Israel’s nine-year long closure on the Gaza Strip, and accompanied buffer zone, reduces areas available for Palestinian use and development at land and sea. In particular, the Gaza maritime zone has also been under Israel's control and subject to restrictions in order to protect Israel's natural gas resources. As a result, the Palestinian fishing industry and fishermen have been subject to systematic attacks by Israel.
On 3 April 2016, the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) decided to allow Palestinian fishermen in the areas located between Wadi Gaza, in the central governorate, and Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, to reach 9 nautical miles (nm). In the Gaza and North Gaza governorates, fishermen remained to be only allowed 6 nm.
Since then, Israeli attacks and violations against Palestinian fishermen have escalated as 36 fishermen were arrested and 11 fishing boats were confiscated. The attacks against fishermen also include: almost daily shootings; confiscating their equipment and fishing vessels; and prohibiting the entry of new boat engines and fibreglass to build boats into the Strip. These measures, along with the nine-year long closure, severely impact the nearly 4,000 fishermen in the Gaza Strip.
Since the beginning of 2016, Israel arrested at least 65 fishermen and confiscated 17 boats. There have also been 55 incidents of the IOF shooting at fishing vessels, which has caused the injury of six fishermen.
'Ahed Zeyad Zayed is a 39-year-old fisherman from the North Gaza governorate. He provides for his family of six through fishing. On Tuesday 26 April 2016, 'Ahed and his colleague Mo'nes sailed around 400 metres away from the Beit Lahia beach. He stated:
"We made sure not to exceed the allowed distance so our fishing vessels and equipment are not confiscated and we are not arrested by the Israelis. We threw our nets into the sea. There were seven other fishing vessels in the area.
While fishing, I saw an Israeli rubber boat coming towards us from the northern borders and opened fire at us. The boat surrounded us. The soldiers on board made us take off our clothes, jump into the water and swim towards them. They confiscated our fishing vessel then cut the net. They tied our hands behind our backs and blindfolded us. The boat then took off for about ten minutes.
They untied our hands and removed the blindfold then transferred us into a bigger naval boat. They gave us black trousers and a shirt, then blindfolded us and tied our hands again. The boat took off again and decked in Asdud port (Ashdod). There, they ran a medical check-up and our pictures were taken while holding a paper with our name and ID number. They left us handcuffed and blindfolded sitting on the ground for about three hours.
Three policemen then arrived and removed the blindfolds and cuffed our hands and feet with metal chains instead of plastic. They took us on a white bus that drove for about an hour then stopped at the Erez crossing. There, we were thoroughly body searched. Our clothes were replaced with nylon transparent overalls. They interrogated us separately. I was questioned about my personal details, reason of my arrest and was informed that my fishing vessel and equipment would be confiscated because I was working in a no-fishing zone. We were both placed in a very cold room for two hours and were then released at Erez at approximately 9:00 pm that night." (Al-Haq affidavit no. 322/2016)
Sayyed Marwan Al-Sa'idi, a 29-year-old fisherman from Gaza, was recently chased and shot at by Israeli naval boats while fishing with his colleagues. His boat was then surrounded and they were forced to take off their clothes. The Israeli soldiers boarded Sayyed's boat, and beat him and the fishermen. They were also verbally abused. The fishermen were then ordered to jump and swim towards the Israeli boat. They were detained, interrogated, and their fishing vessel was confiscated.
According to one fisherman, Ghaleb Baker, 39, the running cost of fishing per day is about 3,000 shekels (approximately USD 780). Fishermen cannot make profit unless there is plenty of large fish in the sea. "When the Israeli forces allow us, fishermen, to continue a work day, each fisherman would get about 20 shekels (approximately USD 5) at the end of a 15-hour work day".
Israel's nine-year illegal closure imposed on the Gaza Strip, both on land and at sea, imposes difficult economic and social conditions on Palestinians therein. Israel's regular targeting of fishermen comes as part of its collective punishment policy practiced throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Al-Haq condemns the continuous targeting of Palestinian civilians, including fishermen, who pose no threat to Israel, as seen in the accounts above.
Such attacks constitute a blatant violation of Israel's obligations under international law. As an Occupying Power, Israel must adhere to international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and ensure the occupied population's protection. However, Israel continues to unnecessarily use force against Palestinian fishermen, confiscate their fishing vessels and equipment, and arrest them. In addition, most fishermen arrested are transferred into Israel, in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that protected persons must not be detained outside of the occupied territory.