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FreeGaza Movement

Human rights group that sailed 5 times into port of Gaza.

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(Six articles)

6. Individual report written by Donna Wallach, ISM volunteer in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine

Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine, 21st September, 2008. On Sunday 21st September, about 5 fishing boats trawled the coast from the Gaza City port. I was on a boat that had been water cannoned the previous day and many of their nets had been damaged as a result. The crew spent most of the morning repairing the nets and at 11:40am we finally left the port for a full day of trawling. 

At 12:30pm  in the distance we saw two Israeli Naval gunboats, one was very large and was equipped with the water cannon. The regular sized gunboat started patrolling between three fishing boats that were in the same area. At 12:55pm that gunboat started harassing and shooting at one of the fishing boats headed south. I don't know how far it was offshore, but it definitely wasn't beyond six miles. At 1:10pm that same gunboat shot at the boat I was on and a soldier yelled "Go south".

After some time passed and the gunboat was not in the area, the captain of our boat steered towards the north, there are larger fish in the northern Gazan waters, and apparently very tasty – and the fishermen REALLY wanted to catch as many of those fish as they could this day.

As we continued in our north east direction we saw the gunboat with the water cannon pass in the distance. At 1:40pm we saw another regular sized Israeli Naval gunboat approaching. It moved alongside in a threatening move as if to say, don't go out any further into the sea! Ten minutes later the water cannon gunboat arrived and dowsed our boat and most of the crew with high powered blasts of water. One crew member, Ahmed, fell on the slippery deck and hurt his knee. For some unknown reason the gunboat only water cannoned us once for a brief time, causing no damage to the boat or the nets. I do not know what impact the water cannon has on the fish, much of the high powered blasts of water hit the sea and often times the net too. In any case, as in previous occasions, the smaller gunboat positioned itself on the opposite side of our boat from the water cannon gunboat, ready to shoot and posing a threat, besides blocking us in from escape from the deluge of high powered water. In addition, there were strong waves from the movement of the larger gunboat making our boat rock from side to side and increasing the danger from the blasting water and wet, slippery deck.

Later on in the afternoon, around 3:10, another Israeli Naval gunboat approached very quickly and forced us away from our position in the north of the Gazan territorial fishing waters. Soldiers were shouting to go south, among other things. The gunboat continued to circle our boat in very close proximity and was threatening to shoot. As we changed course and headed south, the gunboat proceeded to circle the boat for a while, and then left.

After the gunboat had been gone for a while, the captain of our boat changed course again and returned to the north, heading closer to shore, the goal of catching that specific fish had not been abandoned. At 4:00pm an Israeli Naval gunboat quickly approached, as it drew nearer I spoke on the VHF informing the Navy that "we are Palestinian fishermen, we are pulling in our net of fish. We have the right to be here. These are internationally recognized Gazan fishing waters. Over." I repeated this a number of times. Finally a soldier on the gunboat arrogantly replied: "You don't have the right to be here. Take your fish and go south." We continued to pull in the net and headed south and out to sea. Only two netfulls of fish and neither of them were big catches, however, they did succeed to catch a number of boxes of the fish they were fishing for and for that they were happy.

The fishing boat headed into port after the sun set, and after eating the evening meal breaking the Ramadan fast for the day. They dropped me off, thanked me for my support, and headed back out to sea for an entire night of fishing. They had been fishing for two days and nights already.

The Israeli Navy controls the Gazan territorial waters under its illegal Occupation of the entire region and its siege of the Gaza Strip. Every day Palestinian fishermen face very real threats to their livelihood, their well being and their lives – a direct result of this decades long Israeli Occupation and this 2 year long siege. The Palestinian fishermen have the human right to a livelihood - to go out and fish, earn a living, feed their families and live their lives. The siege must end, the Occupation must end.

5. Darlene Wallach sent the following report on Saturday, 20th September 2008.

Gaza, 20th September 2008. Members of ISM in the Gaza Strip accompanied Palestinian fishermen from the port of Gaza. When they were approximately four nautical miles offshore the fishing vessel was approached by an Israeli gunboat which proceeded to circle it continuously for a while. Shortly after the gunboat withdrew, a larger naval vessel approached from the north-east and began to spray the fishing boat with high-pressure water from a cannon mounted on its bow. Fortunately no-one was injured during the attack and no damage was done to the boat, largely because the fishermen had taken measures to protect it such as boarding-up the windows. The same boat suffered a similar assault again later in the day. A second fishing vessel in the vicinity was observed also being attacked by water cannon. In the afternoon an Israeli gunboat closed in on the fishing boat carrying ISM members and fired live ammunition in very close proximity to the boat.

4. Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine,19th September, 2008. On the morning of Friday  19th September and the 19th day of Ramadan, about 5 Palestinian fishing boats left Gaza City port for another day of trawling off the coast of Gaza Strip. It was a very clear day and I could easily see the coast the entire day.

When the boat I was on reached 7 miles out, an Israeli Naval gunboat speedily approached and fired at the fishing boat. One of the soldiers called for the captain of the boat and yelled at him to stop the boat. Continuing in a deragatory tone of voice, the Israeli soldier told the captain to only sail up and down the coast and not to go further out into the sea. The captain told the soldier that he needed to go out 10 miles to trawl for fish. I also spoke to the gunboat and reiterated that the fishermen needed to go out ten miles. This time the gunboat did not continue to fire upon this boat. I think in the end we only went out to eight miles. For the remainder of the day we were able to trawl for fish in relative peace.

However, just after the sun went going down, after the meal for breaking the fast for the day, an Israeli Naval gunboat fired upon another Palestinian fishing boat and we heard over the VHF radio an international tell the Israeli Navy "We are Palestinian fishermen, fishing in Palestinian waters. Stop shooting!"

In the evening, the captain of the boat told me that it costs him $1,000 a day of diesel fuel to power his fishing boat. Considering that the catch for the day was small, as it often is for the Palestinian fishermen up and down the coast, it is hard to understand how they succeed to make a living. In addition to the exceptionally high cost of fuel, there are either no spare parts for broken, damaged, or lost equipment, or the cost of the spare parts are ten times the normal cost - the Israeli siege continues to impact every aspect of Palestinian life. The siege must end, now!

Report by Donna Wallach, ISM and FGM volunteer reporting on fishing boat actions from Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine.

3. Donna Wallach on fishing action off of Gaza City  port, reporting from one of the fishing boats, on Thursday 18th Sept. 2008

Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine, 18th September 2008. On Thursday 18th September, at least 7 Palestinian fishing  boats left Gaza City port to trawl in Gazan Territorial waters. The Israeli Navy continued it's daily attacks and harrassments on Palestinan fishermen and their boats.

Today the Navy boat with the water cannon was not seen, so no damage to any fishing boats and nobody was injured from high powered water spray. However, the Israeli soldiers on  two  Israeli Navy gunboats that were patroling today were exceptionally aggressive and arrogant. One of the gunboats drove by all of the fishing boats and fired at them,going from boat to boat.

On a second gunboat, the Israeli soldiers were harrassing the fishermen, yelling out to them in Hebrew and in Arabic that it was probibited for them to fish past  six miles. The soldiers on the gunboat were informed that according to  international law, the Palestinian fishermen have the right to fish at least 12 miles out. Their response was laughter.

Later on in the afternoon, this same gunboat was sitting in a very threatening way  in the water close  to one of the Palestinian  fishing boats. One of the soldiers was yelling at the captain of the boat in a deragatory tone of voice and using condescending language telling him to stop fishing and to go back to Gaza.

Almost the entire day the Israeli Navy gunboats harrassed the fishermen, either shooting at them or threatening to.

Every day and night Palestinian fishermen try to fish and every day the Israeli Navy does what it can to prevent them. The eyes of the world needs to watch what is happening. The people of the world need to put an end to this constant harrassment and attack on  Palestinians trying to earn a living and to feed their families. Palestinian fishermen have the right to fish, at least out to 12 miles, in their own waters.

2. (GAZA) On Wednesday 17 September 2008, I (along with two other international volunteers) went out with three different fishing boats from the Gaza City port to trawl for fish. We left the port at about 8:30am.

I was on a boat with fishermen I already knew. We went out about seven and a half miles, put out the net and began to trawl. It wasn't long before an Israeli Naval gunboat approached, and circled around. The fishermen requested from me to speak with the Israeli Navy. I did make contact with them, telling them that "we were Palestinian fishermen fishing in Gazan waters. Palestinians have the right to fish in Gazan waters, they have the right to a livelihood and to feed their families."

Someone on the Israeli Naval gunboat said in Hebrew that it was forbidden for the Palestinian fishermen to be out past six miles. I replied that according to International Law, the Palestinian fishermen had the right to fish beyond twelve miles in their territorial waters. His response was to call me "bitch". Soon after that the gunboat opened fire on the fishing boat, aiming, what appeared to me to be toward the center of the boat. The fishermen quickly pulled in their net, not wanting their boat or any of the equipment to be damaged by the gunfire.

We drove back towards the Gaza coast until we reached about six miles out and began trawling again. The gunboat came by again and circled around menacingly. Off in the distance we saw the large Israeli Naval gunboat that has the water cannon stationed at the fore of the boat. We were expecting to get drenched, but were pleasantly surprised when it continued past us without stopping or even aiming the water cannon at us.

The Israeli Navy contacted the boat via VHF again reiterating that it was forbidden for them to fish out beyond six miles. This is an abomination! The large quantities of fish are out beyond the six mile limit, as are the larger fish. The fishermen need to be able to fish in their territorial waters, when and where they want.

It is an outrage that Israeli Naval gunboats patrol the Territorial Gazan Waters at will. They harass, threaten, shoot, damage and terrorize the Palestinian fishermen, their boats and fishing equipment. The Israeli Navy often limits the Palestinian fishermen from fishing beyond three or four miles, and sometimes they aren't permitted to fish at all.

This would not be tolerated any place else in the world. 

Fishing is one of the few sources of Palestinian food left in Gaza. The Israeli Occupation Forces have destroyed much of the farm land and have established an illegal buffer zone on much of the agricultural farm land within Gaza, denying Palestinian farmers their livelihood and the right to feed their families. This has made 80% of the Palestinians living in Gaza Strip totally dependent on food aid from the UN.

It is time that these collective punishments upon the entire population of Gaza Strip end. The Palestinian people have the human right to live in freedom. Parents have the human right to provide for their children. Children have the human right to go to school and students have the human right to attend University. Farmers have the right to farm their land and fishermen have the right to fish in their own territorial waters. This siege must end.

Please, be creative - put pressure on the Apartheid State of Israel to end the siege now – tell your families, your friends, your co-workers that this situation can no longer be tolerated. Ban the Israeli Navy from Gazan Territorial Waters!

--Donna Wallach, international human rights monitor, writing from Occupied Gaza

1. (GAZA) On Monday, 15 September 2008, international human rights volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement & Free Gaza Movement joined the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) in symbolically planting trees in the buffer zone in Fukharee, north of Rafah.

The buffer zone was established by Israeli Occupation Forces in one of Gaza's prime agricultural areas. The zone is a "no-go" area roughly 300 meters wide along the entire eastern border of the Gaza Strip. In this "buffer" zone, farmers are violently prohibited from farming their land, and these areas have become very dangerous for the Palestinians to live and farm in.

The Israeli buffer zone is another form of siege that denies the Palestinians right to livelihood, feeding their families, freedom of movement and to live in Peace. This is all happening during the so-called cease fire.

ISM volunteers met at UAWC office in Khan Younis before joining with a few hundred UAWC activists. Two buses and four cars transported all the volunteers, the trees and the shovels to Fukharee, close to the border with Israel. Upon arriving some people noticed the tell-tale dust of an Israeli tank as it appeared from behind some trees off in the distance.

All the volunteers got off the buses and started walking toward the fields holding 3 banners and chanting "Free, Free Palestine" in Arabic. Various news agencies and independent video cameras recorded the event.

We dug holes and managed to plant about 100 plant olive, guava and citrus trees. Although the ISM volunteers were there to both join Palestinians as they reclaimed their land and demand that Israel stop destroying the crops in the area, the action was a primarily symbolic. The UAWC plans to continue doing various similar actions throughout the Gaza Strip in and near the buffer zones.

--Donna Wallach, international human rights monitor, writing from Occupied Gaza