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

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Because Freedom Never Goes out of Style

The Shirt Shalit Wore on Sale in Gaza City

It’s true, the Gilad Shalit shirt is all the rage among young people in Gaza. University students of both genders can’t stop talking about the checkered blue and white number Shalit wore when he was released from captivity two weeks ago.  So I went to the into a local men’s store and looked around, in an attempt to see Gaza’s latest fashion trend with my own eyes.  There it was, displayed in every color but navy blue.  The store clerk smiled broadly when I asked if the Gilad Shalit shirt was available and he took out several packets and displayed them for me so I could photograph them.

Why are Palestinians rushing to wear a shirt identified with Israel’s most famous soldier, I asked three university students on Sunday (who had brought up the fashion trend on their own)?  They smiled and talked about how cool the shirt was.

“Is it because those who wear it get their freedom?” I posited.  The loved it.

“Oh definitely.”

As of August 2011, prior to the 477 prisoners released in the recent swap, Israel held 5,204 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Of these, 31 are Palestinian children under the age of 16, 145 are children between 16 – 18, and 270 are in administrative detention — held without charge or trial. Israel has held thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention over the years. 1.6 million Palestinians remain locked in the Gaza Strip.

Festival of Victory and Triumph: Families Reunited

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Gaza was indeed a festival today.  We had planned to go down close to the border to watch the anticipated throngs of people greeting the buses filled with their sons and daughters, their brothers and their sisters.  Alas, the road was closed.  As we were about to head out to Qatiba Square, where the Festival of Victory and Freedom was to be held, a Palestinian friend watching Egyptian television said that we should wait, that Gilad Shalit’s interview was about to come on.

“I want to see what his experience was like and what he thinks of Palestinians,” he said.  Admittedly, I wanted to see Shalit’s interview as well.  Like most westerners, I knew his name, and his face.  But I was surprised that a Palestinian in Gaza was so interested. I doubt many Israelis were curious to hear about the opinions and experiences of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prison being released that day.

After the interview we joined tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza City’s Qatiba Square eager to catch a glimpse of the former prisoners as they exited their buses. Qatiba Sqaure, a large sandy plaza, took on a festive atmosphere as women, men and children waved Palestinian flags, as well as the green, yellow, red, black and orange flags of the various political parties. On the street, vendors sold juice, tea, coffee, bread and of course, Palestinian flags.

“This is the best day of my life because today, good defeated evil,” said 45-year-old Saleem Abu Sa’ada who was sitting next to a man with a large green Hamas flag.  “For us, we want all the prisoners to be free,” he added.

Close to the stage, a 55-year-old women from Khan Yunis held a large framed photograph of a young man.  “I am so happy,” she said, introducing herself as the mother of Maher El Aga’ad. “These [the prisoners] are all my sons, and I hope all that are released.” El Aga’ad was captured by Israel in 2005 when he was 17 and is still serving an 8 year sentence.

Throughout the day music played in Qatiba Square. On stage, people danced and sang, including a famous Palestinian-Israeli singer whose name I didn’t catch.  I have to admit, it was really hard to figure out if someone was related to a prisoner, as literally everyone declared that the the prisoners were all their “sons” or “children.”  It was if Hamas had passed out a set of talking points that even the 80-year-old grandmothers had reviewed. When the released prisoners finally arrived, people swarmed the buses, and then stood on their plastic chairs so that they could better see the stage.

“All of the prisoners are our children and all of us are so happy for our children who have been released,” said 60-year-old Saleem Ibrahim Faris, a retired teacher. “I hope unity returns to the people, that we unite our state and that we work together to achieve the state of Palestine,” he added.



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Bad Ass Western Journalists

Gaza City was indeed a festival of triumph today as tens of thousands men, women and children gathered in Qatiba Square in anticipation of seeing their released sons and daughters, sisters and brothers.  More about that — with pictures — to come soon.  As other commentators have mentioned, news coverage has been extremely biased, we (in the West) all know Gilad Shalit’s name, but who can name even one of the 1000+ Palestinians (which include women, Christians, and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship?

So, though not a journalist by trade, I decided I’d interview some Palestinians at the festival to get their impressions.  People were very friendly and open, but I did think,  “I’m sure a real journalist would do much better.”  Anyway, after a several hours in the heat talking to people, taking photos and mingling with the crowd, a few of us decide its time to eat and take a short break.   When we enter a restaurant off the square, I see Jeffrey Heller of the Independent with his translators/fixers.  It seemed they had been there for awhile. We left, and he was still there. It didn’t look like he was leaving.

American journalists  rarely come to Gaza, live in Israel, and often have strong ties to Israel (like Ethan Bronner of the New York Times whose son served and was recently found to have a business relationship with an Israeli PR firm), which, among other things leads to extremely biased coverage.  That said, I’m not sure that coming to Gaza and sitting in a cafe the whole time before going back to Jerusalem counts for much.  In the end you get articles like Mr. Heller’s — lots of humanizing quotes from Shalit on how he felt, details on his arrest etc., but no quotes from a single Palestinian prisoner on their prison conditions or their hopes for the future.

Prisoner Exchange Holiday

Tomorrow is a holiday in Gaza. Hundreds of prisoners, some of whom have been locked away since 1978, will be returning home.  The mood is jubilant.  Support for Hamas is at all time high (or so I’m told), and even those from other political parties are  happy with the deal. That said, there have been some criticisms.  One woman on hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners stated that Hamas called her several times, telling her that her husband was on the list, and then not on the list, and then back on the list again. He will not be released.  Others have complained that about Marwan Barghouti and Saadat’s continued detention.  People also seemed surprise that so many — over 200 — prisoners are being deported to third countries, or that Palestinians in the West Bank are being transferred to Gaza, which violates the Fourth Geneva Convention.

On the Prisoner Swap

Early this morning I read in the Israeli English-language newspaper, Haaretz, that Israel is considering easing its blockade after the prisoner swap if  Hamas behaves itself. I then joined a friend at the Gaza port to learn the ropes of the Civil Peace Service project, which in part monitors the Israeli navy’s treatment of Palestinian fisherman fishing in Gazan waters. Anyway, I asked this friend how he was, and he said he was worried that the deal wouldn’t go through.  Apparently the Maan News Agency was reporting in Arabic that Hamas may refuse to go through with the deal unless Israel releases all female prisoners. Anyway, we pulled up Haaretz English online, and I think the friend felt better afterwards. It is interesting, the posturing of the two sides . . . .