Israeli occupation forces (IOF) continued their serious and systematic attacks against Palestinian fishermen off of the coast of Gaza notably after Israel’s 3 April 2016 announcement extending the fishing zone from six to nine nautical miles. Israeli violations include shooting at and arrest of fishermen, confiscation of fishing boats and equipment, and blocking entry of fiberglass necessary to build new boats. The Israeli authorities harass and degrade Palestinian fishermen on a daily basis by chasing them, forcing them to undress and swim to the military boats, and physically and verbally abusing them. These practices are depriving fishermen of their livelihoods and right to work. The attacks are carried out in the context of the Israeli-imposed closure and blockade on the Gaza Strip, maintained to this degree since 2007.
The monitoring by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Al Mezan) shows a substantial escalation of violations against the fishermen beginning at the start of 2016. In the period between 1 January 2016 and the time of writing, Israeli Navy targeted Palestinian fishermen 58 times, arrested 65 fishermen - including 10 minors – in 17 separate incidents, wounded six fishermen, confiscated 22 fishing boats in 16 separate incidents, and destroyed fishing equipment in 10 separate incidents. In a recent wave of assaults on Sunday 22 May 2016 morning, Israeli Navy arrested 10 fishermen, one of which was a minor, and confiscated five boats and 36 fishing nets.
At approximately 5:30 am on Sunday, 22 May 2016, Israeli Navy opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Al Waha area and west Beit Lahia in the North Gaza district. The soldiers arrested eight fishermen – including one minor – who were on board four different row boats, and confiscated 36 fishing nets. According to field investigations, the Israeli Navy surrounded and took control of the boats, two boats at a time, arrested the fishermen onboard. The soldiers either cut and destroyed the fishing nets or towed them along with the boats. The incident lasted until 6:30 am.
The arrested fishermen were identified as follows:
Abdel Bari Mohamed Al Sultan told Al Mezan that the Israeli Navy chased fishermen while they were at about 300 meters offshore and about 1.5 kilometers from the northern border. At first Israeli military boats surrounded two fishing boats and forced the fishermen onboard to undress and swim in the sea water to one of the military boats. The soldiers arrested the fishermen and their boats were towed westward to a navy cruiser. About two hours later, Israeli military boats repeated the same activities and confiscated another two boats and arrested the fishermen on board. This brought the total to four confiscated boats and eight arrested fishermen.
In a second incident on the same day, at 8 am, the Israeli Navy opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Al Waha, west Beit Lahia, in North Gaza district, arrested two fishermen: Ahmed Mohamed Zayed, 32, and his brother Ibrahim, 21, and confiscated their boat. Field investigations indicate that the two fishermen were collecting the nets that were thrown in the water after the first incident, mentioned above, that resulted in the arrest of their cousins Rasim Zayed and Mohamed Zayed. The head of the fishermen’s union, Jihad Ahmed Mohamed Al Sultan, who was present in the area at the time, told Al Mezan that the Israeli Navy chased the fishermen while they were at about 800 meters from shore and about 2.5 kilometers from the northern border. The Israeli Navy boats surrounded the fishing boat and forced the fishermen to take off their clothes and swim in the sea to one of the navy boats. The soldiers proceeded to arrest the fishermen and tow their fishing boat westward.
In a third incident, at 10:20 am, the Israeli Navy opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Al Waha. Al Mezan’s field investigations indicate that the Israeli Navy boats chased the fishing boats but the fishermen managed to maneuver the attack and escape. The fishermen were forced to abandon their work and sail back to shore. No injuries were reported.
Al Mezan reiterates its condemnation of the ongoing Israeli violations against Palestinian fishermen. The IOF measures of collective punishment on fishermen violate their right to life, physical safety, and human dignity, and their right to work, ultimately pushing the fishing community into severe poverty.
Al Mezan stresses that the attacks are carried out to harass and intimidate. The IOF treatment of fishermen amounts to cruel and degrading treatment during the arbitrary detention and confiscation of their boats and fishing equipment. This is usually followed by the release of the detained fishermen after only several hours in detention, since there is no legal case to be pursued against them in court. Al Mezan affirms that the lack of indictment against fishermen proves that the Israeli practices are carried out in the context of the collective punishment policy that has been imposed on the residents of the Gaza Strip for the last nine years. Al Mezan reaffirms that a fisherman’s right to work is an inherent human right, and that the Israeli authorities are committing systematic violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by repeatedly targeting fishermen.
Al Mezan denounces the silence of the international community and its disregard for legal obligations under international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, to the civilian population of the occupied Palestinian territory. Al Mezan asserts that the silence of the international community has encouraged Israel to escalate its violations. Accordingly, Al Mezan reiterates its calls on the international community, particularly the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to exert pressure on Israel to ensure respect for international law and end the closure/blockade of the Gaza Strip and the serious human rights violations associated with it.
Project funded by the European Union - Joint project of Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Adalah, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, in cooperation with the Treatment & Rehabilitation Center and Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. The contents of this workshop are the sole responsibility of Al Mezan and Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and under no circumstances should be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.