In Gaza, the war goes on – against farmers, against fishermen

IssueJune 2009
Feature by Jenny Linnell

Four months on from Israel’s brutal 22-day onslaught, Gazan farmers and fishermen are enduring daily assaults from the Israeli military despite a unilateral Israeli “ceasefire” since 18 January. Human rights observers from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) are accompanying farmers in border areas to the east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, notably Abassan and Khoza’a.

The farmers are determined to access their land and harvest crops, in the face of routine fire from Israeli forces on the Green Line. During the “ceasefire”, three Palestinian farmers have been killed and another 12 injured by Israeli forces. More have been killed and injured by unexploded Israeli ordnance.

On 27 January, a farm worker in Abassan, Anwar Ilbrim, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in military jeeps whilst harvesting spinach on his uncle’s land. Anwar left behind a young family struggling to cope without a breadwinner.

Three weeks later his cousin, Mohammed Ilbrim, was shot in the leg just a field away from the site of Anwar’s shooting. The farmers had finished their work for the day and were preparing to leave the area when a sniper targeted the 20-year-old who is profoundly deaf.

ISM activists filmed the incident and have come under close fire themselves on this and similar occasions.

At sea

Since the “ceasefire”, six fishermen have been injured at sea by Israeli forces, and another five injured on shore by Israeli shelling. 32 fishermen have been abducted; 14 boats confiscated.

On 14 February, Rafiq abu Reala was shot approximately two nautical miles out from the port of Gaza city. He was in a simple fishing vessel known locally as a hassaka when an Israeli naval gunboat began circling his boat. > Rafiq tried desperately to pull in his nets. An M-16 assault rifle fired explosive “dum-dum” bullets, peppering his back with shrapnel. The force of the shots threw him in the water. The 23-year-old survived but still has metal shards embedded in his back and in his lungs. Surgery to remove them is not feasible.

Deeb and Kamil

Another hassaka fisherman, Deeb al Anqah from Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, was shot by Israeli naval forces on 17 March as he returned from fishing – he was just 10 metres from the beach. Deeb was hit in the arm and back, with one bullet exiting through his stomach. The following day, Deeb’s father, Kamil, went out to retrieve the nets which had been abandoned during Deeb’s rescue. Less than 50m from the shore, Kamil was ordered at gunpoint to strip naked and swim over to the gunboat – standard Israeli practice when they abduct Palestinian fishermen. Kamil was taken for interrogation, then released, but his boat was impounded.

Prior to Operation Cast Lead, fishermen were forbidden to fish beyond six nautical miles from the coast of Gaza. Since January, this limit has decreased to three miles or even a few hundred metres in some areas.

Fishing so close to shore results in poor catches causing it to become less economically viable, especially in light of spiralling fuel costs due to the ongoing Israeli-imposed siege on Gaza.

On 20 May, ISM Gaza Strip joined forces with local fishermen’s associations and Palestinian NGOs to stage a protest at sea against the worsening Israeli naval violence.

A fleet of fishing vessels (pictured above) went out from the port of Gaza city, where the fishermen displayed the exuberant spirit of resilience which sees them continue to defend their livelihoods against all the odds.