On Friday (July 14), following a motion for an interim order filed by Gisha and Adalah, Israel was forced to return a fishing boat to its owners in the Gaza Strip. The boat was seized by the Israeli navy off Gaza’s coast in late 2022. It is the second boat seized by the navy that the state of Israel has requested to confiscate permanently. Gisha and Adalah are representing the boat owners in a principled legal battle against Israel’s illegitimate request. The Haifa Maritime Court ordered Israel to return the boat to Gaza “pending the resolution of legal proceedings.” The boat was returned to Gaza about a week late, exceeding (Hebrew) the timeframe set by the court.

In February and November 2022, the Israeli navy seized two fishing boats from Gaza’s sea space, claiming that the boats had “breached” the restrictions enforced there by Israel. In both cases, once the boats had been captured and brought to Israel, the state submitted a highly unusual request, the first of its kind, to the Haifa District Court sitting as the Maritime Court, to allow it to permanently confiscate the boat (also referred to as a ‘condemnation request’).

In both cases, Gisha and Adalah filed motions to have the state’s condemnation requests dismissed outright and asked the court for an interim order to have the boats returned to their owners. The court granted the organizations’ motions for interim orders and ordered the boats be released back to Gaza until the end of proceedings. The court also subjected the release of the boats to onerous conditions, including a substantial financial deposit, which was difficult for the fishermen in Gaza to gather. The organizations’ principled legal battle against the state’s attempt to permanently confiscate fishing boats it seizes in Gaza’s sea space, which it will use to punish those who are deemed to ‘violate’ its restrictions and deprive them of their livelihoods, continues.

The arbitrary restrictions Israel enforces in Gaza’s “fishing zone” already reduce local fishermen’s possibility of providing for their families and living in dignity. The violence used by Israel to enforce its restrictions often results in injury, and sometimes death. The seizing of the two boats, and many others, by the Israeli navy, has already caused grave harm to dozens of Palestinians in Gaza. Israel returned the first boat in September 2022 in a state of disrepair, missing equipment that had been on board when it was captured. The owner was forced to spend a large sum of money to repair the damage caused during the boat’s capture, and over the long period of time it was being held in Israel. The full extent of the damage to the second boat, which was returned to Gaza on Friday after being held in Israel for nine months, is still unknown.

Gisha and Adalah reiterate: The restrictions Israel imposes in Gaza’s sea space are illegal under international law. Israel has no authority to seize boats engaging in fishing for sustenance and income in Gaza’s sea space, much less to permanently confiscate them. Granting the state’s condemnation requests would create a dangerous precedent, providing Israel with yet another tool for harming a large group of people who depend on these boats for their livelihoods. It would also greatly exacerbate the harm already inflicted by Israel on Gaza’s fishing sector, one of the most disempowered and impoverished sectors in the Strip. Israel is not disputing that the people affected are civilians who fish to support themselves and their families. 

For more information on the case, see here and here.

Photo of the boat returned to Gaza on July 14, 2023. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Al Hassi family.
Photo of the boat returned to Gaza on July 14, 2023. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Al Hassi family.