According to the field investigation conducted by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, at around 8:00am on Tuesday, 21 February 2017, Israeli gunboats opened fire at a Palestinian fishing boat off the coast of Al Waha, North Gaza, at two nautical miles from shore. One 23-year-old fisherman was shot in the back. The five fishermen onboard were taken to an unknown location and their boat was confiscated.
Al Mezan has identified the fishermen as:
According to the affidavit of Mohammed Bakr, he was shot in the lower back before the Israeli navy approached and targeted the engine. The Israeli forces instructed the fishermen to remove their clothes and jump into the water to swim to arrest at the navy vessel. Mohammed stated that he had been hit in the back and showed the soldiers his bloody hand. He was told to do as the others. Once onboard the navy vessel, Mohammed was handcuffed and blindfolded. He was struck with a rifle butt. Only hours after reaching land was the bullet removed from Mohammed’s back. All five fishermen were released around midnight. The fishermen are residents of Al Shate’ refugee camp.
According to international legal standards, the conduct pursued by Israeli authorities against the fishermen amounts to cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, violates their rights, and runs counter to international humanitarian law obligations regarding protected persons within occupied territory. The trends documented in the methods and treatment of Palestinian fishermen during the systematic attacks include shooting at the fishermen and boats, which leads to injury of the fishermen and damage to the boats and equipment; humiliating arrests where the Israeli authorities force the fishermen to strip their clothes, often in very cold weather conditions; and handcuffing and blindfolding that is often accompanied with beating.
The fishermen are typically released within 24 hours, which indicates that Israeli authorities lack a legal basis for the fishermen’s arrest and detention, amounting to a violation of the right to liberty and security of person. After release, the fishermen struggle to retrieve their confiscated boats, which typically remain in Israeli custody. The interactions between Palestinian fishermen and Israeli forces at sea, as a baseline, amount to harassment of the fishermen and disruption to fishing activities.
The 1993 Oslo Accords promulgated a fishing zone of 20 nautical miles (nm); however, the restrictions in September 2002 by Israeli authorities immediately decreased the permitted fishing zone to 12 nm and by 2006 to six nm. The zone has fluctuated in recent years down to three nm, while once increasing briefly to nine nm – a period during which Israel’s attacks and harassment of fishermen increased. The Israeli authorities have attempted to justify the treatment of Palestinian fishermen in recent years under the 2007 categorization of the Gaza Strip as an “enemy entity”, which is the foundation of the illegal closure/blockade policy. Al Mezan’s monitoring shows that since 2000, the Israeli forces killed six fishermen and injured 115, while 613 fishermen have been detained and 146 boats and pieces of equipment confiscated.
The targeting of Palestinian fishermen has caused a severe deterioration in the viability of the Palestinian fishing sector; thousands of jobs have been lost as a result of the ill-treatment, as fishermen are unable carry out their work, and in particular unable to access the valuable catch located beyond six nm. The fishing community is now considered a vulnerable population in the Gaza Strip, of whom all members are said to live below the poverty line. Currently, 3,600 fishermen are registered within the fishermen’s syndicate; of these, less than 1,500 are active within their profession.
Al Mezan reaffirms that a fisherman’s right to work is an inherent human right. The violation of their right to work, extending to the violation of the rights to physical security, adequate standard of living, and to life and live in dignity, impacts the stability of the economy in the Gaza Strip. The restrictions on fishermen are part and parcel of Israel’s illegal closure/blockade policy, which has crippled Gaza’s economy and continues to stifle growth.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to protect civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory and to exert pressure on Israel to respect international law and end the closure/blockade of the Gaza Strip and the serious human rights violations associated with it.