Is Israel Guilty of Piracy?

On June 30th, the Israeli Navy hijacked our small boat, the Spirit of Humanity, 19 miles off the coast of Gaza.  They kidnapped 21 crewmembers and passengers, including a former US congresswoman and a Nobel laureate.  Then, they forced them into a port in Israel.  Was this an act of piracy?  And did Israel break international maritime law?  The answer is yes.  An act of piracy as defined by the laws of nations includes illegal acts of violence or detention committed on the high seas or outside the jurisdiction of any state.  Israel’s hijacking of our boat fits the first part of that definition.  The Spirit’s unarmed passengers traveled on the high seas, vulnerable, uncertain if they would live or die when the Israeli Navy surrounded them and took them prisoners.  But this act of piracy pales in comparison to Israel’s ongoing hijacking of Palestinian fishing boats. . . .

No one seems to have a will to stop Israel.  It acts with impunity, shooting Palestinian fishermen, kidnapping them, forcing them into Israeli waters, and stealing their boats.  Just since the ceasefire in January, 21 fishing boats have been hijacked.  When Israel returned 3 of them, they forced the fishermen to sign a document saying they would not go to court.  If they didn’t sign, they would not get their boats back.  Israel has kidnapped 54 Palestinian fishermen since the first of the year, trying to fore them into collaborating with the Israeli occupation.  Otherwise, if they don’t agree, they will lose their boats and they will lose their livelihood.

A 1994 agreement signed by Israel stated that Palestinian fishermen have the right to fish up to 20 miles from Gaza’s coastline.  However, in 1996, Israel began to illegally reduce that fishing zone to 12 miles, in direct violation of international maritime law.  From 2002 to 2003, they squeezed the fishermen down to 6 miles from the Gaza shore.  Today, it is often 1-3 miles, enforced by Israeli gunboats that shoot to kill Palestinian fishermen as they try to make a living for their families. 

Only some of the Palestinian fishermen killed by the Israeli Navy: Ra’ed Shamlakh, Sa’id Nader al-‘Attar (29), Hamdan Mohammed Barhoum (24), Hani al-Najar (27), Natheer Farhat (37), Ziyad Al-Bardawil (22), Ibrahim Abu Saqr. . . .

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers have been documenting the Israeli Navy’s attacks on Palestinian fishermen, as well as seeking to deter such attacks.  For more information about Gaza fishermen, visit <>.

Footage by ISM volunteers Andrew Muncie, Vittorio Arrigoni, Fida Quishta, Donna Wallach; interview with Gaza fisherman Sami Al Goaga by Free Gaza delegate David Schermerhorn; footage of the Israeli Navy boarding the Spirit, Theresa McDermott, a passenger among the Free Gaza 21. Soundtrack by Plastilina Luminosa.  Thanks to Radhika Sainath, JD, a Los Angeles-based civil rights attorney for her article on Israeli piracy.  (Sainath recently returned from a National Lawyers Guild fact-finding mission to Gaza.)  The text above is a partial transcript of the video.