Saturday, November 22, 2008

Three taken by Israel piracy stage hunger strike

Three international human rights observers held in Israel after they were seized from Palestinian fishing boats are reported to have begun a hunger strike in protest at their imprisonment, and demanding that Israel returns the boats it captured, and undamaged.

The Israeli Navy seized them with fifteen Palestinian fishermen on board three boats off the coast of Gaza. The fishermen were later released, but their boats have been impounded and are in Ashdod harbour.

The three internationals who remain imprisoneed are Andrew Muncie, 34, from Scotland, Vittorio Arrigoni, 33, an Italian, and Darlene Wallach, 47, an American citizen. They are held at Al Ramla prison, are currently awaiting trial and Israel intends to deport them.

Though overshadowed for media attention by the seizure of an oil tanker by Somali pirates, the Israeli action was just as illegal, since the fishing boats were just seven miles off the Gaza coast when taken, and in Palestinian waters.

The three human rights volunteers had gone to Gaza with the first Free Gaza movement voyage on August 23, and had been working with the International Solidarity Movement, trying to assist the fishermen as others have assisted Palestinian farmers. The fishermen are subject to regular harassment by the Israeli navy.

According to Arlene Wallach, "We were fishing about 7 miles off the shores of Gaza. The Israeli soldiers came on board the three boats via four Zodiacs. The frogmen came up and over each boat. They used a taser on Vik while he was still on the boat, then tried to push him backwards onto a sharp piece of wood. He jumped into the sea to avoid being hurt more than he already was
and was in the water for quite a while. Then they came for me and forced me into the Zodiac at the point of a gun. They kidnapped me and Andrew and Vik and all of the Palestinian fishermen."

At court on Thursday, HRO Andrew Muncie asked the judge under what law they had been arrested. According to the judge, their detention was authorized by the
Oslo Accords "because it is forbidden by military law for you to fish 7 and a half miles off the coast. It is a no-fishing zone."

However, the Oslo accords grant Palestinians the right to fish 20 miles off their own coast. When Andrew's attorney handed a copy of that portion of the
Oslo accords to the judge, she had no comment.

The three point out that dozens of families depend on the fishing boats for their livelihood. They said they would stop eating until the confiscated fishing
boats are "returned in the condition they were in when the frogmen boarded the boats, with any damage they made repaired."

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