Testimony: Israeli navy shoots and wounds fisherman off Gaza coast

Muhammad Jihad Rizeq Musleh, 18, is a fisherman and a resident of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. The testimony was given to Muhammad Sabah on 7 October 2008 at the European Hospital in the Gaza City:

I live in the Sultan neighborhood in Rafah with my parents, three brothers, and three sisters. In 2006, I began to work as a fisherman. My father taught me the trade and I worked with him for about two months. Then I went to work with Omar al-Bardawil. Omar has two boats, one a motorboat and the other a rowboat. When gas is available in the Strip, we use the motorboat, and when there isn’t gas, we use the rowboat.

Two days ago [Sunday, 5 October], around 3:00am, I went fishing in the rowboat with Ahmad al-Bardawil, Omar’s son. We rowed west about two kilometers from shore, with our back to the Rafah fishermen’s port. At that point we were three kilometers from the Palestinian-Egyptian border. We knew the distances exactly because we have a GPS device.

We stopped by some rocks in the sea, where there are usually a lot of fishermen, and started to lower our fishing lines into the sea. We have a rope that that is 1,800 meters long and has floats and 600 hooks attached to it. We put bait on the hooks to catch different kinds of fish, like grouper and bream.

After we lowered 100 hooks, we saw an Israeli battleship approach us. When the ship was about 300 meters from us, the soldiers fired into the air and into the water near our boat. Ahmad and I pulled in the line and rowed north, toward the coast, to get away from the Israeli ship and go to another place to continue fishing. Next to us was another rowboat, with two fisherman, one of them Ahmad’s cousin, Ali al-Bardawil, 20.

Our boat and the other boat rowed about 500 meters north, the Israeli ship continued to close in on us, to a distance of about 100 meters from us. It was frightening: the ship was huge and very tall, and the crew was firing in the air all the time.

I sat in the middle of the boat, rowing north. The soldiers fired into the water around the boat. Suddenly I felt pain in my left leg. I looked at my leg and saw I had been hit in the left shin. There was a hole and my leg was bleeding badly. I stopped rowing, told Ahmad I had been wounded, and lay down on my back. Ahmad rowed to get us out of there. The firing at us continued. The soldiers didn’t say anything at all to us, at any stage.

Ahmad asked his cousin, who was in the other boat, to come over to our boat and help him row, so we’d get to shore as fast as possible. We reached the Rafah fishermen’s port at 4:30am, which was about half an hour after I was hit.

At the port, Ahmad reported the incident to the naval police. They took me in their vehicle to the Red Crescent rescue station in Rafah. From there, I was taken by ambulance to Yusef al-Najar Hospital. When the doctors at the hospital saw I was severely wounded, they transferred me the same day to the European Hospital in Gaza City. There, the doctors told me there was an entry wound of two square centimeters and an exit wound of 10-15 square centimeters. They said the shot fractured my shinbone and severed arteries in my leg.

I was in surgery for more than four hours. The doctors tried to connect the arteries, but they failed, and the bleeding continued. So far, I have received six portions of blood in transfusions.

The doctors decided to transfer me to al-Muqassed Hospital, in Jerusalem. They prepared the referral documents, and I am waiting for the answer of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, which coordinates these matters with the Israelis. They doctors said I had to go to hospital in Jerusalem to save the leg from amputation.

I don’t understand why the naval soldiers fired at me and Ahmad. All we wanted to do was fish to put food on our families’ table, given the hard financial conditions we live in. We had a GPS device and knew we were in an area in which fishing is permitted. We didn’t endanger the soldiers and didn’t have anything in the boat other than hook-lines and bait.

We fish regularly in this area, and this is the first time we had any problems. My great fear is that they’ll have to amputate my leg, leaving me disabled for the rest of my life.

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