to fish and farm in Gaza means risking one’s life

Below is an update from the Friends of Gaza —

This report on fishing & farming in the Gaza Strip is from Donna Wallach, an ISM and Free Gaza Movement volunteer in Gaza:

(GAZA) On Monday, 15 September 2008, international human rights volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement & Free Gaza Movement joined the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) in symbolically planting trees in the buffer zone in Fukharee, north of Rafah.

The buffer zone was established by Israeli Occupation Forces in one of Gaza’s prime agricultural areas. The zone is a “no-go” area roughly 300 meters wide along the entire eastern border of the Gaza Strip. In this “buffer” zone, farmers are violently prohibited from farming their land, and these areas have become very dangerous for the Palestinians to live and farm in.

The Israeli buffer zone is another form of siege that denies the Palestinians right to livelihood, feeding their families, freedom of movement and to live in Peace. This is all happening during the so-called cease fire.

ISM volunteers met at UAWC office in Khan Younis before joining with a few hundred UAWC activists. Two buses and four cars transported all the volunteers, the trees and the shovels to Fukharee, close to the border with Israel. Upon arriving some people noticed the tell-tale dust of an Israeli tank as it appeared from behind some trees off in the distance.

All the volunteers got off the buses and started walking toward the fields holding 3 banners and chanting “Free, Free Palestine” in Arabic. Various news agencies and independent video cameras recorded the event.

We dug holes and managed to plant about 100 plant olive, guava and citrus trees. Although the ISM volunteers were there to both join Palestinians as they reclaimed their land and demand that Israel stop destroying the crops in the area, the action was a primarily symbolic. The UAWC plans to
continue doing various similar actions throughout the Gaza Strip in and near the buffer zones.
—–
(GAZA) On Wednesday 17 September 2008, I (along with two other international volunteers) went out with three different fishing boats from the Gaza City port to trawl for fish. We left the port at about 8:30am.

I was on a boat with fishermen I already knew. We went out about seven and a half miles, put out the net and began to trawl. It wasn’t long before an Israeli Naval gunboat approached, and circled around. The fishermen requested from me to speak with the Israeli Navy. I did make contact with
them, telling them that “we were Palestinian fishermen fishing in Gazan waters. Palestinians have the right to fish in Gazan waters, they have the right to a livelihood and to feed their families.”

Someone on the Israeli Naval gunboat said in Hebrew that it was forbidden for the Palestinian fishermen to be out past six miles. I replied that according to International Law, the Palestinian fishermen had the right to fish beyond twelve miles in their territorial waters. His response was to
call me “bitch”. Soon after that the gunboat opened fire on the fishing boat, aiming, what appeared to me to be toward the center of the boat. The fishermen quickly pulled in their net, not wanting their boat or any of the equipment to be damaged by the gunfire.

We drove back towards the Gaza coast until we reached about six miles out and began trawling again. The gunboat came by again and circled around menacingly. Off in the distance we saw the large Israeli Naval gunboat that has the water cannon stationed at the fore of the boat. We were
expecting to get drenched, but were pleasantly surprised when it continued past us without stopping or even aiming the water cannon at us. Other boats were not so lucky, and Vittorio Arrigoni (an international human rights monitor from Italy) was injured by flying glass when an Israeli water cannon was aimed at the boat he was on.

The Israeli Navy contacted our boat via VHF again reiterating that it was forbidden for them to fish out beyond six miles. This is an abomination! The large quantities of fish are out beyond the six mile limit, as are the larger fish. The fishermen need to be able to fish in their territorial waters, when and where they want.

It is an outrage that Israeli Naval gunboats patrol the Territorial Gazan Waters at will. They harass, threaten, shoot, damage and terrorize the Palestinian fishermen, their boats and fishing equipment. The Israeli Navy often limits the Palestinian fishermen from fishing beyond three or four miles, and sometimes they aren’t permitted to fish at all.

This would not be tolerated any place else in the world.

Fishing is one of the few sources of Palestinian food left in Gaza. The Israeli Occupation Forces have destroyed much of the farm land and have established an illegal buffer zone on much of the agricultural farm land within Gaza, denying Palestinian farmers their livelihood and the right to feed their families. This has made 80% of the Palestinians living in Gaza Strip totally dependent on food aid from the UN.

It is time that these collective punishments upon the entire population of Gaza Strip end. The Palestinian people have the human right to live in freedom. Parents have the human right to provide for their children. Children have the human right to go to school and students have the human right to attend University. Farmers have the right to farm their land and fishermen have the right to fish in their own territorial waters. This siege must end.

Please, be creative – put pressure on the Apartheid State of Israel to end the siege now – tell your families, your friends, your co-workers that this situation can no longer be tolerated. Ban the Israeli Navy from Gazan Territorial Waters!

–Donna Wallach, international human rights monitor, writing from Occupied Gaza.

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