Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip continue to be targeted by Israeli forces in control of the buffer zone at sea. In the past week, Al-Haq has documented two separate Israeli attacks against Palestinian fishermen while at sea. On 7 March, Tawfiq Sa'id Abu Rayala, 32, was killed while fishing on his vessel within the permitted boundaries of the buffer zone line, which according to Israel is currently six nautical miles (NM). Despite this, Israeli naval forces shot at and killed Tawfiq with live ammunition. That day, two other fishermen were arrested and their small fishing boat was confiscated along with Tawfiq's. In a separate incident on 5 March, two Palestinians were injured and another four were arrested when Israeli forces attacked them while they fished.
Affidavit of Khader Marwan Al-Sa'idi - Al-Shate' Refugee Camp - Gaza
At approximately 8:30 pm on Friday 6 March, Khader, 27, set out on a fishing trip along with Tawfiq Abu Rayala and two other fishermen on three separate fishing boats. They initially sailed west and then turned north until they reached a point which was five NM out from Al-Sudaniyya beach. Khader states that they were careful not to cross the six NM line set by Israel, so as to avoid being subjected to arrest or attack.
At approximately 1:15 am on Saturday 7 March, while the fishermen were still at sea, Khader saw an Israeli gunboat heading towards them. At that point, the fishermen turned on their motors and sailed towards the beach. The gunboat came within 10 metres of them and directed their lights onto the fishing vessels. Khader saw that the Israeli gunboat had the number 839 painted on it. Over a loudspeaker a member of the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) ordered the fishermen to stop their motors. The fishermen did not respond, fearing that they would be arrested and that their equipment would be confiscated. When they were three NM away from the beach, the IOF opened fire on two of the fishing vessel's motors disabling Tawfiq’s and one other fishing vessel. It was then that Khader saw Tawfiq put his hand to his right side and fall, saying he had been hit and injured.
Khader manoeuvred his vessel closer to Tawfiq’s, who was lying on the fishing vessel, and saw that he was bleeding heavily as a result of a bullet wound on the right side of his stomach and a bigger exit wound in his lower right back. Khader turned around to ask Wahid and Jihad, the fishermen on the third boat for help, but could only watch as they were forced to jump into the water at gun point. They were both arrested on the gunboat. Khader took Tawfiq onto his boat in an effort to take him back to the beach and at this point the Israeli gunboat approached them at a five metre distance. Khader screamed at the soldiers, pleading with them to help Tawfiq. The soldiers swore at him, confiscated both Tawfiq's and the other two fishermen's boats and equipment, and then left.
Half an hour after reaching the beach, an ambulance arrived and transferred Tawfiq to hospital. That Saturday, at 12:00 pm, Khader received a phone call saying that Tawfiq had died as a result of his wounds from the bullet. Wahid and Jihad were released on the same day at 2:00 pm; the two fishing vessels remain in the custody of the Israeli authorities. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 10488/2015)
Rami Mahmoud Zeidan - Al-Shate' Refugee Camp - Gaza
Rami, 33, and his brother Ra'ed, 36, own a fishing boat and work as fishermen, providing for their family of 30. On Thursday 5 March at approximately 4:30 am, Rami went to the Gaza Port with his father Muhammad, 58, and two other fishermen, Muhammad Al-Najjar, 36, and Muhammad Hassouna, 32, for a fishing trip. They sailed west then headed north - three NM into the sea off Al-Sudaniyya beach. The fishermen were cautious not to exceed the six NM permitted by Israel, fearing that they would be chased by the Israeli navy, arrested, have their equipment confiscated and be shot at. Rami recalls seeing 30 Palestinian fishing vessels at the time.
At approximately 7:30 am, as they were fishing, they saw four Israeli gunboats approaching them and heard gunfire being aimed towards them. At that point, Rami's boat and the rest of the boats started sailing towards the beach. The Israeli gunboats chased Rami's boat, surrounded it at a distance of two metres, and then stopped. The IOF shot the boat's motor to disable it. The forces then ordered the fishermen on the boat to undress, jump into the sea and swim towards their gunboat - all at gunpoint. The fishermen did as told and swam towards one of the Israeli gunboats. Once on the boat, the soldiers tied the fishermen's hands behind their backs with plastic rods and blindfolded them. About 15 minutes later, the fishermen's blindfolds were removed and they were then transferred to a bigger gunboat. There, the soldiers untied them and they were each given a pair of trousers and a white sweater before they were tied up and blindfolded again. The gunboat then took off and sailed for approximately an hour. Once they reached Ashdod Port, the fishermen were taken somewhere inside the port and left to sit for about two hours.
At that point, the blindfolds were removed and Rami saw a military doctor and a soldier. The doctor performed a medical check on Rami, registered his information, and a picture of him was taken with him holding his registry papers. His father and the two other fishermen underwent the same process. They were then blindfolded and tied up for another hour. When the blindfolds were removed, three Israeli policemen handcuffed the fishermen and took them to a white bus which travelled for about an hour and stopped at the Erez crossing. There, they were thoroughly inspected and interrogated. Rami was interrogated for approximately half an hour by an Israeli Intelligence officer named Ihab. He questioned Rami about his arrest location and personal information, such as his address. On a laptop, Ihab asked Rami to identify his house in the neighbourhood he showed him on the screen. Ihab informed Rami that he would be released shortly but that his fishing vessel and equipment were being confiscated. Rami and his father were accused of fishing in unauthorized areas. They were all released at 3:30 pm on 5 March. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 10480/2015)
Zeyad Fahd Bakr - Al-Shate' Refugee Camp - Gaza
On the same morning, Zeyad, 24, was fishing with his uncle and three cousins in the same area. While some Israeli gunboats chased Rami's boat, other gunboats chased and surrounded Zeyad's boat and another boat. The IOF span their boat around Zeyad's, filled it with water, trying to sink it. The soldiers ordered the fishermen to stop the boat's motor but they did not comply because they were working within the allowed area. They also feared being arrested and having their equipment confiscated, which would have meant losing their source of livelihood. The Israeli soldiers opened fire on the fishermen and the vessel’s motor. As a result, Zeyad was injured in his right leg and lower back. At the same time, the soldiers shot at another boat nearby where another fisherman was hit and injured in the left leg. Zeyad's boat managed to escape back to the shore. Zeyad was taken to hospital and is currently staying at home, unable to work and provide for his family. (Al-Haq affidavit No. 10479/2015)
Following Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip which lasted for more than 50 days in 2014, the August ceasefire terms included an agreement for Israel to extend the fishing limit off Gaza's shore to six NM instead of three NM. Over the years following the Oslo Accords, the number of nautical miles off the coast which is allowed to be utilised by Palestinians for fishing has unilaterally been reduced several times, often without clear announcement or warning from the 20 NM under Oslo. The restrictions and dangers imposed by the coastal buffer zone has negatively and severely affected the livelihoods of Palestinian fishermen. This, in addition to the broader closure that the Gaza Strip has been subjected to for more than seven years, has created a situation of extreme economic and social hardship for Palestinian civilians.
Al-Haq condemns the targeting of Palestinian fishermen at sea who are simply trying to make a living by fishing within the permitted zone and pose no threat whatsoever to Israeli soldiers. The excessive use of force used by the Israeli soldiers against Palestinian civilians has resulted in this case in the killing of Tawfiq Abu Rayala, the father to four children, and the injury of other fishermen. As an Occupying Power, and under international human rights and humanitarian law, Israel is obliged to protect the occupied civilian population. Al-Haq condemns the continuous and unnecessary use of force against these fishermen, including by firing at them, and causing death or injury, the confiscation of their fishing vessels and equipment, and their arrest. According to Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, protected persons must not be detained outside of occupied territory. Al-Haq calls on Israel to lift the prolonged closure of the Gaza Strip and on the international community to accelerate the reconstruction process of the Strip so that the basic rights of Palestinians, including that to a dignified life, are realized.