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‘This time we were not forced to swim naked in the sea’: Gaza fishermen left jobless after illegal arrest in Palestinian waters

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Israeli military harassing Palestinian fishermen (Photo: Rosa Schiano/Civil Peace Service Gaza)

A young Palestinian fisherman was arrested together with his brother within Palestinian waters on 19 May 2013 by the Israeli navy and released the following day. Their boat and all equipment were confiscated by the Israelis, leaving them with no means to make a living. This is another serious blow to the livelihoods of individual Palestinians whose lives depend on fishing, not to mention the whole population, which has been for years subject to siege as collective punishment, illegal under international law.

The interview was facilitated by and took place in the office of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) in Gaza City. Sa’d Zaida, Senior Manager at UAWC, translated from Arabic to English. Editing and titles by the author.

My name is Mahmoud Zayed. I am 25 years old. I am a fishermen and live with my family in Beit Lahiya, in the north of the Gaza Strip. Last Sunday, 19 May 2013, my brother Khaled (24) and I went fishing at about 5:30 pm. We have a row boat, a hasaka, which accommodates two people. We stayed in the Beit Lahiya area near the beach. At around 9:00 pm we were sailing about 1.4 km (0.8 nautical miles) from the beach. A number of other boats were near us. Suddenly, two Israeli ninja boats (zodiac) approached us and started to shoot at us.


There were perhaps five soldiers on each boat. We tried to escape the attack but it increased. We shouted at the soldiers: “We want to go home. We want to go to the Gaza beach.” Yet the army circled our boat, creating huge waves. Water was in our faces and everywhere. One of the waves sent us into the sea. But we got aboard again. Khaled fell on the floor. He was exhausted and feeling sick. But still we tried to defend our boat by sticking out our oars to prevent the navy boat from getting close. One of the Israeli boats tried to catch our boat by throwing a rope over a pole. Twice they succeeded, but we immediately removed the rope. [Mahmoud and all other fishermen sitting in the same room smile.]

New colors of detainee clothes

In the end the army caught our boat. According to Israeli regulations, we were allowed to go fishing up to six km (three nm). The Israeli navy attacked us at 1.4 km (0.8 nm), but by the time they caught us we were at one km (0.5 nm). The attack lasted for more than an hour. When they caught our boat, they did not ask us to take off our clothes and swim towards them, as is the usual procedure. This time we were arrested directly on the boat, so we did not have to swim without clothes. Two soldiers took me and carried me to the small navy boat. My brother Khaled was exhausted and sick. Two other soldiers carried him. On the small boat they told us to take off our clothes. They gave us yellow t-shirt and blue trousers …This must be a new fashion, because the navy used to give the arrested fishermen green uniforms, then black ones, so now it’s yellow and blue. They are following fashion, that’s why they change the uniforms for us. [The fishermen laugh.]

Handcuffed all night in Ashdod

The soldiers covered my eyes, handcuffed me and carried me and my brother to the big navy boat. There they asked our names, ID number and boat number. We said we did not know the numbers by heart. After one hour we arrived at Ashdod sea port. The Israelis brought a doctor who inspected Khaled and gave him an injection. They asked our names and ID. They took photos of us and noted our phone numbers. Then they put us into a room, still blindfolded and handcuffed. I asked that they take away the handcuffs, but we spent the night handcuffed tightly. In the morning, the Israeli internal security interrogated me, showed me a map and asked about places I know on the shore. They asked about Sudania (the point where the fishermen entered the sea directly) and about a water pump in Sudania. They showed me the police station.

Everything confiscated, even 100 NIS from my pocket

After the investigation I asked about my boat and confiscated nets, but they said I must talk to a Palestinian lawyer. (But they know very well that fishermen do not have money to pay a lawyer or court costs.) They took me blindfolded and handcuffed back to the room. The investigation took place at around 8.30 am and lasted for 30 or 45 minutes. It was conducted in Hebrew with translation into Arabic. The translator did not speak with a Palestinian accent. They investigated only me, not Khaled. Fifteen minutes later they tied our legs with iron cuffs. Then they put us into a police car and took us to Erez. This was around 11:00 am on Monday morning, May 20. We were without our boat, nets and all equipment. What’s more, I had 100 NIS in my pocket. I got it for the fish I had caught the other day. They took it, too. We weren’t allowed to talk to our family until we got back home, not during the arrest.

They know every detail about us, but still they arrest us and intimidate us

What is strange about this is that, during the interrogation, they asked me: “Your brother was on another boat, why was he in the hasaka?” It’s true that Khaled usually goes fishing with another boat. But after he finished his work he came to help me. This shows that they have been observing us very closely, they know everything about us. How they follow this, how they trace this, we don’t know. But this is what happened… Why did they arrest us and confiscate everything? I think because my brother joined me on the boat.


Our family depends on fishing. We are six brothers and a sister, altogether 13 members in the family. I have a son. Khaled also has a son. In the family we had one hasaka, which is now confiscated. Our father and another brother also have a boat, but it’s for their use. My hasaka was the only means of making a living for me. I will be unemployed until I can get a new boat. I cannot borrow someone else’s boat. What would happen if soldiers confiscated it again? The hasaka I had cost 3,300 NIS ($900). The nets and equipment cost even more. On Saturday, I bought nets for 2,000 NIS. They were brand new and I lost them just one day after buying them.

Six miles as a drop in the ocean

How do we feel about the extension of the fishing range from three to six nm? It helps a little bit. However, if we look at the economic side of it, there is no change at all. It is okay for sardines, which are seasonal, but it is almost the end of the sardine season now. For other fish it does not change anything. “Natural fishing” starts only after eight nm, where there is what we call a “line of rocks”. Anything less offers only a seasonal benefit. What’s more, it is forbidden to fish at six nm, as this is where the fish eggs are. …At three to six nm there is only “ramel”, ground, soil. There are sardines at six nm. If you are lucky, you will also get some other fish. It gets better after six miles, but the good area starts at eight miles. …The dangerous thing after the November 2012 ceasefire is that by allowing us to fish up to six nm, this might be designed as the maximum we will ever be allowed to go to. It’s a kind of collective punishment. Israel needs neither arguments nor rockets. They punish us without these things.

A message to the world

We want our boat and nets back. We want Israelis to leave us alone, to live peacefully and give us the right to fish anywhere.

Background info

The attack by the Israeli navy on Palestinian fishermen happened within the three nm limit (precisely at 0.8 nm), which the Israeli side would justify as a “military necessity”. Under the “military necessity” would also fall the confiscation of a boat and nets. The Oslo Agreement of 1994 designated Palestinian waters as 20 nm. This number has been shrinking ever since: In 2002 it was officially lowered to 12 nm in the Bertini Agreement. Following the disengagement, Israel reduced the fishing area even more, and since the capture of the soldier Gilad Shalit, on June 25, 2006, fishermen have not been allowed further than three nautical miles from shore. Thus Palestinians have been denied access to 85% of their sea, to which they are legally entitled, according to the Oslo Agreement. Following the ceasefire in November 2012 after the Pillar of Defense attack, the limit moved up to six nm again. Despite these agreements, the Israeli navy continued attacking fishermen within this limit. In March 2013 the three nm limit was again imposed, after some rockets were fired from Gaza towards the south of Israel. On Tuesday, May 21, Israel extended the fishing range back to six nm, as a gesture of “goodwill” during US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Tel Aviv, many say. Fishing provides a livelihood to many families and is an important source of food for residents of the Gaza Strip. Waters along the Gaza coast have long been overfished and many human rights organizations, such as the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and B’Tselem, call for restoring the 20 nautical mile limit as stipulated in the interim Oslo Agreements almost 20 years ago.

Petra Stastna

Petra Stastna comes from the Czech Republic where she has been active in various solidarity movements, including the struggle for justice and freedom for Palestine. She is currently in Gaza.

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14 Responses

  1. just on May 31, 2013, 10:06 am

    Good God– more collective punishment for an already oppressed people. More theft and brutal detainment for these fishermen. Fishermen– a most noble and ancient craft and means of not only feeding the people, but also a means of eking out a living from nature.

    How do Israelis sleep at night? How can they? There is no soul left in the Zionists, and we’ve lost ours here in America by enabling them. People often ask me why I even care, much less am passionate, about the horrible plight of the Palestinians. I explain, some listen– some won’t. The Zionist narrative is somehow deeply imbedded in the psyche of far too many in the US.

    Thank you Petra– for this and your work.

  2. homingpigeon on May 31, 2013, 10:49 am

    I’m waiting for the Hasbarists. Curious to see how they try to spin this one. Come on guys, earn your keep.

    • eljay on May 31, 2013, 11:03 am

      >> I’m waiting for the Hasbarists. Curious to see how they try to spin this one. Come on guys, earn your keep.

      Too easy. First, they’ll quote from this thread’s article:

      The attack by the Israeli navy … happened within the three nm limit … which the Israeli side would justify as a “military necessity”. Under the “military necessity” would also fall the confiscation of a boat and nets.

      And then they’ll add one or more of the following:
      – terrorism (more commonly referred to as “terrrrrrr”);
      – “Jewish State” and/or Jewish homeland;
      – suicide bombings / bombers / bombs (often includes mention of pizza parlours);
      – [“Remember] the Holocaust[!”™];
      – (the) Hamas / Iran / Hezbollah;
      – “the only democracy in the Middle East”;
      – “not as bad as Saudi Arabia or Mali”.

      • Denis on May 31, 2013, 3:51 pm

        That’s very funny. Probably registered to Uncle Abe and the ADL.

        I’m tempted to say that someday these Israelis will pay for these gross injustices, but then I have to ask: Did the Germans pay?

        Don’t think so (unless you count having Merkel as chancellor as a punishment). Germany’s doing just fine, thank you. Better than the rest of the EU and, probably, the US. One generation and that pariah problem has disappeared.

        How about that whole expulsion of the Jews thing, surely that back-fired.

        Not yet: German Jewish population 1910 = 610,000. German Jewish population 2010 = 100,000 (but up from 30,000 in 1990).

        It is this conspicuous absence of discernible justice in the world that makes me worry the most about Palestinians. This is not a case of “Hang on, mate, it’ll be right.”

      • eljay on June 2, 2013, 3:26 pm

        >> “TM”
        >> That’s very funny.

        To paraphrase Homer J.: “It’s funny because it’s true.”

        >> Did the Germans pay?

        The Germans paid – and continue to pay – financially. And slurs against Germans as “Nazis” haven’t died out just yet.

        I can only hope that at some point Zio-supremacists are rightly made to pay for their crimes, and that the hateful ideology of Zio-supremacism dies along with the oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist “Jewish State” project.

        Note: I do not wish to see Israel gone – I wish to see it transformed. I believe in a two state solution comprising:
        – a secular, democratic and egalitarian Israeli state – a “culturally Jewish” state of and for all Israelis, equally; and
        – a secular, democratic and egalitarian Palestinian state – a “culturally Palestinian” state of and for all Palestinians, equally.

      • Denis on June 4, 2013, 1:53 pm

        Sign me up, Eljay.

        I once thought that a single state was the answer with the Golden Era of the Iberian Peninsula as the model, which showed that Jews and Muslims have a lot to offer each other. But I guess that is too broad of a statement.

        I should have said: . . . it showed that Sephardi and Muslims have a lot to offer each other. Now I realize that as long as Ashkenazi control Israel, a single state is a non-starter b/c they don’t have anything to offer anybody except our-way-or-the-highway zionism.

        But I’m having my doubts that even two states would overcome this problem. I mean Israel attacks Syria at will. They violate Lebanon’s air space daily. There are no international repercussions. What the hell are the 1967 borders or statehood for Palestine going to mean to GoI even if a treaty is signed? Nada. Just imagine an independent state of Palestine trying to set up air defense bases to stop Israeli intrusions.

        Seems to me that there is no hope for peace in the Middle East until the Ashkenazi give up on their zionist quest, but that will never happen until they occupy and control the whole of the Levant.

      • eljay on June 4, 2013, 6:39 pm

        >> Seems to me that there is no hope for peace in the Middle East until the Ashkenazi give up on their zionist quest, but that will never happen until they occupy and control the whole of the Levant.

        I agree. Zio-supremacist greed is insatiable.

  3. Citizen on May 31, 2013, 11:41 am

    Disgusting. And I support it with my tax dollars.

  4. radii on May 31, 2013, 12:00 pm

    zionist ethnic-cleansing-campaign crime #743,782

  5. LanceThruster on May 31, 2013, 1:46 pm

    Whenever I am confronted with some major or minor indignity, I remind myself of the outrages perpetrated on the Palestinians on a daily basis. I feel a remarkable solidarity with them as “an injury to one is an injury to all.” I know how much anxiety I am filled with when my job and well-being are threatened, particularly when at the hands of unfeeling bullies (who in my experience, most often get off on treating people this way). It is my sincere hope that these brothers will be able to return to their livelihood soon, and be allowed to live their lives unmolested by state-sanctioned thugs.

  6. DICKERSON3870 on May 31, 2013, 3:44 pm

    RE: “According to Israeli regulations, we were allowed to go fishing up to six km (three nm). The Israeli navy attacked us at 1.4 km (0.8 nm), but by the time they caught us we were at one km (0.5 nm).” ~ from the interview with Mahmoud Zayed (as translated)

    FROM ALISTAIR COOK, London Review of Books, 03/03/11:

    (excerpts) . . . It was [Ariel] Sharon who pioneered the philosophy of ‘maintained uncertainty’ that repeatedly extended and then limited the space in which Palestinians could operate by means of an unpredictable combination of changing and selectively enforced regulations, and the dissection of space by settlements, roads Palestinians were not allowed to use and continually shifting borders. All of this was intended to induce in the Palestinians a sense of permanent temporariness. . .
    . . . It suits Israel to have a ‘state’ without borders so that it can keep negotiating about borders, and count on the resulting uncertainty to maintain acquiescence. . .

    SOURCE –

    • DICKERSON3870 on May 31, 2013, 3:59 pm

      P.S. RE: “[Ariel Sharon’s] philosophy of ‘maintained uncertainty’ . . . to induce in the Palestinians a sense of permanent temporariness. . . to maintain [Palestinian] acquiescence. . .” ~ from the Alistair Crooke article (excerpted above)

      MY COMMENT: Ariel Sharon’s philosophy of ‘maintained uncertainty’ to maintain Palestinian acquiescence appears to make use of “learned helplessness”.

      FROM WIKIPEDIA [Learned helplessness]:

      [EXCERPT] Learned helplessness is the condition of a human or animal that has learned to behave helplessly, failing to respond even though there are opportunities for it to help itself by avoiding unpleasant circumstances or by gaining positive rewards. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.[1] Organisms which have been ineffective and less sensitive in determining the consequences of their behavior are defined as having acquired learned helplessness.[2]
      The American psychologist Martin Seligman’s foundational experiments and theory of learned helplessness began

      at the University of Pennsylvania in 1967, as an extension of his interest in depression. Quite by accident, Seligman and colleagues discovered that the conditioning of dogs led to outcomes that opposed the predictions of B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism, then a leading psychological theory.[3][4]

      In the learned helplessness experiment an animal is repeatedly hurt by an adverse stimulus which it cannot escape.
      Eventually the animal will stop trying to avoid the pain and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation.
      Finally, when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness prevents any action. The only coping mechanism the animal uses is to be stoical and put up with the discomfort, not expending energy getting worked up about the adverse stimulus. . .

      SOURCE –

      • LanceThruster on May 31, 2013, 6:31 pm

        This is truly a nightmare scenario. Treating people like whipped dogs.

    • DICKERSON3870 on May 31, 2013, 4:11 pm

      RE: “FROM ALISTAIR COOK, London Review of Books, 03/03/11″ – me (from above)

      “FROM ALISTAIR CROOKE, London Review of Books, 03/03/11″

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