The sea is shrinking again

June 1, 2016. Israel will once again restrict Gaza’s permitted fishing zone to a distance of no more than six nautical miles off the shore. Since April 3rd, the Israeli navy has allowed Gaza fishermen to sail to a distance of up to nine nautical miles off Gaza’s southern coastline. According to the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Hebrew) from 1995, which was never implemented, Gaza fishermen may sail to a distance of up to 20 nautical miles from the coast. In practice, there was a short period of time in which the permitted distance was 12 nautical miles into sea, but for years, the distance has fluctuated between three and six miles (see timeline), depending on decisions made by Israel, which often appeared to be punitive.

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Gaza fishermen go out to sea all year round, but the months of April to June are considered peak season. Gaza fishermen were now told that the nine-mile extension would end on June 5. [update: the expanded fishing zone has since been extended till June 26].

A spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories has been quoted by Palestinian news agency Ma’an as saying that the distance extension was time-limited and meant to last only during the “main fishing season”. The fishing association estimates that the reduction of the area where fishing is allowed will undermine fishermen’s livelihoods. Approximately 4,000 persons barely make a living in the sector and most require humanitarian aid to survive. Israeli navy enforcement action, which includes frequent firing at fishing vessels, have resulted in bodily injury and damage to property, in addition to confiscation of vessels and engines as a punitive measure. These practices have exacerbated the plight of this veteran sector.

The frequency and randomness with which Israel takes liberty to push Gaza fishermen closer and farther from their coastline seriously increases doubts surrounding its claim that the decisions are made for security reasons. A permanent expansion of the fishing zone would allow the people who make their livelihoods in the sector, and those enjoying its yield, to have optimal possibilities. It is required by law. It is in line with statements made by top security officials who favor fostering economic growth in Gaza and it stems from every person’s inherent right to make a dignified living, to move, to work toward a better life.