At approximately 7:15am on Wednesday, 1 May 2019, Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishermen sailing off the coast of Al-Waha in the northwest of Beit Lahia city, North Gaza. The naval forces circled one boat carrying two fishermen: Hazem Abu Reyala, 28, and Khaled Abu Reyala, 24, both residents of Al-Shati’ refugee camp in Gaza City. The fishermen had been working at a distance of about three nautical miles off the coast when the naval forces detained them and confiscated their boat.
At around the same time, Israeli naval forces opened fire at other fishermen who were sailing off the coast of in Al-Waha, injuring fishermen Mohammed Abu Reyala, 24-year-old resident of Al-Shati’, in the back with a plastic-coated steel bullet. Doctors at Al Shifa Hospital said he sustained a light wound.
Through Tuesday morning, 30 April 2019, Israeli naval forces continued to harass Palestinian fishermen, destroying their fishing nets, opening fire on them, and forcing them to sail at a distance of six nautical miles throughout Gaza’s territorial water. While on 31 March 2019, Israeli authorities extended the permitted fishing zone to 15 nautical miles, except in North Gaza, the Palestinian Civil Administration and Liaison Office was later informed of restrictions back to six nautical miles throughout the Gaza Strip.
Documentation by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights shows that from the start of 2019, Israeli forces have carried out 145 attacks on fishermen—all of them with live fire—injuring 13 fishermen and detaining 18 others, and confiscating eight fishing boats. In the meantime, Israeli authorities continue to impose restrictions on the entry into Gaza of fishing equipment and materials needed to repair damaged boats. For the most part, Israeli authorities restrict fishermen to a zone of between three and nine nautical miles—and frequently still target them regardless of whether they are working within the permitted zone.
Al Mezan condemns the violence against fishermen and stresses that the constant harassment, detention, and shooting is part of an unlawful closure policy that amounts to a prohibited collective punishment. These attacks are unwarranted and compound the dire conditions of the fishing community in the Gaza Strip, 80 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Israel’s policy to hinder fishermen’s access to Palestinian territorial waters restricts their enjoyment of Palestine’s natural resources. Preventing the fishing community from working safely and freely stifles what would otherwise be a viable sector in the Palestinian economy.
Al Mezan demands that assaulted and dispossessed fishermen be compensated for the damages to their boats and lost wages. Al Mezan urges members of the international community to take immediate steps to protect Palestinian civilians and to seek an end to Israel’s closure. Fishermen must be protected so that they can work and earn a living safely and with dignity.