Egyptian Navy Launches Assault on Gaza Fishermen

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A Palestinian fisherman prepares a net as he stands on the sandy shores off the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza City on 21 September 2013. (Photo: AFP - Mahmud Hams)

By: Orouba Othman

Published Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fishermen in Gaza face the wrath of both the Israeli military and the Egyptian navy. As if bombardment by Israeli gunboats wasn’t enough, fishermen risk prison if they enter Egyptian waters. Not unlike the land and the air over which Palestinians have no control, the sea of Gaza – Israel and Egypt have decided – is not for its people.

Gaza – The Egyptian navy shares with its Israeli counterpart the role of isolating the people of Gaza from their sea. The Egyptian goal is to defeat Hamas, which controls Gaza, and exhaust it until it surrenders to their conditions.

The Egyptian military sees Hamas as a security threat due to its support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet a fisherman doesn’t even have to be a Hamas sympathizer to be a target for revenge. Many recent incidents clearly demonstrate Egypt’s current policy toward Gaza.

Only a few days ago the Egyptian navy killed two Palestinian refugees at sea as they embarked on a trip toward the Italian coast. Omar Dalloul and Fadwa Taha, along with 200 Syrian and Palestinian refugees, thought they were fleeing certain death as incitement against them reached its climax in Egypt.

An Egyptian military court sentenced five Gaza fishermen – Ismail Jamal Basleh, Khaled Jamal Basleh, Maher Mazen Basleh, Mahmoud Nahed Basleh, and Khaled Radwan Shallouf – to one year in prison for “entering Egyptian territorial waters illegally.”

On August 30, the men departed at 2 am on a fishing trip. They set up their nets as usual, but they were taken by surprise as the Egyptian military entered Palestinian territorial waters and surrounded theirs and five other boats near the maritime border with Egypt.

The military boats fired directly on the fishing boats, wounding two fishermen, Ibrahim al-Najjar and Ismail al-Bardawil, and arresting the five others, taking them to an unknown location. The military also confiscated the $20,000 boat.

The five detained fishermen spent 16 days in the Jalaa military prison in Ismailiyah province, according to their lawyer. Despite their limited means, the fishermen’s families did not stand idly by. They hired an Egyptian lawyer who promised their release. Instead, they were shocked by the verdict issued against them.

Gaza fisherman Bardawil, along with his son Ziad, also had a brush with death a brush with death, along with his son Ziad last Saturday.

Bardawil was among the Gaza fishermen cornered by the Egyptian navy last Saturday. Heading to the Rafah Port, he was within 4 km from Egyptian territorial waters.

“I was taken by surprise as two Egyptian boats suddenly entered Palestinian territorial waters and started firing frantically at us,” said Bardawil. “I tried to pull my net quickly out of the water, but one Egyptian boat stopped next to my boat and started firing at me.”

He added, “The boat’s engine broke down and I had to jump in the water with my son out of fear that I would be arrested. But because my son couldn’t swim, I had no choice but to turn myself in.”

Members of the Egyptian navy beat him with their rifles and cursed at him for 15 minutes before he was released.

Jamil Basleh, father of two of the detained fishermen, told Al-Akhbar, “My sons have nothing to do with the destruction and death going on in Egypt. We are fishermen and we’ve been working in this area for six years.”

He added, “We cannot violate Egypt’s sovereignty and tamper with its security, but in these trying times, we’ll go anywhere to earn a living.” Basleh appealed to the Egyptian authorities to release his sons and their fellow fishermen and return them home safely.

Follow Orouba Othman on Twitter.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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