Wednesday, May 20, 2020. In recent weeks, the Israeli navy has increasingly used violent enforcement measures at sea, with incidents of fire on fishermen off the coast of Gaza rising by 70 percent in April compared to January-March 2020. The use of live fire threatens fishermen’s lives and causes severe damage to boats and equipment. All this against the backdrop of great economic uncertainty and increased concern for the well-being and food security of Gaza’s civilian population given the measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. Human rights organizations Gisha, Adalah and Gaza-based Al Mezan sent an urgent letter to Israel’s Attorney General and Military Advocate General, demanding they order the army to put an immediate end to the harassment of fishermen and investigate past incidents.

The violence with which the army enforces the maritime closure on Gaza as a matter of routine includes measures such as unrestrained use of live fire, submerging of boats, degrading treatment of fishermen, seizure of boats and damage to equipment. According to Al Mezan, 105 incidents of navy fire at Gaza fishing boats were recorded in the first four months of 2020; six fishermen were wounded, and seven others were arrested, including a minor. In addition, seven boats sustained severe damage, large quantities of fishing equipment were destroyed, and one boat was seized. These practices by the navy have continued this month as well. In the morning hours of May 8, 2020, for example, fishermen reported navy fire toward two fishing boats. Rubber bullets hit one fisherman in the head and another in the hand; the engines of two boats were destroyed by live ammunition. Later that day, the navy used powerful water cannons on several boats, putting the boats and their owners at risk and injuring one fisherman.

In the letter sent on behalf of the three organizations, Gisha lawyer Muna Haddad stated that “the policy of using potentially lethal force against fishermen and causing severe, irreversible harm to their property is illegal and disproportionate.” According to fishermen’s testimonies, the navy uses violent measures even when fishing vessels are located within the permitted fishing zone. Adv. Haddad emphasized that “in any case, sailing outside of the fishing zone does not, in itself, pose a security threat that justifies use of force ostensibly intended to enforce security restrictions.

Israel’s restrictions on access to the fishing zone it enforces in Gaza’s sea space, the frequent changes it makes to its demarcation, and the violent enforcement methods it employs thwart the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen in Gaza, undermining what was once an important sector in the Strip’s economy. Israel’s actions at sea are just one, but a stark example of the control Israel still wields over the lives of Gaza’s residents. This control comes with responsibilities, including an obligation to enable residents of the Strip to earn a living and live in dignity, without being forced to risk their lives and property and without infringement on their fundamental rights.

To read the letter from Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan to Israel’s Attorney General and the Military Advocate General, see here.