Israeli Navy Shoots Palestinian Fisherman Who Sued Israel, Kidnaps at Least Nine Others in Gazan Waters

Nahad Rajab Mohamed Al-Hesy in His Home

The Israeli navy violently seized two Palestinian trawlers in Gazan waters yesterday, shooting one fisherman in the arm, and ultimately forcing at least ten men to Ashod, Israel, where they were interrogated for several hours. Israel released all of the fishermen at 2 a.m. this morning.

Twenty-eight year old Nehad Mohamed Rajab Al-Hesy reported that his boat, along with six others, were fishing in the same area  at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning when he suddenly saw five Israeli naval ships—three large and two small—approach his boat, along with that of Omar al Habil.  According to Al-Hesy, both men had sued Israel for destroying their boats in the past.

“The Israelis told four boats to go back to Gaza. All six boats tried to pull up their nets, but they prevented us. The Israelis started to shoot at us a lot and I got shot in the arm.  The bullet entered and went out of my arm,” he added holding out his left arm wrapped in white gauze and bandages.

The Israeli navy then asked who was in charge of the boat and Al-Hesy answered that the boat was his.  Next, the Israeli navy commanded him to take off his clothes, jump into the sea and swim until he reached the Israeli naval boats, then asked the three others—Mohamed Rajab Mohamed Al-Hesy, 18, Jarrimal Jehad Rajab Al-Hesy, 22 and Mohamed Jehad Rajab Al-Hesy, 19—to do the same.

A photo of the Nehad Al-Hesy’s Boat Destroyed by the Israeli Navy in 2007 and the Subject of his Lawsuit Against Israel

“It was a terrible thing. It was a scary thing,” said 22-year-old Jarrmal. “Now we are all sick from the cold water they forced us to swim in.”

Once on the ship, Al-Hesy was blindfolded and Israeli forces tied his arms behind his back and forced him to sit in a painful position for several hours. “My back, shoulders and my arm that was shot were hurting a lot,” he said, “but I was thinking about my boat which my family depends on for income.”

In Ashod, Israeli forces began questioning Al-Hesy at 5 p.m.

“Why did you break the 3 mile limit?” an Israeli soldier asked him.

“During Oslo, we were allowed to reach 20 miles so why do you prevent us from going past 3 miles? These 3 miles not enough,” Al-Hesy responded.

“I’m not the Israeli army,” the soldier responded, according to Al-Hesy.  “But there is something wrong with you. Why don’t you fishermen gather and ask the United Nations and go to the human rights centers so you can go more than 3 miles?”

The soldier subsequently changed the subject of the interrogation, asking Al-Hesy the names of the policemen working at the port.  When the interrogation finished, Al-Hesy was told that he would be sent back to Gaza, but he refused to go without his boat.

He explained how in 2003, the Israeli navy took his boat along with about $10,000 worth of equipment. He told the soldier “All my family depends on this boat. We can’t live without this boat. If I don’t go back I can eat and drink here.  If I go back without my boat I will not eat.”

When Al-Hesy saw the other fishermen he told them he wouldn’t go back to Gaza without his boat.  The other fishermen agreed to do the same and refused to get on the bus to the Eretz border crossing.  Israeli forces eventually forced all the fishermen on the bus.

Al-Hesy and the other men were eventually released at 2 a.m., but his trawler, along with that of Omar al Habil, remains in Israeli custody.  Al-Hesy has been fishing since he was 13 and makes about 20 shekels a day, or $5.70.  He recalls making 1000 shekels ($285) when Israel permitted fishing up to 20 miles. In addition to sustaining a bullet wound to the army, Al-Hesy also had scabs around his right ankle from the ankle cuffs.

His lawsuit stems from an incident in 2007 when the Israeli navy destroyed another boat of his.  That case is still ongoing.

“We fishermen never do anything bad. We don’t send rockets from our boats, we don’t touch any of them, but they kill fishermen, arrest fishermen; they took so many boats.”

Gazan Fishing Trawler Similar to Nehad Al-Hesy’s

Palestinian Kids Kidnapped and Interrogated While Fishing Tell Story

I interviewed a couple of really sweet Palestinian boys yesterday who had just been released from over 12 hours in Israeli detention.  Why did Israel detain and interrogate two 17-year-olds while they were fishing, force them to strip naked, jump into the frigid Mediterranean in the pre-dawn hours, blindfold them, handcuff them, feet cuff them, interrogate them, photograph one of them with his shirt of, and then ultimately release them without apology or explanation?  Mohamed and Abdul Qader have no idea.  The Israeli army never told them.  Chances are, unless you read the report I wrote yesterday, you never heard their story.

Can you imagine what the world’s reaction would be if armed Palestinians kidnapped two Israeli high school students fishing a couple of miles off the coast of Tel Aviv

I spent most of the time speaking to Abdul Qader, who appeared really traumatized by the experience, and kept repeating “this is no way to treat human beings.”  His dad is a plumber, and since there’s not a lot of work in Gaza now, he often helps his family out by catching fish when there’s a school holiday.  He won’t be going back out on the water for a longtime though.

Anyway, check out palsolidarity.org for the full report, plus photos.

Fishing in Gaza – No Day at the Beach

I saw an Israeli naval warship for the first time yesterday, a concrete monster the color of ash, guzzling up the Mediterranean and spurting it out in its wake.

I rose early to go out with the Oliva, a small white boat used by Civil Peace Service (CPS) Gaza to monitor the Israeli navy’s conduct vis-à-vis Palestinian fisherman.

My colleague Joe and I walked across Gaza’s sandy shore, past a dozen wooden boats painted in bright shades of pink, blue, green and yellow and then jumped onto the Oliva.  CPS’s white and blue flag billowed as Captain Salah started the boat’s engine and we pulled out of the harbor. Burgundy carpets with geometric designs lay across the boat’s floor.   Three orange life jackets sat within an arm’s reach.

“Oliva to base, we are now leaving the port,” Joe radioed.

Because of weather conditions, we didn’t get started until about 8:20 a.m.  Joe showed me how to work the radio and we were off.  Dozens of small wooden boats – hasakas as they call them here – docked in Gaza’s peaceful harbor floated above the water, and if I didn’t know better, I may have felt like I was on a Middle Eastern pleasure cruise.

“So this may sound obvious, but if the Israelis water cannon you, don’t just stand there,” Joe informed me. “Duck,” he said in a matter of fact tone.  “Oh, and go to the front of the boat, they generally target the engine.”

We sped towards the infamous 3 nautical mile line – another unilaterally-imposed “no go” zone imposed by Israel in June 2007 – cutting through the waves. Under the Oslo Accords, specifically under the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994, Palestinians are permitted to fish 20 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza.  Israel reduced this amount in 2002 to 12 nautical miles, and began enforcing a 6 nautical mile limit after Shalit’s capture in 2006.

“How are you feeling?” Joe asked me. At least one other international human rights observer had gotten sea sick on her first journey, and had asked if I would like to take something in advance of the journey for sea sickness.

“Oh I’m totally fine,” I responded.  This was nothing. I mean the Mediterranean — it wasn’t even an ocean, how bad could it be? I declined the pills. And besides, I was tough.  I sat back on the seats and chatted with Saleh for a bit in Arabic. He had 25 years of experience on the sea and told me the name of his village in what is now Israel from where his family was pushed out of in 1948.

At about 2 nautical miles I checked our position. We could see the Israeli naval ship moving towards five hasakas, headed our way. We continued forward, and then stopped our engine as one of them pulled up beside us.

“The Israelis shot live fire at us and we came back,” one of the men on the blue, yellow and white boat said.  All of the hasakas came towards us, as fast as their small engines would be allow.

We all floated around for a while, until the navy moved away and the fisherman head back out.  The Oliva straddled the 3 mile line, engines off, monitoring the situation.  The fishermen explained what I had already read, that there were no fish to catch within 3 miles from the shore. The fish were 5, 6, 7 miles out.  And so, the fishermen went out every day, sometimes fishing within 3 miles, sometimes going out further, in an attempt to ply their trade.

We watched as the Israeli navy played the game of cat and mouse with the working fisherman of Gaza, shooting at them when they came out, then moving south to shoot at another set of fisherman, then coming back towards us, and back again. Some of these fishermen had been detained by the Israeli navy in the past, taken to Ashod and then released, their boats damaged or confiscated.

“There are two more Israeli ships farther north,” Saleh explained.

I jotted down some notes, and, suddenly felt a wave a nausea. Taking notes was making me sick. I lay down.  Joe periodically radioed the base to report our coordinates.  At times, we could hear the crackle of the radio as the Israelis talked amongst themselves, sometimes in Hebrew, sometimes in English. I tried to recall the Hebrew I had learned years ago, but that too, made me sick.

“The navy is back,” Saleh reported. “Look they are very close to the fisherman.” I sat up and tried to take a few photos and some video footage, inhaling the engine’s fumes as the Oliva rocked in the sea.  I lay back down.  I was the world’s worst human rights observer at sea.

Saleh continued to explain the situation in Arabic, but my brain stopped working. I crawled up, leaned over the side of the boat and gagged a few times. And then, well, my breakfast came up.  All of it. And dinner from the night before as well.

As my head dangled over the side of the boat, I wondered if the Israeli navy was watching us with their binoculars. Didn’t they have anything better to do then harass these poor fisherman? I mean really, the navy is supposed to be one of the most prestigious units for Israelis, and here they were spending all day, every day chasing after skinny fishermen riding in tiny pastel-colored wooden boats.  Gilad Shalit was free, so really, why the 3 mile limit? Were they worried that Palestinians were going to fling sardines at them using 18h century technology?

After about ten minutes I came back up.  Captain Saleh had started the boat and he let me drive it for a few minutes, since apparently that cures sea sickness. It did. Around 11 a.m. the fishermen head back and so did we.

Back on shore, we saw the group that had initially reported the gunfire and they showed us their meager catch of silvery fish – selling for about 20 shekels ($4) a kilo. They would be back out again tomorrow, Israeli gunfire and all.

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