Fishing boats off the coast of Gaza. Photo by Asmaa Elkahldi
Fishing boats off the coast of Gaza. Photo by Asmaa Elkahldi

May 20, 2020. Fishermen in the Gaza Strip report another escalation in the Israeli navy’s use of  violent measures and incidents of fire at fishermen working off Gaza’s coast. These measures include unrestrained use of live fire, submerging of boats, degrading treatment of fishermen, seizure of boats and damage to equipment.

Zakariyya Baker, head of the Fishermen’s Union, which is part of Gaza’s Farm Labor Union, told Gisha that lately, there has also been an increase in incidents where the navy demands fishermen remove their clothes, jump in the water and swim over to navy vessels. “The navy’s demand that fishermen swim over to them naked is not just a violation of their dignity, it also puts their lives at risk for no reason.” Baker says that the navy uses powerful water cannons to flood fishing boats, damaging electrical equipment and lighting on board the vessels. “The navy’s use of force makes many fishermen afraid to set out to sea. The damage to the sector is palpable.”

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.

Given the escalation in the use of violent measures towards fishermen whose livelihoods depend on safe access to sea, Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan sent an urgent letter to the Attorney General and the Military Advocate General demanding they put an immediate end to the harassment of fishermen and investigate past incidents of fire. The letter emphasized the ramifications of the navy’s actions against 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. What is more, it is now sardine season, one of the most profitable fishing seasons of the year.

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.