Since the Israeli authorities announced the extension to nine nautical miles of Gaza´s Israeli-restricted fishing grounds, the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) escalated attacks, including arbitrary arrest, against the Palestinian fishermen. On 3 April 2016, IOF entered the fishermen´s permitted zone and arrested 10 fishermen; including two minors, injured one, confiscated four boats and sank one boat. Al Mezan condemns these attacks, which represent a series of IOF violations of international law against Palestinian fishermen. Al Mezan calls on the international community to intervene and protect civilians in the Gaza Strip, and address the root cause of violations, including by lifting the Israeli unlawful closure/blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Monitoring by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Al Mezan) reveals that at approximately 12:30 am on Tuesday, 19 April 2016, Israeli gunboats opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Khan Younis city, south of the Gaza Strip. Three fishermen were on board: Awad Munir Al Sa’eedi, 33; Ayoub Fathi Al Sa’eedi, 41; and Ali Hassan Al Sa’eedi, 17. All of them are residents of the Al Shati refugee camp, in western Gaza City. Israeli gunboats rounded the fishing boat, and Israeli soldiers ordered the fishermen to undress and swim to one of the gunboats. The fishermen were arrested and taken to Ashdod seaport, and their boat was confiscated. The fishermen were interrogated before they were released around 8 am from Erez Crossing, north of the Gaza Strip,, while their boat remains confiscated.
In another incident on the same day, at approximately 2 am, Israeli gunboats opened fire at a number of Palestinian fishing boats, chased two of them and arrested five fishermen onboard. Those-detained were Mustafa Mohamed Al Najjar, 29; Odai Hassan Al Najjar, 20; Ahmed Kamal Abu Mehsin, 26; Mohamed Jihad Meslih, 26; and his brother Bilal Jihad Meslih, 21. Mohamed Meslih told Al Mezan that they were all released at about 5 pm through Erez crossing. Meslih’s boat was confiscated, while the other boat, which belongs to Al Najjar family, sank after it had been hit with bullets. One of the fishermen sustained several bullet wounds in various parts of his body and hospital sources described his condition as moderate.
In a third incident on the same day, at approximately 5 pm, Israeli gunboats opened fire towards Palestininan fishing boats off the coast of Deir Al Balah, in the middle of the Gaza Strip. Israeli gunboats rounded a fishing boat and arrested the two fishermen who were on board: Salem Jamal Al Nu’man, 39; and Nafith Mahdi Abu Riala, 16. The detainees were taken to Ashdod seaport in Israel and their boat was confiscated. They were interrogated and later, at approximately 1 pm, Nafith Abu Riala was released through Erez crossing, while Salem Nu’man was still detained when this press release was issued. Their boat was also still confiscated.
The escalating violations against Palestinian fishermen, even within the Israeli-imposed fishing zone, raise questions and concerns as to their aim. While Israel alleges such violations are security-motivated, monitoring indicates that the victims were within the permitted fishing zone and did not present any risk to Israeli forces. Such practices come in a context of continued collective punishment, but can also have economic motives. Depriving Palestinians from exhausting their natural resources comes along with Israel's exploitation of these resources for its own benefit, which represents a serious deviation from international law requirements, whereby the Occupying Power is obligated to refrain from such exploitation of natural resources within occupied territories, except for the benefit of the civilian population in this territory.
Al Mezan reiterates its condemnation of the ongoing Israeli violations against Palestinian fishermen. Al Mezan stresses that a fisherman’s right to work is an inherent human right, and that the Israeli authorities are committing systematic violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law by repeatedly and systemically targeting fishermen, often resulting in death, injury, and arbitrary arrest in a degrading manner, as well as depriving fishermen of their livelihoods and right to work.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to intervene to protect civilians and put an end to Israeli violations against them, and to bring to an end the closure/blockade of the Gaza Strip, which constitutes an ongoing affront to international law and produces serious violations of the human rights of the entire population of the Gaza Strip since 2007.