Adalah sent complaints last week to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Chief Military Advocate General Danny Efroni, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit demanding that they order the return of five boats and equipment recently confiscated by the Israeli navy from Palestinian fishermen off the coast of the Gaza Strip.
Adalah filed the complaints on behalf of five residents of Gaza whose fishing boats and equipment – valued at up to tens of thousands of shekels – were confiscated and are now being held by the Israeli military. In each such incident, Israeli navy vessels opened fire on or near the fishing boats, ordered the fishermen to remove their clothes, and then detained the men for a day or two for interrogation. In most of the incidents, Israeli soldiers also ordered the fishermen to jump into the sea and swim towards the Israeli navy vessels. The al-Mezan Center for Human Rights collected the details of each of these incidents from the fishermen.
In his letter to the Israeli officials, Adalah Attorney Nadeem Shehadeh argued that there was no probable cause to detain the fishermen or to confiscate their property, as they had not strayed beyond the boundaries of the permitted fishing zone designated by the Israeli military. Attorney Shehadeh also complained that none of the fishermen have received from the Israeli authorities any sort of documentation related to the confiscation of their boats and equipment, or specifying the reasons for the confiscations. “All these boats are used by their owners for fishing as part of the local economy and as a source of income for the boat owners and their employees. These boats are still being held by the navy and have not yet been returned to their owners,” the attorney for Adalah wrote in his letter.
“The attacks on these fishing boats and fishermen constitute an intentional assault on civilian targets forbidden according to laws of warfare,” Attorney Shehadeh wrote. “The apprehending of these boats was accompanied by live gunfire directed both at the boats and the fishermen, acts which placed the lives of the fishermen in danger and were liable to cause them bodily harm. The fishermen were arrested and held under harsh and humiliating conditions.”
According to international law, such acts violate both the Geneva and Hague conventions: Under Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honor … They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof …”. Article 39 obligates all parties to a conflict to allow protected civilians the opportunity for gainful employment. Similarly, Article 52 of the Hague Convention forbids the confiscation by an occupying force of property not required for military purposes; whereas Article 97 of the Fourth Geneva Convention rules that a military force must return to released detainees all property and money taken from him or her during his detention.
Adalah therefore demands that the Israeli defense minister, chief military advocate general, and AG order the return to the Gazan fishermen of their boats and equipment, and to determine clear regulations that will allow fishermen to carry on with their work and earn a living without being disturbed or attacked by the Israeli military. Adalah also calls on the Israeli authorities to issue clear guidelines for the return of confiscated property and compensation for damage to boats and to economic livelihoods resulting from such confiscations.