Gaza fishermen facing state piracy
WHILE world attention was naturally focused on the audacious action of Somali pirates in seizing a massive oil tanker 300 miles off the East African coast, news reaches us of another act of piracy in the eastern Mediterranean, just seven miles off the coast at Deir al Balla, in the Gaza Strip.
As we sympathise with the seafarers facing danger from piracy in the Indian Ocean or Gulf of Aden, so we feel for the Gaza fishermen facing harassment by the Israeli Navy. Fourteen fishermen and three international observers have been kidnapped in this latest incident.
The Somali pirates aimed to extract money from a super-wealthy oil company. The Israeli state pirates are preventing poor fishermen earning their livelihood, and stopping food from reaching families in the desperate conditions of the Gaza strip. We call this piracy, because it took place in Gaza's waters, not those of Israel, and was clearly illegal. But it is the effect of such actions that make it really criminal.
The three internationals are Andrew Muncie from Scotland, Darlene Wallach from the United States and Victor Arrigoni from Italy. The U.K., U.S. and Italian embassies in Tel Aviv have been contacted and know about the abductions. The International Solidarity Movement which has been bringing volunteers to help Palestinian farmers gather their olive harvest has begun acting in the same spirit to draw attention to what is happening to the fishermen.
In a press statement issued yesterday it says the fourteen Palestinian fishermen and three international Human Rights Observers (HROs) were surrounded by the Israeli Navy and taken from their boats 7 miles off the coast of Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The fishermen and the HROs were transferred from three separate boats to the Israeli warships. Other Palestinian fishermen reported that the three boats were seen being taken north by the Israeli Navy.
Fellow workers had been unable to establish contact with the HROs or with the fishermen since they were abducted.
"Since their arrival, the ISM volunteers have been regularly accompanying Palestinian fishermen who are regularly attacked by Israeli navy vessels from as little as 3km from shore. They have regularly filmed Israeli forces using live ammunition, shells and water cannons against unarmed fishermen.
(see link below to film)
"When confronted by the Israeli Navy, the boats were 7 nautical miles from the shore of Deir al Balah, well within the fishing limit detailed in the Oslo Accords of 1994.
"With regular claims that from the Israeli government that it has ˜disengaged' from Gaza, these patrols and attacks from the Israeli navy, regularly occurring from as little as three miles from shore, represent a clear signal of the continuation of occupation of Gazan territory as well as regular breaches of the current cease-fire.
"Over 40,000 people in Gaza make a living from the fishing industry, yet this community has been decimated by Israeli restrictions on fishing rights and the prevention of fuel from reaching the Gaza Strip. According to the Fishing Syndicate in Gaza, fishermen need 40,000 litres of fuel and 40,000 litres of natural gas each day to operate throughout the high fishing season.
"Starting in April each year, there is a migration of fish from the Nile Delta to Turkish waters which Palestinian fishermen have traditionally relied upon. Yet Israel limits fishing 6 miles from the Gaza shore and regularly attacks those who venture further than 3 miles - over 70 fishermen were arrested last year by the Israeli forces. The large schools that form the migration are usually found 10 miles from shore. The average catch of fish was over 3000 tons a year in the 1990s, now it is around 500 tons directly due to the Israeli siege of Gaza.
"Not only this, but the brutal effects of the siege, the water in which the fishermen of Gaza sail in is now receiving 50 million litres of sewage per day because the people of Gaza have no alternative".
Hopefully, as well as raising the issue of the observers with their respective authorities, people will raise the issue of Israeli state piracy against the Gaza fishermen with governments claiming to act for peace in the Middle East. There will be an opportunity this afternoon when people lobby MPs at Westminster over the need for the British government to help the Palestinians and put pressure on Israel, while Foreign Secretary David Milliband is in the Middle East.
Video of a previous incident, Israeli Navy attacking fishing boat:
Gaza fishermen released - see for latest