Following a High Court petition (Hebrew) filed by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, Israel declared that it intends to return 65 fishing boats seized from Gaza fishermen in the Strip’s territorial waters. The petition was filed by the three organizations on behalf of Gaza fisherman Abdel Ma’ati Habil, whose boat was seized by the Israeli navy in September 2016 and has not yet been returned.

The petition argued that the seizure of Habil’s boat and other boats currently held by Israel was illegal and conducted without any legal authority. It was submitted after the Israeli military agreed to return Habil’s boat but only via land rather than by sea, at his own expense, and without mention of the fishing equipment on board at the time it was seized, valued at some US $150,000. Gisha, Adalah, and Al Mezan demanded that the High Court order the Israeli military to immediately and unconditionally return the fishing boat and all equipment, as well as all other boats seized by the Israeli military belonging to Gaza fishermen, along with all equipment on board at the time they were seized.

In its preliminary response (Hebrew) to the petition, the state said that it intended to “work within the next several months to return the boat to the Gaza Strip, as well as the other fishing boats from the Gaza Strip that were confiscated by the navy… in accordance with security and political considerations and in line with a security assessment.”

Gisha, Adalah, and Al Mezan subsequently submitted a further response (Hebrew) to the High Court reasserting their demand for Israel to immediately return all boats, along with their equipment, to Gaza fishermen, without incurring costs on their owners, and calling on Israel to present and commit itself to a clear timetable for doing so. The organizations emphasize that regardless of the legal dispute concerning the legality of the boats’ seizures, the state’s preliminary response proves there was never any need for them to be held for so long.

Israel routinely seizes boats from fishermen in Gaza and holds them for months, even years, without any legal authority and in violation of international law. While Israel claims it seizes boats following violations of its restrictions on the fishing zone – restrictions which Israel imposes and changes arbitrarily – this does not justify such severe harm to the livelihood and property of fishermen and their families.