Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Occupied Lives: Fishing in Troubled Waters


Wednesday, 25 July 2012 00:00

Fadel Abu Warda near his home in Jabalia.

Fishermen in the Gaza Strip have to deal with more than just the typical occupational hazards.  Instead of just worrying about holes in their nets or fuel for their motors, fishermen, like Fadel Abuwarda (30), also have to think about the regular illegal attacks, arrest, detention and confiscation of their fishing equipment they are subject to by Israel’s naval forces.  It does not matter whether they are within the 3 nautical miles that Israel has unilaterally declared Gazans are allowed to fish in.  Nowhere in the Gaza Sea are fishermen safe.  

On 20 June 2012, at around 19:30, Fadel and a friend came under Israeli fire while they were fishing a mere 1700 meters from the Gaza Strip shore: “We had just thrown our nets in the water when we saw an Israeli gunboat speeding towards us.  We then tried to pull our fishing nets out of the water and retreat, but they started shooting at us.  Each time we made attempts to pull the nets in, they fired at our boat.”

After opening intensive fire on the 2 men, the initial Israeli gunboat left and was replaced by a number of other smaller gunboats with soldiers on board: “The soldiers ordered us to remove our clothes and jump into the water.  We were crying and trying to talk to them.  We told them we were just poor fishermen trying to make a living for our families.  We begged and cried, but they would not want to listen to anything we had to say.”

Fadel finally decided to comply with the soldiers’ commands to remove his clothes and jump into the sea: “I asked my friend to pull the nets out and turn back.  He is young, only 19, I thought that they would let him go back if I offered myself up, but they refused and started firing at him again.  He also removed his clothes and jumped into the water.”

The 2 fishermen were then pulled out of the water by the soldiers and onto one of their small boats that was circling around their fishing boat.  Fadel’s brother and cousin, as well as 2 other fishermen, were working nearby on their own boats.  A few minutes later, all 4 of them were arrested and brought onto the small Israeli gunboat beside Fadel and his friend: “There were now 6 of us.  We were all blindfolded.  They tied our hands and feet and forced us to sit on the floor.  We were all in our underwear and sat on something that felt like a leather surface.  It was very uncomfortable.  We asked them to give us our clothes, but they only gave them to 4 of us.  My brother and cousin were not given anything to wear It was very humiliating for all of us.”

The 6 fishermen were subsequently taken to the Ashdod port in Israel: “They removed our blindfolds and we saw many soldiers waiting for us in Ashdod.  I kept wondering why there were so many of them.  We had not done anything wrong.  We had been fishing around 1700 meters from the shore.  We had not even gone near the 3 nautical miles.  I just kept telling them that we are poor fishermen trying to make a living.” 

Fadel and the 5 other fishermen were detained in a cell and each was questioned separately for approximately 30 minutes.  It was at around midnight when they were left to sleep on mats in the cell: “In the morning, they blindfolded us again and handcuffed us, then drove us to the Erez checkpoint and released us there.  They did not tell us anything about our boats and fishing nets, or where we could find them.”

For Fadel, losing his only source of livelihood has caused him and his family huge financial strain: “The losses that my brother and I incurred from losing 35 fishing nets and our boats amounts to almost 30,000 USD.   Until now, I have not heard about my boat and nets.  They are not where we left them the night we were arrested and currently I have no money to replace them.  One of my other brothers is also a fisherman, so he took pity on me and hired me to work for him.  I earn 20- 40 shekel each time I help him fish.  When I had my own boat, I used to make 200 shekel.  I barely have anything to take home.  My wife says I do not bring money home anymore and this is hard for me.”

As a result of the loss of his livelihood, Fadel is bracing himself for a bleak and uncertain future: “I do not know if I will ever get my fishing equipment back.  A few days before this incident, they fired at me and another fisherman on my boat then held us under the sun for about 2 hours for no reason.  They always do this to poor people trying to make a living.  This is my work, my only occupation and my life.  What else for me then?   It has reached a point where I cannot even bring myself to be scared anymore.  Let them arrest me if they want, after all, I will just be one of the many Palestinians locked up in Israeli prisons and if they kill me while I am fishing - let it be.”

The direct targeting of civilians and civilian object constitutes a war crime, as codified in Article 8(2) (b) (ii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  The subsequent enforcement against private property in the buffer zone results in Palestinians being unable to use the property necessary for the production of food, violating numerous human rights provisions, including the right to adequate food contained in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Israel’s actions against the fishermen is also a violation of their right to  an adequate standard of living, as codified in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

To see a video narrative given by FadelAbu Warda please click here.

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