Sunday, 24 July 2011

Israeli navy gunboat uses live ammunition against fishermen trying to get food for Ramadan

(video: 14 July attack by the Israeli navy)

By Alexandra Robinson from her Against Empire blog. Alexandra is an activist with the International Solidarity Movement

On Saturday [23 July] the ISM crew for CPS Gaza rode out on the trawler that rescued us during the second attack on the Oliva on Thursday, July 14th. As I mentioned before, the Oliva project is currently on an indefinite hiatus. Nils, Joe and I went to the port at 7:10 am and we rode out to sea around 7:30. There were 3 adult Palestinian men on the boat and two young boys.

Joe, Nils and I sat on the deck of the ship’s bow and the captain and other passengers stayed in the middle and back of the vessel. Around the 2 to 2.5 mile point we spotted the Israelis coming towards us from the north. When they were still about a mile’s distance from us I called them over the radio and said that we were “Unarmed international observers on board, 2 United States citizens and one Swedish citizen.” I repeated this a number of times but they continued to approach us at a high speed. Joe and I were on the bow of the boat when we noticed that the Israeli Navy was now about 100 meters from us and had fired 2 shots into the water.

We retreated to the center of the boat where the steering cabin is and I repeated again over the radio that we were “unarmed international observers.” This did nothing to sway their actions and they fired live rounds both in the water and directly at the boat for around 15 or 20 minutes. Joe returned to the front of the boat and tried speaking to them over the megaphone, repeating the fact that we were internationals and that the boat had no hostile or military intentions and the captain and his crew were just going to fish. By this point the trawler had reached the 3-mile limit. The captain desperately wanted to go further out to 4 or 5 miles because the 3-mile area is completely overfished and he said “it’s better to return home than to even bother fishing here.” While the shooting was still taking place, we decided to have Nils speak to them over the radio so they could hear someone with a Swedish accent.

We were holding out desperate hope that our status as internationals would save the boat and allow the men to fish. At one point the gunboat retreated slightly—only to double-back and continue harassing us. Nils repeatedly said over the radio, “Israel, why do you do this? We are peaceful people, we mean you no harm.” After at least 30 minutes of creating turbulence and shooting live rounds at us the boat retreated again, this time for good.

I jumped back on the radio and told them to “let us go, we are not hostile and the captain only wants to fish.” The Israelis responded and claimed that we were past 3 miles and were somewhere between 4 and 5 miles out to sea and insisted that I tell the captain to go back to the 3 mile mark. The captain said that we were basically 3 miles, then he corrected that we were 3 miles and about 700 meters. He asked me to tell them that he wouldn’t go past this point and only wanted one hour to fish here because there wouldn’t be any fish within the 3-mile limit. He said they need to fish for food for Ramadan and there would be no food if we were to move further in to shore.

I said this to them in English several times awaiting a response since it had only been a few minutes since they had communicated with us directly. After this the captain and his friend took the radio and begged them in a broken mixture of Arabic and Hebrew to let the boat stay where it was for one hour—just to fish—just to get food for Ramadan. It was heartbreaking to watch. It’s perverse that the Palestinians should have to beg for this right from an illegitimate occupying force. more

Israel's war against the Gaza fishermen is illegal collective punishment - Guardian reports

The mainstream western press is starting to report on the dirty little war that Israel has been waging against the Gaza fishing community.
Why does the western media not report these human rights violations until international activists get involved?

From the Guardian

Hani al-Asi, a fisherman since the age of 11 and a father with 12 mouths to feed, had just begun throwing his lines into the Mediterranean when an Israeli gunboat sped towards his traditional hasaka.

With a machine gun mounted at the rear and half a dozen armed soldiers on the bridge, the navy vessel repeatedly circled the small fishing boat. The rolling waves caused by the backwash threatened to swamp it.

Asi had stopped his boat over an artificial reef created by dumped cars to attract the dwindling fish population. He was just beyond the limit of three nautical miles from the Gaza shoreline set by the Israeli military for Palestinian fishermen, beyond which they are forbidden to fish for "security reasons".

"We see them every day," he said, shrugging at the gunboat's presence. "I got used to this. Every day they are around us - shooting, damaging the boat, sometimes people are injured. If we were scared, we wouldn't fish. But we have nothing else to do."

With the boat rocking forcefully, the gunboat's crew addressed Asi in Arabic through its loudspeaker. "You are in a forbidden area. Go back." Asi pulled in the lines and headed back to port.

"The best place to fish is more than 10 miles out," he said. "But every time we exceed three miles, they shoot at us, use the water [cannon], take the nets. Even today when foreigners are with us, they were trying to tip the boat over."

Under the 1993 Oslo accords, Palestinian fishermen were permitted to fish up to 20 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. Over the past 18 years, the fishing area has been successively eroded, most recently in 2007 when Israel imposed a limit of three nautical miles as part of its land and sea blockade of Gaza after Hamas took control of the territory.

But fishermen and human rights groups say that, since the war in Gaza in 2008-09, the Israeli military regularly enforces a limit even closer to the shore.

The restriction has devastated Gaza's fishing industry. "It is a catastrophic situation," said Khalil Shaheen of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. "Sixty thousand people are dependent on [the fishing industry], and 85% of daily income has been lost."

Fishermen on both sides of the three-mile limit, he said, were subjected to harassment, live fire, confiscation of boats and nets, and water cannon, sometimes impregnated with foul-smelling chemicals.

Since early June, a coalition of Palestinian and international organisations under the umbrella of Civil Peace Service Gaza has been monitoring encounters between fishermen and the Israeli military from its own boat, the Oliva.

But in the past fortnight, the Oliva itself has become a target for the Israeli navy, with repeated assaults on it by military vessels. Last Wednesday, the Guardian hired a boat to accompany the monitors plus a handful of hasakas out to sea.

At around the three-mile limit, the small flotilla was approached and repeatedly circled by two Israeli gunboats. The engines of the hasakas were cut as the waves caused by the gunboats' backwash rose and fell. After about 20 minutes, the gunboats withdrew as a third military vessel, deploying water cannon, arrived.

A powerful jet of water was targeted at the Oliva, causing the boat to rock dangerously and drenching those aboard. After repeated dousings, the Oliva's captain ordered the four passengers to clamber on to an adjacent hasaka, fearing his boat was about to sink. As the Oliva's engine was hit by the military vessel, he too was forced to abandon ship.

From a distance it seemed impossible that the Oliva would not go under. But its captain and other fishermen managed to secure a rope to try to tow it back to port. The military boat followed the Oliva and the other boats at some speed, still firing its water cannon, for several minutes.

According to Salah Ammar, the Oliva's captain, the boats were within the three-mile limit. "We don't even reach two miles before they chase us with guns and water [cannon]," he said.

However, GPS co-ordinates taken by the Guardian during Wednesday's encounter showed the position of the boats to be outside the permitted zone.

In a statement, the Israeli Defence Force said: "The ongoing hostilities between Israel and Palestinian terror organisations create significant security risks along the coast of the Gaza Strip. Due to these risks, fishing along the coasts has been restricted to a distance of three nautical miles from shore. Fishermen in Gaza are aware of these restrictions as they have been notified of them on numerous occasions. The restrictions and their enforcement by the Israel navy are in complete accordance with international law."

The United Nations and human rights organisations say the fishing restriction is collective punishment in violation of international law.

Turkey's Hurriyet says UN report on Mavi Marmara attack will rule that IDF intended to kill

UN commission to publish findings on IDF raid on Turkish flotilla vessel, prompting Israel to debate whether to apologize to Turkey, newspaper says.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet said Sunday that the Palmer report on last year's Gaza-bound flotilla is expected to be released this week.
According to the newspaper, the UN-appointed panel to investigate the raid on the Mavi Marmara vessel has ruled that IDF soldiers boarded the ship with an intention to kill.
The Turkish daily claimed that this assertion is what prompted the debate within Israel's government on whether the Jewish State should issue an apology to Turkey. The Forum of Eight Ministers was expected to discuss the issue on Sunday.
According to the article, Israel is considering compensating the families of the nine people killed aboard the ship, and intends to issue a statement regretting the loss of life - regardless of Turkey's demand for an official apology. more

Israel still getting diplomatic heat over Mossad using fake passports of western countries


Media sources in Israel have claimed that "secret and sharp" diplomatic messages have been received by the government in Tel Aviv voicing protests about the Zionist state's use of fake passports for espionage purposes. According to Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, such messages have been sent by several countries from Asia, Africa and Europe complaining about the use of their passports for "operational activities overseas" by Israel's secret intelligence agency, Mossad. Some of the countries, said the newspaper, are "friends of Israel"; none are the countries whose passports were abused during the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai last year.

That Mossad operation sparked a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Britain, Australia and Ireland, but France and Germany merely asked the Israelis for "clarification". Yedioth Ahronoth said that Mossad's use of fake passports for espionage purposes "caused severe damage to the credibility of Israel". A foreign diplomat added, "Israel has a bad name when it comes to everything related to the passports of other countries." MEMO

Who's to blame? - UNRWA responds to Gaza protests over cut backs in aid to refugees

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness responds to Gaza protests about cuts in assistance to refugees: (from Maan)

The protesters who closed down UNRWA’s Gaza office say they were doing this to fight for the rights of the refugees whose assistance is being slashed. What's your response to this?

Gunness: This protest action was entirely counter-productive. By keeping hundreds of UNRWA staff out of their offices, the organizers were harming the very refugees on whose behalf they claim to be protesting. The Gaza office is the "command and control" center from which we run our programs across the entire Gaza Strip.

We need access to our computers to service projects, to manage our education, health, relief and social service programs. It's where the personnel department is based for, for example, paying staff salaries, it's where our IT department is, it's where the radio room is for security and without these things our full programs become unsustainable very quickly.

The refugees and their representatives are naturally angry about the slashing of emergency services and have threatened further action. How worried is UNRWA about this?

Because of a $35 million shortfall in its emergency budget, UNRWA in Gaza has been forced to make drastic cuts to its emergency programs. The original emergency appeal of $300 million had already been scaled back to $150 million because of the inadequate donor response and even against this minimum spending requirement, we are $35 million short.

The core of the $300 million emergency appeal had been for food assistance to 600,000 people, jobs for 53,000 people, cash assistance for 300,000 abject poor (living on less than $1.6 per day) and basic assistance to public health infrastructure. Starting in the month of July, we have been forced to cut the jobs program from 10,000 contracts per month to 6,500 contracts and we have been forced to end our "back to school" cash assistance of 100 NIS [$29.44] for each of more than 200,000 children in UNRWA schools.

UNRWA is doing all it can to mobilize the support of donors. But we fear that if the current situation continues, further cuts to our emergency services in Gaza will be inevitable. Make no mistake, the lack of donor funds to UNRWA is now directly affecting the stability of the Middle East with anti-UN protests threatening to shut down UNRWA on the doorstep of Israel at a time of already heightened instability in the region.

You are passing the buck to your donors, but who ultimately is to blame; is it really UNRWA's donors?

The real problem is that we are asking our donors to fund emergency programs which aim to mitigate the effects of Israel’s illegal collective punishment of 1.5 million people. The International Committee of the Red Cross has called the blockade a "clear breach of international law" in the face of which there has to be transparency and accountability.

From UNRWA's point of view, it would be better for those states and organizations with the power to bring the necessary pressures to bear to end the collective punishment rather than pay UNRWA to deal with its disastrous impact. We would far rather be spending our time and our donors' money on human development, particularly in education, which does add to the stability of this region than on emergency operations which respond to an illegal and destabilizing collective punishment. Is it not better to end the root cause, which is the collective punishment?

There is also deep discontent about the removal of over 100,000 people from your food distribution lists. What is going on?

About 100,000 people have come off our food distribution lists because UNRWA is now using a more accurate poverty assessment system to determine eligibility for food assistance. This change in the eligibility system is meant to ensure that UNRWA can prioritize its resources on the poorest of the poor and avoid providing emergency poverty relief assistance to those who are not needy.

Many business people, wealthy merchants and property owners have come off the lists and interestingly very few people are complaining as the vast majority realize that the new system is much fairer. In this regard, the poverty survey represents a great improvement over the former system.

Thanks to the poverty survey UNRWA has been able to increase assistance to the abject poor (around 300,000 refugees) by doubling their rations.

Thousands of families who were poor and destitute but were excluded from UNRWA food assistance until now based on the previous income based system from the PA or UNRWA will be able to receive assistance. The food distributed to thousands of families who were not in need of assistance but received food until now can now be given to the poorest and most destitute refugees.

There are four categories of people who were eligible for food last round whose coupons have not been issued this food distribution round: 14,404 families who had not applied to the poverty survey by the middle of June despite each receiving a letter from UNRWA requesting them to apply over the last three months if they wished to continue being considered for food assistance; 9,251 families who applied to the poverty survey but were found to be non poor after the social worker visit; 1,388 families classified as abject or absolute poor by the poverty survey but failed to pick up their rations since the beginning of the year 2011, suggesting they may be out of Gaza; and 305 families who were found to be non poor after the second visit (complaint) and necessary verifications.

All families listed above with the exception of the 305 families in the last category can receive food this round upon applying for Poverty Survey, with their final poverty to be determined after reviewing their case through the poverty survey. If these families apply before the end of the month of July, UNRWA will ensure that they receive their food assistance during the month of Ramadan.

What about those families who were not eligible for food assistance under the old system?

They are welcome to apply to the poverty survey, and 10,439 such families have benefited until now. Their eligibility for food will be determined after their applications are processed and many will be able to receive food assistance in the future as a result.

Is it true that the poverty survey system can sometimes mistakenly classify a family in the wrong poverty category?

Yes, this may happen as a result of human error during the visit or data entry process. To remedy this, UNRWA has introduced a comprehensive complaints system to ensure that no beneficiary family in need is wrongfully taken off the food rolls. For many cases, this includes the review of the system's findings by a committee of three social workers who will have the last word on the family's poverty status.

If the family coupon was cut, where can the family find out in which category it belongs to and when it can receive food?

At the information desk of the distribution centre.


Israeli ministers meet to decide on whether to apologise to Turkey for flotilla killings

The forum of eight ministers will meet today in Jerusalem to decide whether to accept the draft of an agreement for ending the diplomatic crisis with Turkey. As part of the proposed deal, Israel will apologize for operational failures that led to the deaths of nine Turkish citizens during the stopping of a Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010.

Ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Ya'alon are opposed to the apology, while their colleagues Ehud Barak and Dan Meridor support it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will risk a coalition crisis with Yisrael Beiteinu if he favors the apology. more