There are about 4,400 Palestinian fishermen currently working in the Gaza Strip under constant threat of arrest, injury or even death by attacks from the Israeli Naval Forces. This situation exacerbated after the latest expansion of the buffer zone in late 2008 reduced the fishing zone to three nautical miles from the shore. With limited access to the sea and the fear of being killed, wounded or arrested, approximately 6,600 fishermen have been left with no choice but to cease their work, as they can no longer sustain their livelihoods.
Al-Haq’s documentation shows that in recent months attacks against fishermen, within the three nautical miles or beyond, have significantly increased. The location and frequency of incidents indicates that fishermen within the three nautical mile limit are the more common target of the Israeli Naval Forces and no longer feel safe working at sea.
During the last week, Al-Haq documented four incidents in which Israeli Naval Forces fired rubber-coated metal bullets towards Palestinian fishing vessels. In two of the incidents the fishermen were arrested, subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment, and had their fishing vessels confiscated. In three of the incidents, the vessels were within the permitted three nautical miles, while one was a mile beyond. In total, 14 fishermen were arrested and questioned; all but one have been released. These incidents are almost identical in characteristic to the attacks on fishermen documented in the past.
For more information see Al-Haq’s Report: Shifting Paradigms - Israel’s Enforcement of the Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip and Al-Haq’s Virtual Field Visit and Interactive Map of the Buffer Zone.
Muhammad Yaser al-Nahhal
On 28 November at around 9:00 am, Israeli Naval Forces opened fire at Muhammad Yaser al-Nahhal (24 years old) while fishing with his neighbour, Muhammad Abu-Kalloub. Both men were fishing about two and a half nautical miles away from the shore, an area formally permitted for fishing, when they saw an Israeli Navy boat approach them at speed. Without prior warning, the officers on board began shooting at Muhammad’s fishing boat.
The officers shouted at the men and ordered them to take off their clothes and jump into the water. The men complied and removed their clothes but hesitated before jumping, as neither knew how to swim. They finally jumped after officers fired shots close to the boat and threatened to shoot them if they stayed.
As soon as the men were taken aboard the Navy boat, the officers beat them severely. The fishermen were then blindfolded, shackled and tied to the body of the Navy boat. Upon arrival at Ashdod Harbour, the men had cloths put over their heads and were taken to be seen by a doctor. They were then questioned and photographed.
Muhammad al-Nahhal was ordered to identify the houses of certain members of the Hamas police and the location of their stations. He said he did not know and was released a few hours later. His neighbor, Muhammad Abu-Kalloub, remains under arrest with no reasons given for his prolonged detention (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 6840/2011).
Muhammad Jihad al-Hissi
At around 11:00 am on 29 November, Israeli Naval officers shot Muhammad Jihad al-Hissi (20 years old) three times with rubber bullets; in his right hand, right thigh and lower back. Muhammad had been sailing on his grandfather’s fishing vessel with three of his uncles since about 7:30 am that day. After failing to catch any fish within the permitted three nautical miles, they decided, along with two other fishing vessels, to try one mile beyond the stated limit.
Soon after, the fishing vessels were surrounded by two Israeli war ships and three navy boats. The fishermen quickly began to draw their fishing nets from the water but Israeli Navy officers opened fire against them. Muhammad was hit three times by rubber-coated metal bullets while his uncle, Nihad, was shot in the left arm.
The Israeli Navy officers then shouted at the fishermen onboard the fishing vessels and ordered 12 of them to take off their clothes and jump into the water. Unable to swim, Muhammad was afraid of drowning but was forced to jump when a Navy Officer pointed his gun and threatened to shoot him.
According to Muhammad, the Navy officers forced him, along with 11 other fishermen, onto their Navy boat. They were blindfolded and shackled before being taken to a location near the Ashdod Harbour. The men were then put in a cold room with no seats for several hours.
After taking photos of each fisherman, Israeli Intelligence officers questioned them individually, showed them aerial maps of the Gaza Strip and asked if they knew the location of members of the Islamic Jihad movement, the Hamas Internal Security or the police.
When the fishermen had no information to give, the Israeli soldiers loaded them aboard a bus and released them at the Erez checkpoint. Two of their fishing vessels were confiscated with each one costing up to USD 150,000. Each vessel also provided a source of income for approximately ten fishermen and, consequently, 20 families have been cut off from their livelihoods (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 6839/2011).