by military vessels. Last Wednesday, the Guardian hired a boat to accompany the monitors plus a handful of hasakas out to sea.
At around the three-mile limit, the small flotilla was approached and repeatedly circled by two Israeli gunboats. The engines of the hasakas were cut as the waves caused by the gunboats’ backwash rose and fell. After about 20 minutes, the gunboats withdrew as a third military vessel, deploying water cannon, arrived.
A powerful jet of water was targeted at the Oliva, causing the boat to rock dangerously and drenching those aboard. After repeated dousings, the Oliva’s captain ordered the four passengers to clamber on to an adjacent hasaka, fearing his boat was about to sink. As the Oliva’s engine was hit by the military vessel, he too was forced to abandon ship.
From a distance it seemed impossible that the Oliva would not go under. But its captain and other fishermen managed to secure a rope to try to tow it back to port. The military boat followed the Oliva and the other boats at some speed, still firing its water cannon, for several minutes.
According to Salah Ammar, the Oliva’s captain, the boats were within the three-mile limit. “We don’t even reach two miles before they chase us with guns and water [cannon],” he said.
However, GPS co-ordinates taken by the Guardian during Wednesday’s encounter showed the position of the boats to be outside the permitted zone.
In a statement, the Israeli Defence Force said: “The ongoing hostilities between Israel and Palestinian terror organisations create significant security risks along the coast of the Gaza Strip. Due to these risks, fishing along the coasts has been restricted to a distance of three nautical miles from shore. Fishermen in Gaza are aware of these restrictions as they have been notified of them on numerous occasions. The restrictions and their enforcement by the Israel navy are in complete accordance with international law.”
The United Nations and human rights organisations say the fishing restriction is collective punishment in violation of international law.
Shaheen rejects Israel’s justification. “The Israeli navy has never found evidence that fishermen involved in violations have been involved weapons smuggling,” he said. The “environment of daily harassment” was part of Israel’s “illegal collective punishment and closure of Gaza”.
The Oliva’s engine was damaged in Wednesday’s encounter but Ammar was planning to go out to sea again the next day if he could locate the parts he needed to fix it. “Every time I know what will happen. They will shoot water on me, fire bullets. But I get hundreds of calls asking, ‘When will you go out?’” The fishermen, he says, want the protection they believe is afforded by the presence of international monitors on board the boat.
Asi, back at the port after his aborted fishing trip, was puzzled by the military’s aggression towards fisherman whose faces, he says, the soldiers must recognise after repeated encounters. “The point is not security for the Israelis. They know everything. They arrested many of us and searched many boats and never found anything.”
His morning’s haul consisted of one large sea bass, sold for 150 shekels, and three smaller, worthless fish. After deducting 50 shekels for fuel, 50 shekels for bait, and 10 shekels to put aside for his boat’s maintenance, he and his assistant pocketed 20 shekels (£3.60) each for their day’s work.
Would he be going out again the next day? “Inshallah [if God wills it]. This is the only source I have to feed my family.”

Updated on July 26, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Escalation of attacks by the Israeli navy on the CPS Gaza boat

23 July 2011 | Civil Peace Service Gaza

Footage of the second water-cannon attack by the Israeli navy against the Civil Peace Service Gaza boat “Oliva” on Thursday, July 14, 2011. The camera used was lost in the sea when the crew evacuated the “Oliva,” recovered in a fishing net, and returned on Wednesday, July 20.

Updated on July 24, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

PCHR weekly report 14/7 - 20/7/2011: 3 Palestinian fishing boats and 1 international boat damaged

extracts from PCHR weekly report 14/7 - 20/7/2011:

Israeli gunboats opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats in the Gaza Strip.  

During the reporting period, Israeli gunboats opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats in the Gaza Strip in two separate incidents. In one of these attacks, on 14 July 2011, Israeli gunboats attacked Palestinian fishing boats and an international boat, Oliva, which monitors Israeli attacked against Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip. Three fishing boats and Oliva were damaged. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

At approximately 10:00, Israeli gunboats stationed opposite to Deir al-Balah seashore in the central Gaza Strip opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats that were accompanied by an international solidarity boat – Olivia. They also used water hoses against Olivia. As a result of these attacks, 3 Palestinian fishing boats that were sailing nearly 5 nautical miles offshore were damaged: 

1. A boat belonging to Rajab Mohammed al-Hissi, from Gaza City; 
2. A boat belonging to ‘Ali Mohammed Kabaja, from al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City; and 
3. A boat belonging to Sa’id Mohammed Abu Riala, from al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

At approximately 21:25, Israeli gunboats stationed opposite to Beit Lahia seashore in the northern Gaza Strip opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats. Palestinian fishermen were forced to sail back to the beach and no casualties were reported. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Human rights workers continues to face Israeli aggression in Gazan waters

20 July 2011 | Civil Peace Service Gaza

The Israeli navy attacked Civil Peace Service Gaza volunteers along with international press and Palestinian fishermen today. One of the Israeli ships targeted the boats with high pressure water cannons.
Meanwhile, a small naval boat approached the Oliva and hit it from behind, stopping the boat and causing serious damage to the engine. The crew aboard the Oliva was evacuated to other boats and all the boats at sea were forced to turn back.
Joe Catron, an American human rights worker aboard the Oliva, stated, “Israel has been regularly attacking Palestinian fishermen within the purported 3 nautical mile fishing limit. The livelihood of many Gazans relies on fishing and Israel has been using live ammunition and water cannons to prevent fishermen from doing their work. We will continue to go out with the Palestinians and document human rights violations, despite the powerful threats we and Gazan fishermen face.”
This is the fourth attack on Oliva in less than two week. To watch and read recent reports in the news media about CPS Gaza, visit Al Jazeera and The Guardian.
Journalists and TV Crews are invited to join the CPSGaza boat.
Civil Peace Service Gaza is an international, third party, non-violent initiative to monitor potential human rights violations in Gazan territorial waters.

Updated on July 20, 2011

Gaza fishermen defy naval blockade

20 July 2011 | Al Jazeera

Emboldened by the ‘Freedom Flotilla’s’ attempt to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea, some Gazan fishermen have been trying to sail beyond the three nautical mile limit imposed by Israel.
The Oslo Accords allowed fishermen to work within 20 nautical miles of the coast, but Israel later reduced the limit on the premise that allowing more space will potentially allow Gazans to receive smuggled weapons.
Israel responds to the fishers’ actions with water cannons, and sometimes with live gunfire.
Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston reports from Gaza.

Updated on July 20, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

A plea to cease attack met with threats of violence at sea

14 July 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, Gaza

Following yesterday’s assault by the Israeli navy upon a trawler observing Israeli aggression in the three mile fishing radius along the Gaza coast, today warships again targeted two US observers and their Palestinian captain and threatened them that their next attempt at sailing would be fatal.
Alexandra Robinson, from Los Angeles, California, and Joe Catron of Queen Heights, Brooklyn, New York, are both participants in the Civil Peace Service of Gaza. They accompanied a Palestinian captain at approximately 7:30am this morning. “They often harass people within the three mile limit. We were actually setting out to follow a boat that was previous harassed,” said Robinson. International presence has helped deter abuse and harassment by Israeli navy. Upon sailing in a small trawler, 5 large Palestinian fishing boats were visible by Robinson, with 25 smaller ones also in plain sight. Within a half hour the crew saw warships approaching them with active water cannons about 20 meters away from the boat. According to Catron at 8:15 AM, the small boat was being circled by the warships with only about a distance of 10 meters between them. “The attack was pretty immediate,” said Catron. “They were very close and began to fire their water cannons at very high velocity.”
Robinson said they tried to withstand the power of the cannons, taking the brunt of the force with their turned backs. Catron also noticed about half a dozen visible navy personnel, some with guns aimed. “They also had one live ammunition cannon” that was revolving and aiming at the trawler, said Robinson. The warships were close enough to hear its crew when fire ceased at intervals, explained the internationals. “We shouted, ‘We are Americans, stop shooting,” but the crew was forced to abandon ship. A fishing boat had managed to come near the two observers and their captain, rescuing them. The fishing boat had several children on board, and the volunteers continued to plea with the navy. “We heard one of the officers on the warship respond, ‘Whether children or American, we will shoot,’ said Robinson.
While a member of the fishing boat rescued the trawler to take back to port, the captain of the trawler overheard one of the commanding officers speak orders to sink his trawler.
The warships followed the fishing boat for about an hour and a half, circling it so it was difficult for them to navigate to the coast. In a very clear threat made to the members of the trawler, a member of one of the warships was heard by all witnesses warning them to not sail as observers. The clear threat against both Palestinians and international observers was heard after an navy officer shouted over amplifier, “If you come back here, we will shoot you.” Passengers described the officers of the warship taunting them, questioning if they had caught any fish while emphasizing their threat.
Robinson and Catron, however, show no signs of absorbing the threat as influencing their future actions following the attack. “Friday is a day of rest here, but we will sail Saturday,” said Catron. “And this time we will take the media with us.” Yet Robinson does foresee an increase in Israeli incitement in the seas. “Our presence was effective in making Israeli’s leave the fishermen alone. But now that things have died down with the flotilla, they are starting to target us. We think it is only going to get worse from here.”
Today’s attack against the trawler comes following an attack yesterday against a British and Swedish observer who were accompanied by a Palestinian captain and a Palestinian civilian. No one was injured in either attack.
According to Palestine Human Rights Center, which condemned both attacks, of 20 nautical miles, Israeli navy often enforces between 1.5 – 2 nautical miles. The marine ‘buffer zone’ restricts Gazan fishermen from accessing 85% of Gaza’s fishing waters as agreed to in the Oslo Accords.

Updated on July 18, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

PCHR weekly report 7/7 - 13/7/2011: 4 attacks opposite Beit Lahia

extracts from PCHR weekly report 7/7 - 13/7/2011:

Israeli gunboats opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats in the Gaza Strip. 

Saturday, 09 July 2011

At approximately 05:30, Israeli gunboats stationed opposite to Beit Lahia seashore in the northern Gaza Strip opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats. Palestinian fishermen were forced to sail back to the beach and no casualties were reported. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

At approximately 21:30, Israeli gunboats stationed opposite to Beit Lahia seashore in the northern Gaza Strip opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats. Palestinian fishermen were forced to sail back to the beach. No casualties were reported. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

At approximately 05:00, Israeli gunboats stationed opposite to Beit Lahia seashore in the northern Gaza Strip opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats. Palestinian fishermen were forced to sail back to the beach. No casualties were reported.

At approximately 08:30, Israeli gunboats stationed opposite to Beit Lahia seashore in the northern Gaza Strip opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats. Palestinian fishermen were forced to sail back to the beach. No casualties were reported.  

CPS: Israeli ship attacks international solidarity boat crew off Gaza coast

14 July 2011 | Hama Waqum, Civil Peace Service Gaza

I am writing this exactly twelve hours after I was attacked by an Israeli warship, off the Gaza coast.
As a member of the Civil Peace Service, I board the Oliva boat around twice a week to monitor Gazan fishermen’s human rights. But today, it wasn’t just the fishermen who were targeted.
We approached a cluster of hasaka fishing boats that were being attacked with water cannons at midday on July 13. As we got closer all I could focus on was the officer manning the machine gun, covered from head to toe with black, which struck me as very medieval, if you know what I mean.
Our boat, along with the fishing vessels, was around two miles out to sea, well within the three-mile fishing limit imposed by Israel. We saw marines congregate on deck to watch as the water cannon was angled slowly but deliberately towards us. To my delight they struggled against the wind initially, but eventually managed to angle round us as we fumbled with the water-logged engine. I took one look at the jet being generated vertically and knew what was coming. Sure enough, pellets of water began to rain down on us with stinging force. Then I, camera in one hand, felt the jet stream slap my face directly, staying there for several seconds, before the boat was yanked away by the fishermen around us. I was flung backwards and words I never utter escaped my lips. Struggling to stay up, I forced myself to take it on the chin. Literally. As the assault continued, they repeatedly aimed at my face and each time my nose, eyes and mouth filled with seawater. At one point I even saw a naval officer indicate to the marine controlling the cannon to aim for me. He gleefully obliged.

Israeli naval water cannons are able reach high into the air; even when fired vertically they can reach about four times the height of the gunboat. This warship was about 10 metres away. Imagine someone boxing your face. Imagine that their fist is larger than a bowling ball. Now imagine that punch lasting for ten minutes. This is what it felt like.
For ten minutes we were pursued as we tried to escape the gunboat. There were several fishing boats around us and, if there is a silver lining, it is that our presence distracted the Navy from attacking them.
Our boat began to fill with water and we struggled, along with the fishing boats around us to return to shore. Even as we picked up speed, the gunboat honed in on us, with relentless attack after attack. Eventually at just over one mile off the Gaza shore, the gunboat lagged behind and we were on the home straight.
We were completely drenched through. Our captain had to order us to corners of the boat, worried it was about to capsize or sink from all the water with which it had been filled. My body started to buzz and I’m surprised I didn’t electrocute everyone with the static that was building in my bloodstream. The fishermen were safe, we escaped and I felt like we had won. Even though rinsing my mouth with the salinated Gazan water to make wudu that evening brought my brain right back to gargling waterjets on the Oliva boat, the footage is gold dust and we refused to cower from their water-taunting and domination.
Although the attack was challenging for those of us who experienced it, it is essential to remember that this an everyday occurrence for Gazan fishermen. Earlier that very day, the boat of one fisherman was shot at repeatedly. There were too many bullet holes in the bow of his boat for me to count. His netting cables were shot through and he lost his catch. I’m sure he must have been fishing for grenades or something, right? Whereas I returned to shore simply with a stinging face and drenched clothes, when fishermen are attacked, they are unable to make their living. For the one attack on CPS Gaza, there have been tens if not hundreds of attacks on fishing boats.
International observers of Gaza are being targeted evermore frequently, as witnessed with the sabotage and interception of the 2nd flotilla fleet. Such attacks prevent those who have easier access to the world beyond the siege from witnessing attacks on Gazan civilians. These are the actions of a nation that has something to hide.
Human rights volunteers will continue to monitor violations, regardless of what the Israeli Navy fires at us, not only because we aren’t doing anything wrong, but because we know, and I mean this graciously, we are doing what is right and is what no authority is willing to do: ensuring that when fishermen are shot and attacked, somebody is there to witness and document it. Not everyone is able to get to Gaza, so hopefully the video footage and this account will help to bring Gaza to you.

Hama Waqum is a volunteer for CPS Gaza, she writes in a personal capacity and tweets at @WelshinGaza.

Updated on July 14, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CPS Gaza crew attacked by Israeli warship

13 July 2011 | Civil Peace Service Gaza

For Immediate Release

Israeli naval forces attacked the Civil Peace Service Gaza monitoring boat with water cannons earlier today.
Civil Peace Service Gaza is an international third party non-violent initiative to monitor potential human rights violations in Gazan territorial waters.
The initial attack happened at 12.05pm local time. There were four people aboard the Oliva boat at the time, two CPS Gaza crew members (from the UK and Sweden), the captain and a journalist.

British human rights worker Ruqaya Al-Samarrai stated: “We were fewer than two miles away from the Gaza coast when they fired at us. We saw them firing water at some fishing boats so we headed to the area. When we got close, the warships left the fishing boats, and turned on us. They attacked us for about ten minutes, following us as we tried to head to shore and eventually lagged when we reached about one mile off the Gaza coast.”
A fishing boat was also fired at and damaged with live rounds. Currently Israel claims to allow fishing boats to work within three miles off the coast of Gaza, but the limit is rarely respected and fishermen as close as 1.5 nautical miles are regularly targeted.
Civil Peace Service Gaza to hold press conference following attack from Israeli naval forces
Photos and video available upon request, email
  • When: 13 July 2011, 9pm local time
  • Where: Fishing port, Gaza
  • Who: Ruqaya Al-Samarrai, British human rights worker for Civil Peace Service Gaza
    Khalil Shaheen, Palestinian Center for Human Rights
    Mahfouz Kabiriti, President of Palestine Association for Fishing and Marine Sports
  • What: Key members of the Civil Peace Service initiative to monitor human rights violations in Gazan territorial waters will speak about today’s attack from Israeli armed naval forces.
Restrictions on the fishing zone are of comparable significance to Palestinian livelihood. Initially 20 nautical miles, it is presently often enforced between 1.5 – 2 nautical miles (PCHR: 2010). The marine ‘buffer zone’ restricts Gazan fishermen from accessing 85% of Gaza’s fishing waters agreed to by Oslo.
During the Oslo Accords, specifically under the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994, representatives of Palestine agreed to 20 nautical miles for fishing access. In 2002 the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan empowered Catherine Bertini to negotiate with Israel on key issues regarding the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and a 12 nautical mile fishing limit was agreed upon. In June 2006, following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit near the crossing of Kerem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom), the navy imposed a complete sea blockade for several months. When the complete blockade was finally lifted, Palestinian fishermen found that a 6 nautical mile limit was being enforced. When Hamas gained political control of the Gaza Strip, the limit was reduced to 3 nautical miles. During the massive assault on the Strip in 2008-2009, a complete blockade was again declared. After Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army began imposing a 1.5 – 2 nautical miles (PCHR: 2010).
The fishing community is often similarly targeted as the farmers in the ‘buffer zone’ and the fishing limit is enforced with comparable aggression, with boats shot at or rammed as near as 2nm to the Gazan coast by Israeli gunboats.
The fishermen have been devastated, directly affecting an estimated 65,000 people and reducing the catch by 90%. The coastal areas are now grossly over-fished and 2/3 of fishermen have left the industry since 2000 (PCHR: 2009). Recent statistics of the General Union of Fishing Workers indicate that the direct losses since the second Intifada in September 2000 were estimated at a million dollars and the indirect losses were estimated at 13.25 million dollars during the same period. The 2009 fishing catch amounted to a total of 1,525 metric tones, only 53 percent of the amount during 2008 (2,845 metric tones) and 41 percent of the amount in 1999 (3,650 metric tones), when the fishermen of Gaza could still fish up to ten nautical miles from the coast. Current figures indicate that during 2010 the decline in the fishing catch continues. This has caused an absurd arrangement to become standard practice. The fisherman sail out not to fish, but to buy fish off of Egyptian boats and then sell this fish in Gaza. According to the Fishermen’s Union, a monthly average of 105 tons of fish has been entering Gaza through the tunnels since the beginning of 2010 (PCHR 2009).

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). “The Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip.” Oct. 2010.

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. “A report on: Israeli Attacks on Palestinian Fishers in the Gaza Strip.” August 2009.

Updated on July 13, 2011

EI: Solidarity at sea on board the Oliva

12 July 2011 | Rana Baker, Electronic Intifada

Journalists and CPSGaza activists aboard the Oliva as it sets out on its first mission (Rana Baker)

For years, Palestinian fishermen have been subject to routine attacks, shootings and arrests by the Israeli navy as they attempt to ply their trade in the seas off the coast of Gaza.
A month ago, Oliva, the first boat to monitor human rights violations in the Palestinian territorial waters, was launched. The project was organized by the Civil [Peace] Service Gaza (CPSGaza – in cooperation with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and Fishing and Marine Sports Association.
Mahfouz al-Kabariti, the president of the Fishing and Marine Sports Association, explained to The Electronic Intifada how the idea of this monitoring boat came to life.
“In the beginning, many international activists escorted Palestinian fishermen on six-mile voyages to break the siege enforced on the fishing area until Israel began sending waves of aggression against the fishermen and the international activists themselves. They arrested them and deported the activists,” he said.
Fishing boats were usually impounded for two to three months, al-Kabariti explained, “So we came up with the idea of establishing an independent boat entrusted to observe human rights violations and to help the Palestinian fishermen in cases of sabotage or accidents. We thought that having a civic, peaceful boat crewed by international observes will carry out the mission of documenting violations of human rights.”
According to the 1994 Oslo Accords, Palestinian territorial waters for the purposes of economic activity extend to twenty nautical miles offshore. However, Israel continues to break most, if not all, of the agreements between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, and between Israel and the international community.

Attacks by the Israeli navy

In fact, the twenty nautical-mile fishing area was unilaterally reduced by Israel to just three nautical miles in 2008, only exacerbating the crisis in yet another sector of the already-exhausted Gaza economy. This reduced the quantity of fish available to be caught by fishermen. Not only have the fishermen been deprived of their livelihoods, but they are also constantly attacked and arrested by the Israeli Navy, which frequently confiscates or deliberately damages fishing boats and other property.
The fishing industry is a main source of living in Gaza. A high percentage of the Gazan population depends on it to feed and shelter their families. However, the Israeli government, which claimed to have “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005, still controls exports, imports, movement and access to what are supposed to be Palestinian territorial waters.
One fisherman who gave his last name as Bakr but chose not to provide his first name, was inside the three-mile offshore limit when he was shot twice in is leg almost three months ago.
“We were just two miles offshore; not even three as the Israelis want,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “We heard the sirens of their gunboats so we knew there was something wrong and we turned off the engine. They came across and fired at us. When my cousin took off his shirt to wrap my leg, they knew someone was injured and went away.”
Another fisherman, Omar Bakr, was arrested by Israeli forces. “A while ago, the israelis arrested me and impounded my boat,” he said. “I was asked about the purpose of my voyage and they suspected I was smuggling something.”
With these sorts of routine attacks, almost unnoticed by the rest of the world, there is a clear impetus for an independent human rights monitoring project on the seas.

Practical support and a symbol of Palestinian heritage

Oliva, the monitoring boat, is identifiable and can be clearly distinguished from boats used by the fishermen. Small and white it is 7.4 meters long. It has the CPSGaza logo painted on its body and a flag carrying the same logo. It is crewed by international observers, many of whom are activists with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
The name Oliva was chosen for its strong roots in the 63-year-old Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation. Joe Catron, an activist with the ISM, told The Electronic Intifada that the group “envisioned the olive as a symbol of Palestinian heritage and struggle.” Catron added that the name of the boat was supported by the group’s co-founder, Vittorio Arrigoni, who was kidnapped and murdered in Gaza in April.

The first mission

The first real mission (a symbolic launch had been done in April) was carried out on 8 June. At 9:15 in the morning, Oliva set sail from the aging port of Gaza. It was followed by three boats with journalists and TV correspondents on board.
As part of the land team, this writer had to stay in a small office and maintain the connection with the crew. We would ask them at least every ten minutes to specify their position and report the situation. At 10:24am they were two miles south of the port, among half a dozen fishing boats. An Israeli gunship was visible but neither calls to retreat nor firing incidents were reported.
At three nautical miles out to sea, things remained calm except for a few number of gunships roaming the sea to demonstrate their control of the waters. The mission ended at 10:55am

Israeli reaction “muted”

The Israeli navy did not fire at the fishermen when Oliva accompanied them, which indicated the success of the first mission. The same scenario occured on other occasions the fishing boats were escorted by Oliva. The standard number of activists aboard the boat is two, in addition to one Palestinian captain.
Catron, who is most often one of the two activists aboard, says that “the Israeli reaction so far has been muted.”
“We have received no direct threats,” he added, “but when we are at sea, the Israeli navy will frequently come onto our civilian radio frequencies and converse with each other in English. I find it hard to believe they would do that under normal circumstances. Presumably, they do it to remind us of their presence.”
But how will international observers react if Israeli naval forces commit any violent action against the fishermen?
“Our first reaction would be to inform them that their actions violated international humanitarian law. From there, we would proceed depending on their reaction, and according to the exact circumstances. For example, we would draft a brief report on the facts of the incident. This will be published, widely distributed, and analyzed by our coalition partners for advocacy efforts and possible legal action,” Catron explained.

“I feel very comfortable when Oliva escorts us”

Such violent action took place on 29 June when the Israeli gunboats shot at the fishing boats in the presence of Oliva. Oliva was escorting a number of fishing boats in an attempt to break the three-mile siege when Israeli warships appeared to be closer than usual. They began with shooting in the water and ended with riddling the boats — though not the Oliva. This account was provided to this writer by an ISM activist, though nothing else has been published about it.
Despite those sporadic assaults even when Oliva escorts his boat, fisherman Jalal Bakr still thinks the project can protect hundreds of fishermen like him.
“When Oliva comes along, we can fish beyond three miles. The Israelis would usually roam around, but not fire. I feel very comfortable when Oliva escorts us,” he said.
Mahfouz al-Kabariti, the head of the fisherman’s association, told The Electronic Intifada while gazing at the sea: “Oliva was a result of a collective effort. Let me name it Oliva One because one boat is not enough and we look forward to developing more boats.”

Rana Baker, 19, is a student of business administration and a member of the Gaza-based BDS organizing committee. Rana’s blog is and she can be followed on twitter at: @RanaGaza.

Updated on July 13, 2011

Thursday, July 7, 2011

PCHR weekly report 30/6 - 6/7/2011: 2 attacks, 1 boat damaged

extracts from PCHR weekly report 30/6 - 6/7/2011:

Israeli gunboats opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats in the Gaza Strip. 
- A fishing boat was damaged.  

During the reporting period, Israeli gunboats opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats in the Gaza Strip in two separate incidents. In one of these attacks, a Palestinian fishing boat was damaged. 

Monday, 04 July 2011

At approximately 06:40, Israeli gunboats stationed opposite to Beit Lahia seashore in the northern Gaza Strip fired bullets and a number of shells at Palestinian fishing boats. Palestinian fishermen were forced to flee towards the beach. A boat belonging to Mohammed ‘Abdul Raziq Baker, from Gaza City, was damaged. 

Tuesday, 05 July 2011

At approximately 07:00, Israeli gunboats stationed opposite to Beit Lahia seashore in the northern Gaza Strip opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats. Palestinian fishermen were forced to flee towards the beach and neither damage nor casualties were reported. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Children rally for Flotilla in Gaza port

2 July 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, Gaza

Dozens of children from the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative’s summer camp, “Vittorio Arrigoni – Stay Human,” rallied in the port of Gaza today to support Freedom Flotilla – Stay Human, and demand free passage and international protection for it.
They were joined by Palestinian and international supporters, including the International Solidarity Movement – Gaza Strip. After gathering on the pier, they took to the sea in boats, decorated with the flags of countries participating in the Flotilla, for a spirited rally in the harbor.
“We call this action in the sea a human message, a message for the people who carry the idea of breaking the siege of Gaza,” said Beit Hanoun Local Initiative coordinator Saber Al Zaaneen. “We are very sorry to hear of obstructions by the Greek government, and stand with Flotilla participants against them.”

Updated on July 3, 2011