The National Lawyers Guild urges Israel to release the fifteen Palestinian Fishermen and three international observers who were kidnapped in Palestinian waters by the Israeli Navy on November 18, 2008.
Israel’s kidnapping of these individuals and hijacking of their fishing boats violates international law, the Oslo Accords, and the Law of the Seas. This capture constitutes piracy. The three boats were just seven miles off the coast of Deir Al Balah, well within Gaza’s fishing waters as defined in the Oslo Accords of 1994.
The attack on the fishing boats follows the killing of at least 17 Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli Occupation Force in the last two weeks. Israel also has closed Gaza to the outside world, to prevent journalists, human rights observers, food, fuel, and medicines from entering Gaza.
ILLEGAL “FISHING LIMIT” IMPOSED BY ISRAEL
The international waters boundary and the Oslo Accords both state that Gaza waters extend twenty nautical miles from the Gaza coast. The 2002 Bertini agreement (signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority) sets the boundary at twelve nautical miles from the coast.
However, the Israeli navy has unilaterally imposed a “fishing limit” of six nautical miles from the shore since October 2006. The fishing limit is intentionally imposed as part of the Israeli policy to starve Palestinians by preventing fishermen from traveling to follow fish migrations which would provide food for the Palestinians in Gaza.
International human rights observers have been accompanying Palestinian fishermen, trying, without success, to deter attacks by Israeli navy vessels. Today, the three international observers on board the hijacked boats were Andrew Muncie from Scotland, Darlene Wallach from the United States, and Victor Arrigoni from Italy.
GUILD SUPPORTS OBSERVERS
The observers have been volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement since they entered Gaza with the first Free Gaza Movement voyage on August 23, 2008. Fellow activists have been unable to establish contact with them or with the fishermen since they were abducted. The NLG is particularly concerned that these observers and fishermen will be subjected to torture and denied access to counsel while in Israeli custody.
The NLG supports the work of the Free Gaza Movement to protect Palestinian fishermen, witness the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and facilitate the shipment of relief supplies. Several attorneys have been providing legal assistance to the Free Gaza Movement, including guidance on admiralty law. Guild attorney Audrey Bomse said today, “We are appalled by Israel’s illegal hijacking of these boats. The people of Gaza have a human right to fish these waters to provide food to their people. The law of the seas and international law is firmly on their side.”
The NLG condemns the blockade of Gaza’s ports, as well as the illegal harassment of Palestinian fishermen. Patrols and attacks by the Israeli navy regularly occur as little as three miles from shore. The Israelis have kidnapped more than 70 Palestinian fishermen over the past year.
ISRAELI BLOCKADE CAUSING HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
The illegal Israeli attacks on the fishing boats have reduced the average catch of fish from 3000 tons a year in the 1990s to a mere 500 tons today.
Israel continues to occupy Gazan territory in breach of the current cease-fire and prior claims of “disengagement.” More than 40,000 people in Gaza make a living from the fishing industry, yet the Israeli restrictions on fishing rights importation of fuel to the Gaza Strip have plunged the people into misery. Recently, the UK-based aid agency Oxfam warned that Gaza faces a humanitarian disaster unless Israel lifts its blockade. Previously, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel promptly to allow food aid and fuel supplies into Gaza.
The National Lawyers Guild calls upon Israel to immediately release these fishermen and internationals, return their boats, commit to honoring the fishing rights of Gazans under the Oslo accords and international law, and end its inhumane and unlawful blockade of food, medicines, fuel, and other traffic to and from the Gaza Strip.