CPSG accompanying Gazan fishermen on 28 September 2011.
Today, the Oliva, a monitoring boat manned by the Civil Peace Service Gaza project, accompanied three hasaka boats (the size of small rowboats) and one trawler as they attempted to fish. The Israeli naval boats relentlessly pursued the Oliva, until the crew decided to retreat back to shore only three hours after they launched. The Oliva's previous engine was destroyed by the Israeli navy in July and replacing the engine again is not an option given financial limitations.
The permissible fishing area has been reduced from twenty nautical miles under the 1994 Jericho-Gaza addendum of Oslo to twelve under the 2005 Bertini commitments, enforced at six nm and since Operation Cast Lead, the fishing limit is three nautical miles. (This doesn't include the times in which Israel violently prevented boats from sailing at all after the government takeover by Hamas and during Cast Lead itself.)
But Israel doesn't just blockade the Strip by air, land and sea. Deliberate and violent actions are taken to prevent Palestinians from farming in the arable 'buffer zone' and fishing in Gazan territorial waters, even within the imposed three nautical mile limit. International activists are therefore inclined to look for ways to raise awareness of these issues and use their presence as a deterrent to the violence. This has backfired in the past, not just for the volunteers but for Gazans as well.
In November 2008, Israel arrested and later deported three International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists (including Vittorio Arrigoni) for accompanying fishermen. The navy also arrested the fifteen Palestinian fishermen aboard and confiscated their only source of livelihood, their three boats. After significant legal and media efforts, the Palestinians and their boats were released (albeit damaged by the captors). Only one month later, Israel bombed the port during Cast Lead and destroyed the boats ISM had spent days working to retrieve.
The ISM ceased to accompany the fishermen following the November incident worried that their presence would have a negative effect and the fishermen continued to be harassed, arrested and fired upon. The launch of CPSG in April was the embodiment of a renewed belief in the idea that challenging the Israeli siege from inside Gaza is not impossible and that international attention can mitigate Israeli violence. Several human rights organizations have thrown their money and efforts into this hope; that the Oliva will document the Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian rights and that the world will care.
Only time will tell if this project is successful, but the Oliva will continue to sail, document Israeli aggression and provide support and solidarity for Gazan fishermen.
Sasha Gelzin is the media coordinator for Civil Peace Service Gaza and resides in Washington D.C.