Over the past seven years, fishermen in the Gaza Strip have increasingly come under systemic attacks by Israeli naval guards. The illegal closure of the Gaza Strip by Israel, particularly the buffer zone at sea, has limited fishing activities to an area where fish levels have already been severely depleted. In need of providing for their families, fishermen in the Gaza Strip are known to cross the permitted 3 nautical miles (NM) in search for fish; regularly resulting in their injury and the confiscation of their fishing vessels by Israeli forces. In some incidents fisherman have been shot and killed by Israeli forces patrolling the buffer zone at sea. Attacks on fishermen by the Israeli naval guards have also occurred even when the fishing was taking place within the assigned three NM. On Friday 30 May, Israeli naval guards attacked and opened fire at Palestinian fishermen at sea.
Mahmoud Sa’id al-Sa’idi – al-Shate’ Refugee Camp – Gaza
On Friday 30 May at approximately 4:30 am, Mahmoud, 21, headed to Gaza port with another fisherman, Muhammad Murad, 22, to go fishing. They sailed for approximately one hour but remained within the permitted three NM from the shore, west of Gaza city. The two fishermen saw three other Palestinian fishing vessels in the same area. At approximately 5:30 am, seven Israeli rubber gunboats came into sight, six of which were approaching the fishermen from the north and one from the west. Mahmoud recalls hearing heavy gunshots being fired in their direction from the Israeli naval boats. Mahmoud and Muhammad were terrified and tried to escape by sailing towards the beach, fearing they would be arrested and have their fishing vessel confiscated. The gunboats followed them, surrounded them and then began repeatedly sailing into their fishing vessel in an attempt to sink it.
Out of fear of detention and confiscation of their fishing vessel, the two fishermen decided to keep sailing. Israeli naval guards on the boat opened fire at them from a short distance; hitting the motor and causing the boat to break down. After the boat had broken down, the naval guards ordered the two fishermen to take off their clothes, while pointing their guns at them, then arrested them and confiscated their fishing vessel. The two men were taken onto an Israeli gunboat where they were given dark blue trousers and shirts to wear. The naval guards tied the men’s hands behind their backs and blindfolded them. The gunboat sailed for almost an hour before reaching Ashdod port, where the men’s blindfolds were removed.
Shortly afterwards, they were blindfolded again and taken off the boat onto the port, where a military doctor ran medical checks on them. When the doctor had finished they were taken into a room and left to sit on the ground for three hours. Afterwards, Mahmoud was taken to another room where he was interrogated by an Israeli intelligence officer about himself, his family and the location of his arrest earlier that day. The officer informed him that the fishing vessel would be confiscated. Mahmoud was taken back to the same room and was left to sit on the ground for more than two hours, still blindfolded with his hands tied. After the two hours had passed, three soldiers removed the blindfold and placed chains on the two men’s feet and wrists. Mahmoud then saw that four other Palestinian fishermen had been arrested during the same incident. The fishermen were taken on a white bus which travelled for about an hour. They were released at approximately 3:00 pm the same day at the Eretz Crossing, north of the Gaza Strip. Fishing is the only source of income for both Muhammad and Mahmoud. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 9625/2014)
Zayed Zaki Tarush – North Gaza
Zayed, 22, has been a fisherman for 10 years and works with other members of his family to support its 15 members. On 30 May, at approximately 4:30 am, he sailed three NM out to sea with his brother Ismai’l, 21, on their fishing vessel. Zayed and Ismai’l were in the same location as Mahmoud al-Sa’idi, mentioned in the above affidavit.
When he reached the location, Zayed saw another four fishing vessels with Palestinian fishermen on them. Seven Israeli gunboats were surrounding the fishermen from the north and the west. The Israeli naval guards opened fire at the fishing vessels. Zayed was afraid that the motor on his boat would be hit by a bullet and would break down, so he tried to cover it with his own body. Zayed says that he and his family cannot afford to buy a new motor and if it was hit the family would lose their only source of income. One of the soldiers on the gunboat started shooting rubber bullets from a close distance at Zayed’s right arm in an attempt to make him let go of the motor. Zayed sustained several injuries to his right arm due to the rubber bullets but did not move away from the motor. A soldier then reached over from his gunboat and started beating Zayed on his right shoulder with the back of his gun. At that point, Zayed let go of the motor and immediately afterwards a naval guard opened fire and hit the motor, completely destroying it.
The naval guards pointed their guns at Zayed and Ismai’l and ordered them to take off their clothes before transferring them onto one of the rubber gunboats and arresting them. The soldiers also confiscated their fishing vessel. On the Israeli gunboat, they were given dark blue clothes to wear, had their arms tied behind their backs and were blindfolded. The two fishermen were dropped off at the Ashdod port where their blindfolds were removed. There, Zayed saw four other fishermen who had also been arrested. They were blindfolded again shortly afterwards and taken onto the port where a military doctor examined them. Zayed complained to the doctor about his injury and the excruciating pain. The doctor gave him some medication and told him to seek treatment in a hospital when he returns to Gaza. Zayed was left sitting on the ground blindfolded with his arms tied behind his back for about two hours.
He was taken into another room where he was interrogated for approximately 15 minutes. He was questioned about personal information and about the location of his arrest earlier that day. Zayed was told by the interrogator that he should hire a lawyer in order to retrieve the fishing vessel. When the interrogations were over, Zayed was brought back to the first room, where he sat on the ground and waited for three more hours. Zayed and Ismai’l were released at 3:00 pm the same day, along with the other fishermen. Zayed was admitted to hospital for treatment in Beit Lahia where he was told that his right shoulder and arm were fractured and bruised. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 9626/2014)
The number of nautical miles that fishermen in the Gaza Strip are allowed access to has been reduced various times in recent years, causing confusion. The restrictions imposed by the buffer zone have cut down both the quantity and quality of the fish available, forcing fishermen to defy the restrictions imposed on them in order to make a livelihood. As a result of the Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip on both land and sea, there is widespread economic hardship and lack of employment among residents. Many Palestinians risk their lives entering the buffer zone at land and sea in order to fish and cultivate land, as a means to provide for their families.
The continuous targeting of Palestinian civilians in the buffer zone at sea and on land by the Israeli military constitutes a blatant violation of Israel’s obligations under international law. Al-Haq condemns the targeting of Palestinian fishermen at sea, the unnecessary use of force against them, their arrest as well as the confiscation of their fishing vessels and equipment. As the Occupying Power, Israel must abide by international human rights law and provide protection for the occupied population. Furthermore, Al-Haq calls on Israel to lift the seven year long closure of the Gaza Strip, which infringes upon the basic rights of Palestinian civilians therein.