According to sources in Gaza’s fishing sector, on November 25 at around 21:00, the Israeli navy seized a small boat from the six-nautical-mile area of sea to the west of Gaza and detained the two fishermen on it. The next evening (November 26) at around 19:00, the navy seized a large launch boat from the same area at a distance of 1.5 nautical miles and detained five fishermen, all members of the same family. Three of them were released later that day, and the other two the following day. Two fishermen that were injured by rubber bullets during the incident did not receive medical treatment until their return to the Strip. The large boat seized is said to have supported the livelihoods of 100 people. On December 10, the navy arrested two fishermen, injuring one of them, and seized another surfboat.
According the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Gaza, six fishing boats were seized by the Israeli navy since the beginning of 2021, one of them a large boat, two surfboats, and three smaller vessels used to provide light in areas of the fishing zone. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza recorded (Arabic) 30 incidents of use of live fire against fishermen in October, 25 such incidents in November, and 10 such incidents so far in December 2021.
Sources in Gaza told Gisha that on November 29, Israel returned six boats to Gaza via the sea, three of which had been seized in July 2020, and the other three in October 2021. The boats seized in November and December 2021 have not yet been returned to the Strip. Two of the boats were returned with their engines badly damaged from gunfire, putting them out of commission. The cost of repairing the engines is higher than the cost of buying new ones, partly due to ongoing restrictions imposed by Israel on entry of spare parts and materials needed for repairs. In addition, Israel did not return the fishing equipment and personal belongings onboard the boats at the time they were seized, including GPS machines, fishing nets, and the fishermen’s cell phones.
Israel routinely seizes boats from fishermen in Gaza’s territorial waters and holds them for months, even years, without legal authority and in contravention of international law. In May 2019, following a prolonged legal battle by Gisha, Al Mezan, and Adalah, Israel committed to returning 65 boats and fishing vessels seized from Gaza fishermen. Many of the boats that were returned to the Strip in following months were badly damaged and missing fishing equipment belonging to residents of the Strip, adding to the economic blow to Gaza’s fishing sector.
Years of closure and access restrictions in Gaza’s sea space, often enforced violently, with measures such as shooting at fishing boats, and detaining or arresting fishermen, have severely debilitated what was historically a major economic sector in the Strip.