Several Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have called on Israeli authorities to put an immediate end to attacks on Gaza’s fishermen, following the Israeli navy’s increased use of violent enforcement measures at sea. The NGOs report that the number of incidents of live fire being opened on fishermen off the coast of Gaza rose by 70% in April when compared to the number of monthly cases for January-March 2020. The use of live fire both seriously threatens fishermen’s lives and causes severe damage to boats and equipment, they wrote in their letter.
This increased rate of violence comes on the backdrop of the great economic uncertainty and growing concern for the well-being and food security of Gaza’s civilian population, in light of the measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The human rights organizations Gisha, Adalah and Gaza-based Al-Mezan sent an urgent letter to Israel’s attorney general and military advocate general, demanding they order the navy to put an immediate end to the harassment of fishermen and investigate past incidents.
The violence with which the military enforces the maritime closure on Gaza routinely includes measures such as unrestrained use of live fire, the sinking or confiscation of boats, damage to equipment, and degrading treatment of fishermen.
According to Al-Mezan, 105 incidents of Israeli naval fire at Gazan fishing boats were recorded in the first four months of 2020; six fishermen were wounded, and seven others were arrested, including a minor. In addition, seven boats sustained severe damage, large quantities of fishing equipment were destroyed, and one boat was seized.
These practices by the Israeli navy are still continuing. During the morning hours of May 8, for example, Gazan fishermen reported Israeli naval fire towards two fishing boats. Rubber bullets hit one fisherman in the head and another in the hand; the engines of two boats were destroyed by live ammunition. Later that day, the Israeli navy blasted several boats with powerful water cannons, putting the boats and their owners at risk and injuring one fisherman.
In the letter sent on behalf of the three organizations, Gisha lawyer Muna Haddad stated that “the policy of using potentially lethal force against fishermen and causing severe, irreversible harm to their property is illegal and disproportionate.”
According to fishermen’s testimonies, the Israeli navy uses violent measures even when fishing vessels are located within the permitted fishing zone. Haddad emphasized that “in any case, sailing outside of the fishing zone does not, in itself, pose a security threat that justifies use of force ostensibly intended to enforce security restrictions.”
Zakariyya Baker, head of the Fishermen’s Union, which is part of Gaza’s Farm Labor Union, told Gisha that there has also been a recent increase in incidents in which the navy demands fishermen remove their clothes, jump in the water and swim over to navy vessels. “The navy’s demand that fishermen swim over to them naked is not just a violation of their dignity, it also puts their lives at risk for no reason.” Baker says that the navy uses powerful water cannons to flood fishing boats, damaging electrical and lighting equipment on board the vessels. “The navy’s use of force makes many fishermen afraid to set out to sea. The damage to the sector is palpable.”
Israel’s restrictions on access to the fishing zone it enforces in Gaza’s sea space, the frequent changes it makes to its demarcation, and the violent enforcement methods it employs thwart the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen in Gaza, undermining what was once an important sector in the Strip’s economy.
Israel’s actions at sea are just one example, but a very stark one, of the control Israel still wields over the lives of Gaza’s residents. This control comes with responsibilities, including an obligation to enable residents of the Gaza Strip to earn a living and live in dignity, without being forced to risk their lives and property and without infringement on their fundamental rights, said the NGOs.
Download the letter (in English) sent by the NGOs Gisha, Adalah and Al-Mezan to the Israel’s Attorney General and the Military Advocate General, demanding they put an immediate end to the harassment of Palestinian fishermen off Gaza.