Press Release - For immediate release
Wednesday, April 28, 2021: Human rights organizations Gisha, Adalah and Gaza-based Al Mezan sent an urgent letter (Hebrew) to Israel's Minister of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), demanding the immediate reversal of COGAT’s April 26 decision to ban access to Gaza’s sea space “until further notice.”
“The ban constitutes prohibited collective punishment against Gaza’s entire civilian population,” emphasized the organizations. “Israel is aware of the fact that its actions cause harm to thousands of fishermen and their families, as well as to the rest of Gaza’s population and to the local economy.”
Israel framed the punitive measure as a response to rockets fired from the Strip toward Israel, events that have no connection to the fishing population, whose livelihoods depend on access to sea. “This is an unlawful decision which clearly violates the law, Supreme Court jurisprudence, and Israel’s proclaimed commitments,” wrote the organizations. “It results in an unjustified, unreasonable, and disproportionate violation of the right to freedom of movement and the rights to livelihood, work, and dignity.”
Israel routinely imposes restrictions on access to the "fishing zone" it enforces in Gaza's sea space, reducing it or banning access to the sea altogether as a punitive measure. The access restrictions and violent enforcement methods used by the Israeli navy at sea have greatly diminished the feasibility of this historical sector, where the average daily wages range between 15 and 20 ILS (4-6 USD per day). According to Zakariyya Baker, head of the Fishermen’s Union in Gaza, about half of the 4,000 workers currently registered in the fishing sector are unable to earn a living at sea due to Israel's restrictions on the entry of materials needed to repair hundreds of boats that are out-of-commission. Baker told Gisha that “closing the sea doesn’t just stop fishermen from making a living, it also prevents them from feeding their families for the day.”
Nizar Ayash, head of the Gaza Fishermen Association, told Gisha that last night, a number of fishermen went out to sea in the north of the "fishing zone" and were fired at by the Israeli navy. One of the fishermen was shot with a rubber bullet and sustained injuries. Today, a number of fishermen went out to sea in the area of Khan Yunis and the engine of one of their boats was severely damaged, taking the boat out of commission. According to Al Mezan, 81 incidents of firing by the Israeli navy at fishermen in Gaza's territorial waters were recorded between January and March 2021, 31 of them in March.
For years, Gaza's economy has been stifled by Israeli restrictions, which were tightened further still in March 2020 under the guise of the pandemic. The harm caused by Israel's decision to ban sea access to Gaza’s population and economy is of particular concern given that this is the month of Ramadan, when expenses usually increase, and in light of the surge in COVID cases and the economic toll of measures taken to curb the spread of the virus within the Strip.