At approximately 8:15 am, two Israeli gunboats approached the Oliva as it cruised within the three-nautical mile fishing zone unilaterally imposed and enforced by Israeli forces.
After circling it several times, they opened fire on it with water cannons, nearly filling it with water in an apparent attempt to sink it.
Two United States crew members and the Palestinian captain were rescued from the vessel, in imminent danger of capsizing, by a small fishing boat, which transported them to a nearby trawler.
One of the warships then circled the trawler for nearly an hour, firing water cannons at it and taunting its fishing crew over its loudspeaker with cries of, “Where are your fish? Show me your fish!”
The warship eventually departed, after an amplified warning that if it returned to the sea, the Israeli navy would shoot both Palestinian fishermen and international human rights observers.
“Such behavior and threats towards unarmed international observers clearly demonstrates an attempt to hide the ongoing crimes of an illegal blockade,” said Alexandra Robinson, a United States citizen and CPSGAZA crew member who experienced the attack.
Civil Peace Service Gaza is an international third party non-violent initiative to monitor potential human rights violations in Gazan territorial waters.
Restrictions on the fishing zone are of considerable significance to Palestinian livelihood. Initially 20 nautical miles, it is presently often enforced between 1.5 – 2 nautical miles. The marine ‘buffer zone’ restricts Gazan fishermen from accessing 85 percent of Gaza’s fishing waters agreed to by Oslo.
During the Oslo Accords, specifically under the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994, representatives of Palestine agreed to 20 nautical miles for fishing access. In 2002, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan empowered Catherine Bertini to negotiate with Israel on key issues regarding the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and a 12 nautical mile fishing limit was agreed upon. In June 2006, following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit near the crossing of Kerem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom), the navy imposed a complete sea blockade for several months. When the complete blockade was finally lifted, Palestinian fishermen found that a 6 nautical mile limit was being enforced. When Hamas gained political control of the Gaza Strip, the limit was reduced to 3 nautical miles. During the massive assault on the Strip in 2008-2009, a complete blockade was again declared. After Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army began imposing a 1.5 – 2 nautical miles.
The fishing community is often similarly targeted as the farmers in the ‘buffer zone’ and the fishing limit is enforced with comparable aggression, with boats shot at or rammed as near as 2nm to the Gazan coast by Israeli gunboats.
The fishermen have been devastated, directly affecting an estimated 65,000 people and reducing the catch by 90 percent. The coastal areas are now grossly over-fished and 2/3 of fishermen have left the industry since 2000.
Recent statistics of the General Union of Fishing Workers indicate that the direct losses since the second Intifada in September 2000 were estimated at a million dollars and the indirect losses were estimated at 13.25 million dollars during the same period. The 2009 fishing catch amounted to a total of 1,525 metric tones, only 53 percent of the amount during 2008 (2,845 metric tones) and 41 percent of the amount in 1999 (3,650 metric tones), when the fishermen of Gaza could still fish up to ten nautical miles from the coast. Current figures indicate that during 2010 the decline in the fishing catch continues. This has caused an absurd arrangement to become standard practice. The fisherman sail out not to fish, but to buy fish off of Egyptian boats and then sell this fish in Gaza. According to the Fishermen’s Union, a monthly average of 105 tons of fish has been entering Gaza through the tunnels since the beginning of 2010.