Accompanying Gazan Fishermen by ISM Activist
Personal Account of Accompanying Gazan Fishermen by ISM Activist
On Sunday 12th October, I joined a group of
international human rights
observers dispersed amongst a small fleet of seven Palestinian
trawlers from the port of Gaza City. We left port at 8.00am and headed
out to sea in a westerly direction. Soon after leaving port we
observed two Israeli gunboats some distance away, their outlines like
sharks. Predators patrolling Gazan waters seeking prey. On seeing our
fleet, they drew closer. At about 9.30am, whilst off the southern
coast of Gaza, the distant image of a larger naval vessel appeared on
the horizon. We realised it was the ship carrying the water cannon
which has previously assaulted Palestinian fishing boats.
The fishermen were incredibly good humoured
despite the anticipation
of a water cannon attack. They began singing and this led onto dancing
traditional Palestinian dabke, reflecting their irrepressible spirit
of resistance. Fishermen on two boats traveling alongside ours saw
this and joined in too! They then began boarding up their windows and
changing into vests and shorts in preparation for their
At approximately 10.00am the naval ship reached
fishing vessels some distance from the rest of the fleet and began a
prolonged bombardment with the water cannon. An ISM volunteer from
Scotland was on-board one of the fishing boats, which sustained severe
damage to its wheelhouse. At nearly 11.00am it was finally our turn.
Initially, a neighbouring vessel close by came under assault from the
water cannon. An Italian human rights observer and I were on the roof
of our boat observing the attack. He was filming and I attempted to
signal to the soldiers to stop firing the high-pressure water. After a
while it seemed as though they were about to turn their attention to
us. We quickly clambered down and found the Israeli ship bearing down
on our starboard bow.
I was standing on the foredeck watching
its approach, when the water
cannon was suddenly turned on us, directly at the bow. I was hit by
the full force of the high-pressure hose and was thrown off my feet,
slamming the deck and smashing my hip against the hull. At first,
amidst the confusion, I couldn’t see anything due to the intensity of
the spray, then realised I was hanging over the side of the port bow.
I scrambled to pull myself back in and narrowly escaped falling
overboard as the barrage continued. Fortunately, by now, most of the
crew had managed to take shelter behind the wheelhouse, but one young
fisherman was still out on the bow trying to shield me from the blast.
boats in the fleet were squeezed between the naval ship and
gunboat and had limited space to maneuver, especially as they were
still trawling. As they attempted to raise their nets, the cables
became horribly entangled. However, the navy continued to attack them
whilst they were experiencing difficulties. Machinery on one of the
boats was damaged and the net on ours was ripped apart. It seemed like
it was all just a game to the IOF.
All this is a mere glimpse of the daily harassment
have endured for years and my bruised hip pales into insignificance
compared to everything they have suffered. Many of the fishermen I’ve
been to sea with have shown me deep scars from gunshot wounds
inflicted by the IOF. At least they lived to tell their tales. Earlier
in the morning I noticed a framed photo on the wall of the cabin of a
smartly dressed young man. He gazed down at me with gentle eyes and a
serene smile. It was a picture of Hany Alnajar, a Palestinian
fisherman shot in the head by the Israeli navy in 2006 whilst out
fishing in Palestinian waters. He was merely attempting to earn a
living to support his family. He left behind three small children.
Sailors the world over face danger every time they put to sea.
However, their risk stems from the elements, not from state-sponsored
There was a lull in the
afternoon and we saw a trio of dolphins
playing a short distance from the boat, their backs arching through
the sun-speckled water. They somehow signified freedom at a point when
the gunboats were a reassuringly long distance away. It struck me how
tranquil the scene was, as it should be. As we headed towards shore,
the sun began to set, casting a rosy glow over the Gaza shoreline. A
rather meager catch was brought in by our boat. Every day is a
struggle for these fishermen – not only to sustain a livelihood under
the ongoing siege, but simply to survive another day.