Vittorio Arrigoni joined 43 other activists from 17 countries last month to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza on two boats that sailed from Cyprus to the narrow tract of land, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.
Around 10 activists, including Arrigoni, stayed in Gaza to monitor the human rights situation in the Strip. The peace activists have been accompanying Palestinian fishermen out to sea on a daily basis in the hope that the Israeli navy would show reluctance to attack fishing boats with internationals on board.
However, a video link uploaded to the internet by one Scottish activist on September 1 shows Israeli gunships shooting live bullets around the fishing boats in what can only be interpreted as an effort to intimidate the boats to return to shore. No one was injured during that incident.
However, according to Arrigoni, three fishing boats accompanied by four international activists came under attack on Tuesday, damaging two boats and leaving him needing 10 stitches on his back.
“Two Israeli gunships followed us, with the smaller one shooting live bullets just next to the boat. Then at around 10am, we were about nine miles off the coast, the larger boat came closer and shot a high-pressured water canon at the cabin. The fishermen were handling the nets at the time and I was alone in the cabin driving the boat. The canon was so powerful, the glass around me shattered.
“Luckily, I turned around fast and got the glass on my back and not my face. It was very dangerous. If it hit a person, it would have thrown him off the boat,” Arrigoni told the Cyprus Mail yesterday.
The 33-year-old Italian was taken to hospital where he had 10 stitches to his back. He spent the day recovering yesterday. “I feel a little pain, but it’s mostly the shock. I was very lucky. If I didn’t turn around in time…”
Asked if this was the first time he had come under attack while fishing, he replied: “They shoot live bullets every time we go out, which is nearly every day. But this time they actually damaged two of the three fishing boats. But the fishermen have to go out far to fish, there are no fish left near the coast.”
Israel argues that, under the 1993 Oslo Accords, it has the right to monitor boats coming in and out of Gaza for security purposes. The activists counter saying there is no question of Gazan fishing boats carrying only nets and fish posing a security threat to the state of Israel. They also call on Israel to allow the boats to fish within the 20 nautical miles that international law allows.
According to Gazan fishermen, the Israeli navy usually starts intimidating and attacking Palestinian fishing boats within three to six nautical miles from the shore. Fourteen fishermen have been killed at sea as a result, they say.
Despite the dangers, the level of pollution on the Gaza coastline as a result of a malfunctioning sewage plant and bombed power plant leaves fishermen little choice but to continue fishing away from the coastline.
By Stefanos Evripidou, Cyprus Mail, September 18, 2008