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From the field

Israeli Navy crew forces Gaza fishermen to swim in their underwear to the navy's boat, Jan. 2007

Maslam Abu Shaluf, fisherman

Maslam Abu Shaluf

I have been fishing for a living for eight years. I learned the occupation from my father. After he died, I began to work as a fisherman and support my mother, with whom I live. For the past five years, I have been working with Majid a-Nada.

Majid and I have a small motor boat. Last Sunday [7 January], around seven in the morning, we went to sea. When we got to about 1.5 kilometers from the coast, we stopped and threw out the nets. We went back to shore and waited for a few hours. At eleven o'clock, we went back to sea to pull up the nets. When we started doing that, we were surprised by two Israeli warships that approached us. I quickly cut the nets and threw them into the sea, turned on the motor and headed back to shore. I wanted to flee from them because I was very scared. The soldiers on the ships always detain and interrogate the fishermen.

One of the Israeli ships opened intense gunfire and we stopped immediately. While firing at us, one of the soldiers called out on the loudspeaker that if we didn't stop, they would shoot us. The ship approached to about ten meters from us. One of the soldiers ordered us to proceed westward, following the Israeli ship. We sailed about fifteen kilometers and stopped. The same soldier ordered me to turn off the motor and pull out the two tubes running from the gas tank to the motor. Then he told me to undress except for my underwear and to stand in the front of my boat. I stood like that for about twenty minutes. It was very cold. There was a strong wind and it was raining. I shook from the cold.

The ship moved a few meters away from me, and one of the soldiers threw a life-saver float into the water and ordered me to jump into the water, swim to the float, and grab it. I swam toward the float, but each time I got close to it, the Israeli ship would sail away in reverse. I continued to swim toward the float and try to grab it. After swimming about thirty meters, I returned to my boat and grabbed it. I was still in the water. I remained like that for about half an hour, waiting for the Israeli ship to pull up again near my boat. It approached, and the soldier again ordered me to swim to the float. I swam to it and grabbed it. One of the soldiers pulled the rope until I got close to the ship. He threw me a ladder and I climbed onto the deck.

Another soldier cuffed my hands behind me and blindfolded me. I told the soldiers I was very cold, and one of them brought pants and put them on me. He covered my body with some kind of sheet and put earphones on me. From that moment, I didn't hear anything. The only thing I felt was the bitter cold.

After a while, one of the soldiers ordered me to get off the ship. He took my hand and I felt myself going down somewhere. The soldiers took me to what seemed to be a closed space. They took off the cuffs, which bound my hands behind me, and cuffed my hands in front of me and removed the blindfold. I saw I was in a closed room. A doctor came and checked me. I told him I was very cold, and he told me to stand for a minute under the air-conditioner, which was blowing hot air.

After he finished examining me, he told me to sit down opposite two officers who were in the room. One of them asked me how I was, and I said I was OK. He asked, "Where are you from?" I told him I was from 'Izbat a-Nada, in the al-Mawasi neighborhood of Rafah. He opened the laptop computer, and a map of the area I live in appeared on the screen. He asked where my house was on the map and I showed him. Then he closed the computer. I asked him why I was there, and he laughed. I asked again, and he said because I had entered a forbidden area. I told him I was in a permitted area, opposite the fishermen's port in Rafah. He ignored what I said. Then he and the other officer left the room.

Another soldier came and brought a bag with bread and a cup of tea. After I finished eating and drinking, he blindfolded me. I asked him what time it was, and he said it was seven at night. The soldier left me in the room until 11:00 P.M. Then some soldiers came and took me to some open space where it was very cold. I stayed there for about fifteen minutes, and then they took me back to the room. A woman, apparently a soldier, asked me, "Where is Gilad Shalit? Is he in Rafah or in a-Shati camp?" I said that I didn't know.

After a while, I don't know how long, they came and put me in a vehicle. When it stopped, one of the soldiers took me out. I asked him where I was. He said I was at the Erez crossing, and he removed my blindfold. My hands remained bound. I asked him what time it was, and he said, "Midnight."

One of the soldiers ordered me to follow him. We got to a room, and he told me to sit down. About ten minutes later, he told me to stand and pushed me in the back until I got to an iron gate, where people who want to cross into Gaza come. He opened the gate, pushed me hard and told me, "Go."

I went through two electronic gates and continued walking to the Palestinian National Security checkpoint. I was wearing green army pants and shirt, and was shaking from the cold.

I went home. I learned that my brother had stayed in the boat and sailed it back to shore. Ever since the incident, I have been sick in bed. It was the hardest night I ever spent, both psychologically and physically. All in all, I am simply a fisherman who wants to make a living.

Maslam Husein 'Amar Abu Shaluf, 32, is a fisherman and a resident of al-Mawasi neighborhood, Rafah. His testimony was given to Muhammad Sabah on the Rafah seacoast on 14 January 2007.