Israel violates ceasefire, attacks Gaza fishermen — who is holding Israel accountable?

Israel/Palestine
on 8 Comments
Gaza Port
Gaza port. (All photos: Dooler Campbell)

Since the ceasefire was put into effect on Thursday, 22 November 2012, 29 fishermen have been arrested while out at sea, including 14 fisherman arrested on Saturday, 1 December 2012. An announcement was issued by the Hamas government stating that the maritime boundaries had been extended from three to six nautical miles under the terms of the recent ceasefire. International standards set the limit at 12 miles, while the Oslo Accords granted Gaza fishermen 20 miles in 1995. However, this limit was reduced to three miles in January 2009 after the attacks of Operation Cast Lead.

In late January 2009, when fishermen returned to the sea after Operation Cast Lead, they were viciously attacked. Boats were completely destroyed, and many fishermen were shot, with serious injuries. Some were even shot in the back as they attempted to return to the shore.

Nearly four years later, immediately following a ceasefire, Gaza fishermen are once again under attack. The majority of these attacks have occurred between Wednesday, 28 November, and Saturday, 1 December. In this time, at least 29 fishermen have been arrested, at least 9 fishing boats have been impounded (including a larger trawling vessel), and one boat has been destroyed. The fishermen’s reports are generally the same: they are fishing within the new 6 mile limit (or even within the former 3 mile limit) when Israeli gunboats approach and start firing at them, oftentimes aiming at the motor. They order fishermen to strip down to their undergarments, jump into the water, and swim towards the gunboat, where they are handcuffed and blindfolded, and sometimes beaten. Some are taken to Ashdod or Erez and interrogated. Most are released the same day. Most have belonged to the Bakr family, while the Hessi family has also been attacked.

Khadr Bakr
Khadr Bakr

Many of these fishermen are the sole supporters of large families and don’t know how they will survive with their boats destroyed or impounded. Khadr Bakr, 20 years old, was arrested from his boat on Wednesday, 28 November. He is the only breadwinner in his family of ten, which consists of his parents and eight children. Khadr was fishing with three other people when the Israeli navy appeared and began firing at his ship. He was only 3.5 miles from the shore. Four large Israeli gunboats began firing at the fishing boat from a range of about 5 meters. They ordered the fishermen to take off their clothes and jump in the water. After they jumped in, they continued to fire at the boat until it caught fire and the outboard engine exploded. They also shot around Khadr while he was in the water. He said later in an interview, “I thought they were going to kill me while I was in the water.” The other three fishermen were able to escape with help from another fishing boat, but Khadr was taken aboard, where he was handcuffed and blindfolded. He was held like that for three hours, while the captain of the gunboat kicked him and accused him of aiding terrorists.

On the same day, at approximately 10am, the Israeli navy confiscated a trawling vessel belonging to Morad Rajab al-Hissi. Two Israeli gunboats approached from the West and began firing immediately upon approach. Fishermen were ordered by Israeli soldiers to strip and jump into the sea, but they refused and retrieved their nets from the water in order to leave. Two smaller Israeli naval vessels then arrived, and the order to strip was repeated. This time the fishermen obliged and were ordered to jump in the water and swim to one of the gunboats, where they were arrested. The family does not expect their boat to be returned for 2-3 years, and even then it will be with a damaged motor or no motor at all. The large trawling vessels support about 20 families, leaving all of them without a source of income. The Hissi family invested $70,000 in the trawler and fishing equipment, and are now left in debt as a result. This is the fifth time their trawler has been seized.

Sabry Mahmoud Bakr and Jamal Bakr
Sabry Mahmoud Bakr and Jamal Bakr

On Saturday, 1 December, Amar Bakr was one of 14 fishermen arrested that day, and he is still held in the prison in Ashdod. He used to work for Hamas in a civilian capacity, making coffee, but his father fears that under torture he will be coerced into saying that he was a military combatant. Amar has never been involved in the military, but because he served them coffee, his father fears he may never see him again. His household consists of 20 family members, including three disabled children (paralyzed). Fishermen bring in only meager wages, but it is often all they have to support their families. Amar’s uncle Sabry Mahmoud Bakr was also arrested on the same day. He tried to explain to the navy that Amar had never been involved in the military. He pointed out that if Amar was really dangerous, he wouldn’t be out fishing, for he would know that there would be a chance that the navy would capture him at sea. Sabry and other fishermen were transferred from Ashdod prison to Erez, where they were interrogated, then released later that night. Amar’s cousin Mohammed Bakr, also a fisherman, was killed in September 2010 by the Israeli navy.

Now is the last opportunity for these fishermen to fish during the peak season, which ends in December. The blockade prevents fishermen from bringing in major hauls on a normal day, and the situation is made worse by these attacks. Many of these fishermen have been working on boats since childhood and don’t know anything else. Therefore, when boats are impounded or destroyed, their families are sentenced to slow starvation. The high rates of unemployment in Gaza (31.5% in May 2012) make it difficult for them to find alternative work.

Israel has been violating the ceasefire nearly everyday since it was brokered, attacking civilians engaging in peaceful activities, such as farmers and fishermen at work. If it was Hamas violating the ceasefire instead of Israel, it would be used to justify a land invasion or other atrocities against the people of Gaza. The question is now: who is holding Israel accountable?

More information can be found at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). www.pchrgaza.org.

Dooler Campbell, Jenny Linnell, and Johnny Barber are collecting interviews from fishermen in Gaza. For follow-up information, contact:

Dooler – [email protected], +972 (0)592378194

Jenny – [email protected], +972 (0)592181139

Johnny – [email protected], +972 (0)599179701

About Dooler Campbell

Dooler Campbell is a graduate student at SIT (School for International Training) in Brattleboro, VT, working on a Masters in Social Justice in Intercultural Relations.

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8 Responses

  1. dooler
    December 3, 2012, 12:50 pm

    There will be a demonstration in solidarity with the fishermen on Wednesday at the Gaza Port at 10am local time.

  2. eljay
    December 3, 2012, 12:54 pm

    Israel’s proclivity for violence and its general intransigence will not be solved by moral snobbery.

    Enough with the moral cheerleading – let’s get back to patiently and painstakingly examining “initial attitudes”.

  3. mondonut
    December 3, 2012, 1:01 pm

    Do you suppose there is any chance that Hamas is less than truthful? This copy of the understanding from the Washington Post makes no mention of the 3 or 6 mile limit.

    link to washingtonpost.com

    Understanding Regarding Ceasefire in Gaza Strip
    1. a. Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.
    b. All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.
    c. Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.
    d. Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.
    2. Implementation Mechanism:
    a. Setting up the zero hour for the ceasefire understanding to enter into effect.
    b. Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.
    c. Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. In case of any observations Egypt as the sponsor of this understanding shall be informed to follow up.

    • eljay
      December 3, 2012, 6:05 pm

      >> Do you suppose there is any chance that Hamas is less than truthful?

      Yes, I suppose there is a chance. Do you suppose there is any chance that the maritime boundaries were extended after November 22 under the following clause?
      >> Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.

      • mondonut
        December 4, 2012, 9:09 am

        eljay says: Yes, I suppose there is a chance. Do you suppose there is any chance that the maritime boundaries were extended after November 22 under the following clause?
        >> Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.
        ==========================
        No. Had the boundaries been extended there would have been a joint announcement, it would have been in writing and Israel would not be denying it.

        • eljay
          December 6, 2012, 10:38 am

          >> No. Had the boundaries been extended there would have been a joint announcement, it would have been in writing and Israel would not be denying it.

          From this November 28, 2012 article in the New York Times:

          Despite an Israeli concession to permit Gazans to fish up to six nautical miles from shore rather than three …
          . . .
          Israel has not officially announced any change in its naval blockade against Gaza, but a senior government official and a military official confirmed on Wednesday what they described as a “new arrangement” in which fishing boats would be allowed to venture twice as far from the Gaza coast as the previously enforced limit.

          Your unequivocal “No” is just that much more amusing.

    • dooler
      December 3, 2012, 6:34 pm

      Yes, of course there’s some chance that the Hamas government posted a false notice, but there’s also a chance that it was included in the “other matters” mentioned in the agreement. The point is moot. Either way, they still have the right to fish up to 12 miles (international standard) or even 20 miles (as agreed upon in the Oslo Accords). And if you disagree with that, Israel is still violating the ceasefire by targeting civilians, both on land and at sea. Israel is still “targeting residents in border areas” and is still firing at fishermen at the (perhaps) former 3 mile limit.

      The reason the notice from Hamas government was mentioned was to clarify why the fishermen thought it was safe to venture out to 6 miles. If Israel contests this, they still have no right to fire at the fishermen and they are still in violation of the agreement. Unless fishing is now counted among “hostilities”…?

      “Since a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip was brokered by Egypt, two Palestinians have been shot dead and at least 40 have been injured. Gaza officials say over 30 fishermen have been detained since the agreement.” link to maannews.net.
      Full reports of these attacks can be found at PCHR.

    • Mayhem
      December 3, 2012, 10:22 pm

      Moreover the NYT ( see link to nytimes.com) suggested that Hamas might be trying to provoke the Israelis to break the cease-fire. Exactly.
      Did anybody here care that Hamas violated the cease-fire agreement after Operation Cast Lead every single day?

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