At 11am on Monday, 5 August 2019, Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishermen sailing off the Gaza port in west Gaza City. The Israeli forces rounded the boat carrying the fisherman Awad Bakr, 21, a resident of Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. The fisherman was working at a distance of about five nautical miles off the coast when the naval forces detained him and confiscated the boat which belongs to his brother, Amjad Bakr, 28. Awad was released in the evening on the same day, but the boat and fishing equipment remained in Israeli custody.
Documentation by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights shows that since the start of 2019 Israeli forces have carried out 222 attacks on fishermen—219 of them involved the use of live fire—injuring 16 fishermen and detaining 33 others, and confiscating 13 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 which 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 fisherman be compensated for the damages to the boat and lost wages; especially as they are arrested and frequently abused for no apparent reason, only to be released within hours or on the nest day. 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.