According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, on Monday (Nov. 7) Israel stopped all sales of fish from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank after a truck transporting fish was intercepted at the Rantis checkpoint on its way from the West Bank to Israel on Sunday (Nov. 6). Israel prohibits sale of fish from Gaza in its territory and allows it only in the West Bank. According to traders in Gaza, some 30 pallets of fish were shipped out of Gaza for sale in the West Bank on Sunday.
The Israeli authorities’ decision to halt sales from the Gaza Strip is unreasonable, punitive, and illegal. This is the second time Israel has blocked fish sales since mid-August, dealing another severe blow to the livelihoods of traders and fishermen from the Strip.
On August 14, Israel blocked all sales of Gaza fish in the West Bank for three weeks. According to a statement from the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, the ban was imposed after a truck was caught transporting fish from Gaza in a manner that the Israeli authorities deemed “non-compliant with the rules for the transport of goods originating in Gaza in its territory.” After seizing the truck, Israel destroyed its cargo – about 13 tons of fish. The state’s allegations were directed at the Israeli shipping company transporting the fish, but it chose, as per usual, to punish residents of Gaza.
Thousands of people who rely on the fishing industry for their livelihoods contend on a regular basis with illegal practices by the Israeli authorities. These include restrictions imposed on the entry of essential equipment and access restrictions in Gaza’s seaspace, which are violently enforced by the Israeli navy and include seizure and confiscation of fishing boats, arrests, and the use of live fire against fishermen and their boats. According to figures from Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, between January and October 2022, more than 400 incidents of force, including use of live fire, by the Israeli navy against fishermen were recorded, roughly 54 arrests were made (a 350% increase compared to figures for all of 2021), and 19 boats were captured.
On August 28, we sent a letter (Hebrew) to the Israeli Minister of Defense, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, and the director of the Ministry of Agriculture Enforcement Unit, stressing that the sweeping ban on sale of fish from Gaza in the West Bank is unreasonable and disproportionate and that this measure constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited by law.
Sales of Gaza fish did not resume until the beginning of September, at which point Gaza traders reported that Israel had announced that they would limit sales to a quota of five tons of fish per week. Traders were later told the quota would be 40 tons of fish per month (no more than ten tons per week). The arbitrary quota, which did not exist previously, caused severe losses to fishermen and traders, which impacted the economy as a whole. Between January and July 2022, before the decision to halt and then limit fish sales, an average of 148 tons of fish were marketed from Gaza to the West Bank each month, such that the quota introduced in September represented roughly a quarter (27%) of the volume departing Gaza for the West Bank until mid-August.
On September 19, we again contacted the authorities (Hebrew), this time demanding the cancellation of the arbitrary quota that severely, unreasonably and disproportionately harms suppliers, fishermen, and the entire fishing industry in the Gaza Strip, an essential source of jobs and food security. We stressed that the measure constitutes “a breach of Israel’s obligation to respect and safeguard normal life for the civilian population of the West Bank and Gaza, as enshrined in Art. 43 of the Hague Regulations.” No response has been received to date. On October 25, we issued a reminder (Hebrew) prior to taking legal action. Not only was this request not answered either, but Israel once again chose to halt the sale of fish from the Gaza Strip in the West Bank entirely.