Opinion

The Israel Navy: Jailors in White

FILE Photo: A reception ceremony for the Israel Navy at the Haifa port, June 6, 2019.
Kobi Gideon / GPO

There was a time when the navy was really made up of the best people. It was a small, modest force, dress uniforms white as snow, far from the killing fields and the centers of Palestinian cities. The sailors were guardians of our coasts who loved the sea and adventure, occasionally embarking on a secret mission in foreign ports, usually flawed and unnecessary. But these weren’t the pilots who bomb neighborhoods or ground forces that shoot youths in the back.

Still, the ship has run aground. Now the navy is riddled with rot. It’s not only the top brass, contaminated by the submarine affair, it’s also the least of the sailors. In recent years, the navy has carried out some of the most despicable operations the military has produced. It’s the subcontractor for the policy of the Gaza blockade, jailors in white, overcoming the weakest people imaginable.

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The “enemies” are fishermen. About 3,000 fishermen are left from the tens of thousands in Gaza before the abuse began. Every day and night they embark on the pathetic paddleboats known locally as hasakes, trying to make a living in their harsh enclave where there is none to be made. If there’s one place where collective punishment shouts to the high heavens, it’s the Gaza coast. Here, far from watching eyes, crimes are being committed every day – the crime of collective punishment and the small crimes of the sailors who cruelly abuse their helpless victims.

The policy is criminal. Israel has fallen in love with the naval blockade. It’s the easiest response to the Gazans’ incendiary balloons. Over the past three months Israel has changed the permitted fishing zone 12 times. Sometimes it seems like a game show.

Just last week it changed the zone three times: It expanded it to 15 miles, curbed it a day later to 12 miles, then blocked it entirely – the policy of the stick and the stick, a nautical mile for every incendiary balloon. In the air, by sea, on land and beneath it – a cage. It’s not clear whether children can go into the water on the Rafah beach or whether the frigates will fire at them.

Palestinian fishermen on boats at the Gaza port, April 2, 2019.
Mohammed Salem / Reuters

By what right does Israel let itself decide where Gaza fishermen will fish? How far will the tyranny go? And where are the fishermen supposed to make their living, in Gaza’s lakes? Its streams?

What’s the connection between a hasake and security? Between the fishermen and the balloons? Restricting the fishing zone is easy and easy on the ear. A statement is released, an order is handed down. Likud and the owners of the fields at Nahal Oz near the Gaza border see that the government is doing something. But Gaza no longer has a sea.

This policy is carried out by white-uniformed hunters of fishermen, riding on fast patrol boats, commando boats and missile boats, the daring warriors storming the war fleet of hasakes. They shoot the fishermen, douse them using water cannons, scatter them as if scattering a herd, chase them as if chasing terrorists, confiscate their vessels and abduct them. So far this year Israeli sailors have abducted 21 fishermen and taken them to Israel, according to rights group B’Tselem. They have wounded eight fishermen and confiscated four fishing boats.

For example, they shot Khader al-Saaidy, the father of three small children, from the Shati refugee camp. He has worked as a fisherman since childhood, as reported in Haaretz on Friday. He was shot in the face by rubber bullets at close range. One eye was shattered and Israel is preventing him from receiving treatment for the other one. Four months after the incident and a week after the military spokesman was asked to respond to it, all the navy had to say was that the incident was being “looked into.” Not even investigated.

Saaidy tried to flee in his boat toward the shore and they chased him in their swift rubber boats and shot him in the eyes because he was fishing outside the permitted zone. The navy’s white uniforms are stained with the blood of unfortunates and the innocent. What goes through the minds of these sailors when they embark on these missions of abuse?

And what do their parents think? That they’re protecting the country? That they’re heroes? And what will they think about what they’ve done when they’re a little older?