Amid the implementation of the coronavirus safety and preventative measures in Gaza, which are threatening humanitarian conditions, as half of the workforce is unemployed and the other half is pushed to stay home, the Israeli navy is pressuring a sector that supplies both jobs and food in Gaza. The attacks and harassment of Palestinian fishermen, although unwarranted and unlawful, are routine. Now, at a time when families throughout Gaza are at a higher risk of food insecurity and poverty, their impact is increased.
In this latest incident, occurring at approximately 9:30am on Tuesday, 21 April 2020, Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishermen who were sailing around four nautical miles off the coast of Beit Lahia in the north of the Gaza Strip. Some eyewitnesses told Al Mezan’s field workers that two Israeli naval boats chased the fishermen and then opened fire. One boat, carrying fisherman Ziyad Fahd Baker, 25, was damaged in the attack and the fisherman sustained headwounds from a rubber-coated bullet. The injury was described as moderate by medical personnel.
Al Mezan’s documentation shows that since the beginning of the year, the Israeli navy has carried out 92 attacks using live ammunition against Palestinian fishermen, injuring six, and arbitrarily arrested three fishermen, including a child. The individuals who were detained reported physical and verbal abuse during their interrogation. The Israeli authorities also confiscated one boat during this period, with its equipment, and damaged or destroyed boats in seven separate incidents.
Despite the Oslo Accords affording Palestinian fishermen 20 nautical miles of fishing grounds, the Israeli authorities continue to enforce a fluctuating fishing zone, and sometimes completely prohibit fishing for Palestinians.
The years of illegal and unwarranted attacks, arbitrary arrests and restrictions on fishermen by the Israeli authorities have made fishing a risk to life and safety, and created a reality of regular boat confiscations, boat destruction and damage, banning of materials for repairs, and severely reduced fishing zones. Accordingly, the fishing community endures extreme poverty, that is marked not only by low income levels and instability, but also by chronic food insecurity, and lack of access to education and healthcare.
Targeting the fishing sector amid the implementation of the COVID-19 safety measures, which have curbed life in Gaza and confined breadwinners to their houses, means increasing these vulnerabilities among the fishing community and for families throughout Gaza.
These practices are unwarranted, illegal, and form part of an unlawful closure policy that amounts to a prohibited collective punishment under international law. The international community must provide protection for fishermen and enable them to work freely, so that they can contribute to their own economic benefit as well as that of the Palestinian economy. Tangible steps to action the removal of the 13-year closure of Gaza must be urgently formulated.