Thursday, 14 June 2018

Fishing is a hard way to earn a living anywhere in the world, nowhere more so than off the coast of Gaza.

An account by aid worker Eva Bartlett.

"In November 2008, I joined a boat of European Parliamentarians sailing from Cyprus to the Strip, attempting to symbolically break the blockade. Apart from the act of solidarity, it was also my sole means of entering Gaza. With all but one border crossing controlled by Israel, and the remaining crossing by the complicit Mubarak rule in Egypt, entry by sea was the only option. However, the outcome was not certain: Israel also controls Palestinian waters.

Israeli gunboat flanking the Dignity as it sailed through international waters towards Palestinian waters.
Organized by the Free Gaza movement, the November sailing was the third of its kind. Two more boats reached Palestinian shores before Israeli warships begin violently obstructing passage, including ramming one boat.

I joined the handful of other human rights activists from the ISM to begin what would be over two years of the most surreal and horrific experiences as an activist I have ever had.

Our work comprised accompanying farmers and fishermen as they attempted to work their trades, routinely coming under machine-gun fire from Zionist soldiers. In the case of the fishermen, they are also subject to shelling and heavy-powered water cannon attacks—the force of which shatters windows, splits wooden structural components of the boats, and destroys electronic navigation equipment. The Israeli navy also often adds a chemical to the spray which leaves the soaked victims stinking of excrement for days. [videos]

In one assault on fishermen, the navy first sprayed machine-gun fire at a fishing trawler one kilometre off Gaza’s northern coast for about fifteen minutes, then firing a missile which set the boat aflame. The fishermen jumped overboard and were saved, but the boat was not. Gutted by flames, the vessel was destroyed, and along with it the livelihoods of the eight or so fishermen who regularly worked on the boat.

Half an hour into my first venture out with fishermen, in November 2008, an Israeli gunboat charged us, swerving at the last minute. Intimidation. The fishermen scrambled to reel in their nets. Soon after, another gunboat sped towards us, water cannon firing. Our trawler managed to escape before the dousing. This minor harassment pales in comparison to the repeated assaults that usually occur when fishermen try to fish even a few miles off the coast. Under the Oslo accords, Palestinian fishermen have the right to fish 20 nautical miles out, but under Israeli rule six miles is the limit. Often, when the fishermen are attacked at sea, it is repeatedly as the Israeli navy follows them from one location to the next, rendering their fishing efforts largely fruitless.

Fishermen are routinely abducted, their boats stolen by the navy. If the boats are returned, it is inevitably after many months, and stripped bare of nets and equipment. The process of abducting fishermen usually plays out as such: one or more israeli gunboats attack the fishing trawler (or the small, rowed boats common in Gaza) with machine-gun fire and/or shelling; the navy orders the fishermen to strip down to their underwear, dive into the water, and often makes the fishermen swim or tread water for extended periods, regardless of the temperature of the water. Fishermen are then hauled aboard, abducted to a detention centre, and interrogated on anything but fishing.

Life ashore is even worse - read the full account of life as it in Gaza here: