09 January 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, Gaza
In one week’s time, the Israeli Navy has twice abducted fishermen from Gazan waters; they were released the same day, but their boats remain confiscated.
Abduction of Baker fishermen on January 4th
On Tuesday morning, January 4th, Mohammed ‘Abdul Qader Baker (54), Ziad Mohammed Baker (25), Mohammed Mahmoud Baker (28) and Ra’ef Nabeel Baker (25) were out fishing at approximately 2.5 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza City when they were intercepted by an Israeli gunboat. At gunpoint they were forced to hold their hands up for over an hour, while the gunboat awaited reinforcement of two zodiacs coming from Ashdod. The men were told to undress and swim towards the zodiacs, where they were cuffed, blindfolded and transferred to the gunboat.
“I told them that I am sick and too old to throw myself into the sea with these kinds of temperatures. One of the soldiers on the zodiac replied that if I didn’t jump into the water he would blow my head and the boat”, says the 54 year old Mohamed Abed Qader Baker. Their hassaka, a basic fishing boat of approximately 6 meters, was taken to Ashkelon, while the fishermen were taken to Ashdod. One by one they were taken into a small interrogation room in the harbor, where an officer of the Shin Bet, the Israeli Internal Security Service, inquired about their connections with the Gazan government.
“They told me I was three sea miles and twenty meters from the coast, which is 20 meters beyond the limit the Israeli Navy imposed on us, but it is not true! I am always very careful, I have a GPS: I am sure that I was no further out than 2.5 miles”, states Mohamed firmly.
At the time of the interception, four other Palestinian fishing boats were in the near vicinity, but were not stopped. To Mohamed it is clear why:
“I had just installed a new engine, which coasted 5,500$. The Israeli soldiers are watching us every day: they know when we have new equipment on board. Probably my engine has already been sold to Ashkelon by now.”
Fishermen at Gaza’s port shared the suspicion that well equipped boats were more likely to be confiscated. It is a certainty that not one hassaka seized by the Israeli Navy has ever returned.
“One day we eat the fish, the other day we sell the catch. I’ve put myself in debt to buy that engine and now I don’t have any means to pay them off, nor to provide my family with. We are 25 people in one house; that is six people per room”, says Mohamed.
On September 24th 2010, the Baker family lost 20 year old Mohammed Mansour Baker; he was killed by bullets coming from an Israeli gunboat while he was fishing 2 sea miles off Sudaniya Beach.
Six Fishermen Abducted on December 28th
Early Thursday morning, December 28th 2010, six fishermen, Subeh ‘Abdul Salam al-Hissi, ‘Aadel ‘Abdul Karim Baker, Ramadan Isma’il al-Hissi, Fayez Ahmed al-Hissi and Ahmed Sha’ban al-Hissi returned back to Gaza the same day, but the family’s 19 meters fishing boat remains confiscated by Israel. Thirty families’ incomes, each counting six to seven members, are dependent on this boat.
At 6:30 am they left the port of Gaza with their wooden fishing boat heading towards the north of the Strip. Close to Beit Lahya, 1 to 1.5 miles off Gaza’s coastline, the boat was intercepted by two Israeli zodiacs, each containing approximately 20 soldiers. They boarded the boat, searched, cuffed and blindfolded the men, before obliging them to lay down on the wet surface of the ship. Fayez Ahmed al-Hissi (31) adds that he was hit on the head during the takeover of the ship. The eldest of the company, 59 year old Ahmed Sha’ban al-Hissi, was ordered to sail the boat into Ashdod’s harbor.
In Ashdod, soldiers instructed them to take the fishing net in, after which they were transferred to a docked Israeli gunboat. Plastic bags were put over the men’s heads making it hard for them to breathe, while they were shivering in their soaked clothes. One by one they were interrogated in a small room in the harbor, where the investigator showed a particular interest in Gaza’s harbor and the governmental support for fishermen who suffered damages during the last storm. The head officer, who introduced himself as Ghalid, claiming to be responsible for Al-Shati refugee camp, asked them to point out their houses on a detailed picture taken from the air and to give phone numbers of relatives and friends.
“I replied evasively to their questions, saying the pictures weren’t very clear and that I didn’t know any phone numbers by heart”, said Subeh ‘Abdul Salam al-Hissi (33).
The men could not grasp what they had done to end up there until Subeh’ asked: “Why are we here? Why did you take us from Gazan waters?” Ambiguously, the investigator returned the question by asking them whether they had not felt anything strange while sailing. Different media outlets quote an Israeli military spokesperson saying that the boat “dragged a suspicious object”. Earlier that morning, the men had responded to a call from fellow fishermen that had technical problems at sea. The boat was towed into Gaza’s marina after which the men headed towards northern Gaza, with a fishing net being the only thing the boat dragged.
“I hope we will get our boats back soon, maybe after a month”, says Ahmed Sha’ban al-Hissi hopefully. The wooden boat requires daily maintenance to protect it from water damage. “I asked them if someone could at least turn on the bilge pump each day to pump the water from the boat, but the officer simply stated that it was not his responsibility.”
“Since the siege, our income has come down from 700 dollars to less than 200 dollars a month per fisher. Israel refuses to allow fishing nets in, so we are dependent on the low quality nets from Egypt that come in through the tunnels. Spare parts for the boat are very scarce too. All that and the fishing area being depleted, results in a poor catch, while fish from Al Arish come in abundantly through the tunnels, obliging us to sell our fish at a low price”, says Ahmed Sha’ban al-Hissi.
“Now, I don’t know what to do. We are all waiting at home until our boat comes back.”
Al Mazen Center for Human Rights states that between 1 May 2009 and 30 November 2010 the IOF carried out 53 attacks against fishermen: two men were killed, seven injured and 42 arrested, while 17 fishing boats were confiscated and one destroyed. These acts constitute flagrant violations of Israel’s obligations under international law as an occupying power. They violate the Fishermen’s rights to life, work, safety and bodily integrity. They also infringe upon the right not to be tortured and prevent them from maintaining an adequate standard of living.
The Oslo Accords allowed Gazan fishermen to fish in the Mediterranean sea up to 20 nautical miles away from Gaza’s shoreline, but since 1993 Israel has imposed successive restrictions on fishing, the limit for fishermen now stands at just 3 nautical miles since Israel imposed the siege on Gaza in 2007. This has severely reduced the quantity, quality and diversity of the catch. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, nearly 90% of Gaza’s 4000 fishermen are now considered either poor (with a monthly income of between 100 and 190 US dollars) or very poor (earning less than 100 dollars a month), up from 50% in 2008.