Fish for sale in Gaza. Photo by Gisha
Fish for sale in Gaza. Photo by Gisha

October 24, 2018. After a week during which Israel restricted the distance it allows Gaza fishermen to sail off shore to just three nautical miles as a punitive measure, today the fishing zone was restored to six nautical miles. Israel’s enforcement of the fishing zone regularly includes the use of live fire, as well as confiscation of boats and deliberate damage to essential fishing equipment. Beyond routine violence toward Gaza fishermen, the distance off Gaza’s coast where Israel permits fishermen to reach (usually between 6 and 9 nautical miles) also falls far short of sustaining their livelihoods and fails to meet agreements signed by Israel in the past.

Over the past month, Israel has routinely reduced and expanded the Gaza fishing zone as an act of collective punishment. On October 6, Israel decided to reduce the fishing zone from nine to six nautical miles as a response to the continued protests near the fence. On October 17, after a rocket fired from Gaza landed in Beersheba, Israel reduced the fishing zone to only three nautical miles, as it had done in July.

Yesterday, October 23, after Israeli officials had informed Palestinian coordination officials that the fishing zone was expanded to six nautical miles, fishermen took to the sea in the early morning hours. Zakariyya Baker, chair of the Gaza Fisherman’s Union, which is part of Gaza’s Farm Labor Union, reported Israeli navy boats fired at fishermen and pushed them back towards the coast. Later, Baker said, the military arrested two fishermen who were only two nautical miles off shore. According to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, four fishermen were arrested yesterday in two separate incidents, and two boats were confiscated.

Today, October 24, the Israeli media reported Israel’s decision to expand the fishing zone by one nautical mile and its plan to add two more by Friday, despite the fact that the seasonal expansion to nine nautical miles should be in effect as per recent procedures. The chair of the Gaza Fisherman’s Union has received no such notice as of yet.

The restrictions on fishing imposed by Israel have been detrimental to this historically vital sector in Gaza. Many have left the trade, bringing the number of people working in the fishing sector down from about 10,000 in 2000 to about 3,000 today. While it is still too early to assess the damage caused by the recent fishing zone restrictions, the chair of the Fisherman’s Union spoke to Gisha’s field coordinator about the disappointment and frustration felt by fishermen over being unable to take advantage of the sardine season, which is currently underway.