Larnaca. When members of the Free Gaza Movement sailed to Gaza in August, several accompanied fishermen aboard their small boats. Israeli gunboats regularly confine these boats inside a 6-mile Israeli-imposed limit. Although international law allows every Mediterranean sea territory fishing rights 12-20 miles offshore, Israel ignores those laws and has killed at least 14 fishermen over the past few years.
"All we ever wanted to do was fish," said one as he fixed his nets. "We can't feed our families or make money doing what our ancestors have done for thousands of years."
Over the next two months, internationals reported and video taped several incidents of machine-gun fire and water-cannon attacks. Around 8:00 am, on October 31, ten internationals joined the fishermen as witnesses. By 8:30, the two lead boats had passed the Israeli limit. "The second boat was about 100 yards away from us when it was attacked for 30 minutes by a high-pressure water cannon from an Israeli warship. The spray was so powerful you couldn't even see the boat," said David Schermerhorn.
Throughout the day, as the men continued to fish, boats were hit so severely by high-pressure water cannon that only makeshift shutters and mattresses prevented the wheelhouse from flooding and windows from exploding onto the men. Within minutes, the Israeli water-cannon boat was joined by another gunboat, machine gun mounted in back. The gunner blasted multiple rounds within a meter of the fishing boat. Despite continued machine-gun fire, water cannons and three Israeli gunboats circling like sharks, the fishermen stayed out 10-11 miles for a catch.
When Angela Godfrey-Goldstein called Shlomo Dror, Israeli Ministry of Defense spokesman, to tell the Navy to stop machine gunning barely a meter over the heads of fishermen and internationals, he accused the rights advocates of being provocateurs, terrorists, supporters of Hamas. "The people of Gaza have plenty of food. They don't need to go fishing," he snarled.
"When the Ministry of Defense learns that this voyage brings a delegation of European parliamentarians, maybe he will begin to "get it." Average citizens of the world, even decision makers, are up in arms, non-violently, against the collective punishment, the state terrorism of the Israeli government. And we are restoring dignity to those abandoned human beings, just as we would have wanted to do in the past to others in other ghettoes" said Godfrey-Goldstein.
"I had only heard about these episodes before I came to Gaza. I can't begin to tell you the horror these men face every day by bullies in the Israeli Navy," an outraged Schermerhorn added. "What risks they take we don't even know about. The good news was the fishermen were ecstatic when they pulled up the nets. It was one of the largest catches they had had in years.
Contact: Mary Hughes, Cyprus +357 96 750059 Greta Berlin, Cyprus: +357 99 081767
David Schermerhorn, Cyprus +357 977 81 283
Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, Jerusalem: +972 547 366 393