Response received June 9, 2016
Israel maintains full control over Gaza’s territorial waters, and restricts access to it and movement within its boundaries. The size of the permitted Gaza Strip fishing zone is determined by Israel and is subject to occasional changes. The naval closure that Israel imposes on Gaza mainly influences the fishing industry, which is an essential component of Gaza’s economy. The livelihood of thousands in the fishing sector has been harmed by the depletion of fish that followed restrictions on the permitted fishing zone. In addition, fishermen and women in the Gaza Strip are exposed to many dangers, including exposure to live fire (by Israeli navy boats), possible arrest and confiscation of their equipment by the military for unlimited periods of time.
On April 7, 2016, Gisha filed an application (Hebrew) to the IDF spokesperson under the Freedom of Information Act, requesting procedures and protocols regulating the entrance of Gaza residents into the sea space and the types of activity allowed in it. Additional information on the means of enforcement that are taken against Gaza residents in the sea space and the number of residents injured. In addition, Gisha requested information regarding the confiscation of boats, equipment, or other property by the military in the sea space, and regarding the possibility of returning them to their owners.
On June 9, 2016, the IDF spokesperson responded to the application filed by Gisha, in a letter detailing the changes in the size of the permitted sea space since the naval closure was imposed on January 3, 2009. The letter also elaborated on the practice of marking the maximum permitted nautical distance with brightly colored buoys that are lit after dark; and stated that there are no limitations regarding the types of activity allowed inside the Gaza sea space, therefore allowing any kind of activity in it. Little information on the use of military force in the sea space was provided in the letter since it was said to be confidential, as was information on the means taken to minimize the number of injuries and deaths of individuals at sea. Two tables detailing the number of detainees arrested in the Gaza sea space and the number of fishing vessels seized there were added to the letter.
The IDF spokesperson noted in his response that the army does not have a written procedure to regulate the process of returning seized vessels to their owners. The seized property is stored at the navy’s base in Ashdod until it is returned to its owners, proactively or following a request.