Supreme Court Orders State to Return 65 Boats to Gaza Fishermen

Following the Supreme Court’s acceptance of a petition filed by three human rights organizations, Israeli authorities submitted last week a preliminary response in which they declared the state’s intention to return 65 fishing boats seized and confiscated from Gaza fishermen in the Strip’s territorial waters.

Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, filed the petition on behalf of Gaza fisherman Abdel Ma’ati Habil, whose boat was seized by the Israeli navy in September 2016 and has not yet been returned.

Palestinian fishermen along the coast of Gaza

Palestinian fishermen along the coast of Gaza (Photo: United Nations)

The petition argued that the seizure of Habil’s boat and other boats currently held by Israel was illegal and conducted without any legal authority. It was submitted after the Israeli military agreed to return Habil’s boat but only via land rather than by sea, at his own expense, and without mention of the fishing equipment on board at the time of its confiscation, valued at some US $150,000. Gisha, Adalah, and Al Mezan demanded that the Supreme Court order the Israeli military to immediately and unconditionally return the fishing boat and all equipment, as well as all other boats seized by the Israeli military belonging to Gaza fishermen, along with all equipment on board at the time of their confiscation.

In its preliminary response to the petition, the state said that it intended to “work within the next several months to return the boat to the Gaza Strip, as well as the other fishing boats from the Gaza Strip that were seized by the navy… in accordance with security and political considerations and in line with a security assessment.”

Gisha, Adalah, and Al Mezan subsequently submitted a further response to the Supreme Court reasserting their demand for Israel to immediately return all boats, along with their equipment, to Gaza fishermen, without incurring costs on their owners, and calling on Israel to present and commit itself to a clear timetable for doing so. The organizations emphasize that, regardless of the legal dispute concerning the legality of the boats’ seizures, the state’s preliminary response proves there was never any need for them to be held for so long.

Gisha Attorney Muna Haddad has said: “Israel routinely seizes boats from fishermen in Gaza and holds them for months, even years, without any legal authority and in violation of international law. While Israel claims it seizes boats following violations of its restrictions on the fishing zone – restrictions, which Israel imposes, and changes arbitrarily – this does not justify such severe harm to the livelihood and property of fishermen and their families. The state’s response to the petition implies it will do all that it can to avoid a clear court ruling that may have brought about an end to these punitive and illegal practices whose only purpose is to intimidate fishermen in Gaza.”