Palestinian Fishermen “Return Our Boats!” (GAZA-DEMONSTRATION)

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It was an honour to meet with the brave Gaza fishermen, their Union, and their local representatives during our most recent IFOP delegation November 2012. As part of our delegation we had several Irish fishermen traveling with us who took part in the Freedom Flotilla II as part of the Irish Ship to Gaza including the ships engineer. They wanted to meet their counterparts in Gaza. After a long meeting to discuss the problems facing Gaza fishermen, we were given a tour of the port and various fishing boats. Hearing directly from the Gaza fishermen about their personal hardships brought home the danger and brutality they face from fishing under fire and siege.

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Tomorrow Sunday 3rd of March at 11 am in the Gaza port we, the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees, Palestinian Fishermen and International Action for Palestine, invite you to a demonstration at sea. Fishermen from all over the Gaza Strip will take their boats and form a flotilla demonstration at the Gaza port. They will demand their rights to fish the Gaza sea without the threat of attack from Israeli Gunships and have their stolen 36 boats returned, some of which are believed to be kept in the Israeli port of Ashdod. They will then sail to Beit Lahiya, north of Gaza, with activists and members of the media on board.

Gaza fishermen will bring photos of their fishing boats that were attacked by Israeli Gunships and will describe their experience of having been abducted at sea, detained in Israel, interrogated and sometimes tortured before their eventual release with their boats impounded.

Zakaria Bakr, fisherman from Gaza City:

“In the last year 28 Hasakas (small boats with engines) and 8 boats without engines have been attacked and impounded by Israel, with all crew members arrested. In 90% of the attacks on the Hasakas their engines were blown up by gunfire or shelling. 9 boats have been taken since the ceasefire and all of them were within the 6 mile coastal limits imposed by Israel. In the whole year only 5 boats were returned. They were seriously damaged, with no nets, gps or functioning engine. Very few boats were taken before 2005, and the first time they bombed boats was in 2008. 39 boats in Khan Younis and 48 in Deir El Ballah were destroyed by Israeli bombardments during the 8 day sea and air bombings and shelling last November. Since early 2011, the violent attacks have increased, regularly injuring and killing fishermen out at sea through gunfire”

Mohammed Bakr, 25, describes how he, his cousin and his two teenage brothers were abducted while fishing on the 10th February during which their fourth and last boat was attacked and stolen:

“We were fishing at 5am and inside 3 miles we saw the navy coming. The Israelis on the Gunship ordered us to stop and they shot seven bullets to destroy our engine. At gunpoint they ordered us to take off our clothes and swim to their boat. We were cuffed and covered with a blanket with a hole for our mouths. We were freezing. While detained they shouted insults to us. They asked about our relatives and friends in good arabic, showed us our house in Gaza on a satellite photo and offered us money to spy for them. That was our last boat, after one had been shelled and two others were taken at sea. Now electricity for our home has been cut because we can’t afford to pay it. We were released but the last boat has gone, our livelihoods are finished.”

A UN OCHA report has estimated that fishermen are totally prevented from accessing the majority of maritime areas they are entitled to since 1994. Due to the restrictions enforced by the Israeli navy the number of active fishermen has dropped from approximately 10,000 in 2000 to around 3,500 today and over 65,000 people are directly affected by restrictions to maritime areas.

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