Harriet Sherwood watches the Israeli navy force back Palestinians who dispute 'security' fishing limit
Harriet Sherwood in Gaza City
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 July 2011
"...Under the 1993 Oslo accords, Palestinian fishermen were permitted to fish up to 20 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. Over the past 18 years, the fishing area has been successively eroded, most recently in 2007 when Israel imposed a limit of three nautical miles as part of its land and sea blockade of Gaza after Hamas took control of the territory.
But fishermen and human rights groups say that, since the war in Gaza in 2008-09, the Israeli military regularly enforces a limit even closer to the shore.
The restriction has devastated Gaza's fishing industry. "It is a catastrophic situation," said Khalil Shaheen of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. "Sixty thousand people are dependent on [the fishing industry], and 85% of daily income has been lost."
Fishermen on both sides of the three-mile limit, he said, were subjected to harassment, live fire, confiscation of boats and nets, and water cannon, sometimes impregnated with foul-smelling chemicals.
Since early June, a coalition of Palestinian and international organisations under the umbrella of Civil Peace Service Gaza has been monitoring encounters between fishermen and the Israeli military from its own boat, the Oliva.
But in the past fortnight, the Oliva itself has become a target for the Israeli navy, with repeated assaults on it by military vessels. Last Wednesday, the Guardian hired a boat to accompany the monitors plus a handful of hasakas out to sea.
At around the three-mile limit, the small flotilla was approached and repeatedly circled by two Israeli gunboats. The engines of the hasakas were cut as the waves caused by the gunboats' backwash rose and fell. After about 20 minutes, the gunboats withdrew as a third military vessel, deploying water cannon, arrived....."
Our reporters experience first hand Israeli efforts to intimidate Gaza fishermen and keep their fishing trips ever closer to shore: