By Hama Waqum
I am writing this exactly twelve hours after I was attacked by an Israeli warship, off the Gaza coast.
As a member of the Civil Peace Service, I board the Oliva boat around twice a week to monitor Gazan fishermen’s human rights. But today, it wasn’t just the fishermen who were targeted.
We approached a cluster of hasaka fishing boats that were being attacked with water cannons at midday on July 13. As we got closer all I could focus on was the officer manning the machine gun, covered from head to toe with black, which struck me as very medieval, if you know what I mean.
Our boat, along with the fishing vessels, was around two miles out to sea, well within the three-mile fishing limit imposed by Israel. We saw marines congregate on deck to watch as the water cannon was angled slowly but deliberately towards us. To my delight they struggled against the wind initially, but eventually managed to angle round us as we fumbled with the water-logged engine. I took one look at the jet being generated vertically and knew what was coming. Sure enough, pellets of water began to rain down on us with stinging force. Then I, camera in one hand, felt the jet stream slap my face directly, staying there for several seconds, before the boat was yanked away by the fishermen around us. I was flung backwards and words I never utter escaped my lips. Struggling to stay up, I forced myself to take it on the chin. Literally. As the assault continued, they repeatedly aimed at my face and each time my nose, eyes and mouth filled with seawater. At one point I even saw a naval officer indicate to the marine controlling the cannon to aim for me. He gleefully obliged.
Israeli naval water cannons are able reach high into the air; even when fired vertically they can reach about four times the height of the gunboat. This warship was about 10 metres away. Imagine someone boxing your face. Imagine that their fist is larger than a bowling ball. Now imagine that punch lasting for ten minutes. This is what it felt like.
For ten minutes we were pursued as we tried to escape the gunboat. There were several fishing boats around us and, if there is a silver lining, it is that our presence distracted the Navy from attacking them.
Our boat began to fill with water and we struggled, along with the fishing boats around us to return to shore. Even as we picked up speed, the gunboat honed in on us, with relentless attack after attack. Eventually at just over one mile off the Gaza shore, the gunboat lagged behind and we were on the home straight.
We were completely drenched through. Our captain had to order us to corners of the boat, worried it was about to capsize or sink from all the water with which it had been filled. My body started to buzz and I’m surprised I didn’t electrocute everyone with the static that was building in my bloodstream. The fishermen were safe, we escaped and I felt like we had won. Even though rinsing my mouth with the salinated Gazan water to make wudu that evening brought my brain right back to gargling waterjets on the Oliva boat, the footage is gold dust and we refused to cower from their water-taunting and domination.
Although the attack was challenging for those of us who experienced it, it is essential to remember that this an everyday occurrence for Gazan fishermen. Earlier that very day, the boat of one fisherman was shot at repeatedly. There were too many bullet holes in the bow of his boat for me to count. His netting cables were shot through and he lost his catch. I’m sure he must have been fishing for grenades or something, right? Whereas I returned to shore simply with a stinging face and drenched clothes, when fishermen are attacked, they are unable to make their living. For the one attack on CPS Gaza, there have been tens if not hundreds of attacks on fishing boats.
International observers of Gaza are being targeted evermore frequently, as witnessed with the sabotage and interception of the 2nd flotilla fleet. Such attacks prevent those who have easier access to the world beyond the siege from witnessing attacks on Gazan civilians. These are the actions of a nation that has something to hide.
Human rights volunteers will continue to monitor violations, regardless of what the Israeli Navy fires at us, not only because we aren’t doing anything wrong, but because we know, and I mean this graciously, we are doing what is right and is what no authority is willing to do: ensuring that when fishermen are shot and attacked, somebody is there to witness and document it. Not everyone is able to get to Gaza, so hopefully the video footage and this account will help to bring Gaza to you.
Hama Waqum is a volunteer for CPS Gaza, she writes in a personal capacity and tweets at @WelshinGaza.