Today at the Maritime Court in Haifa: Israel vs. the Boat

We recently shared the story of Boat P-00494, a fishing boat captured by the Israeli navy off the coast of the Gaza Strip in February 2022 (see link in comments). The boat has since been the focus of a particularly significant legal battle waged by Gisha and Adalah on behalf of the boat owner, Jihad Al Hassi, regarding the legality of Israel’s enforcement of the “fishing zone” in Gaza’s sea space and the Israeli navy’s authority to seize and confiscate fishing boats deemed to have exceeded its limits.

After the navy seized the boat from Gaza’s sea space, claiming that it had violated the restrictions Israel imposes there, the state submitted an unusual request, the first of its kind, to the Haifa District Court in its role as the Maritime Court, demanding the court give it authority to permanently confiscate the boat (also referred to as a ‘condemnation request’). Gisha and Adalah filed a motion to have the state’s condemnation request dismissed outright.

In November 2022, as this proceeding was still unfolding, the navy seized another fishing boat belonging to a member of the same, veteran fishing family in Gaza and the nephew of Jihad Al Hassi, Mohammed. Again, Gisha and Adalah filed a motion to have the state’s condemnation request dismissed outright, repeating our arguments: The restrictions Israel imposes in Gaza’s sea space are, themselves, a violation of international law. Moreover, the court does not have jurisdiction to preside over the state’s request to confiscate fishing boats from Gaza’s sea space.

On January 23, the Maritime Court held a joint hearing of the two boat cases. It did not discuss or reach a decision on our arguments. Instead, it scheduled another hearing to consider the evidence and examine whether the parties can reach an agreement on the factual basis of the case. In the weeks since, Gisha filed affidavits from the fishermen, describing their harassment by the navy. The state informed the court that it was not interested in hearing the fishermen’s testimonies.

At the hearing that took place today in Haifa, the court did not address our arguments regarding its lack of jurisdiction to discuss the case. At the end of the hearing, it was agreed that the state will file an affidavit regarding the its grounds for enforcing access restrictions at sea in Gaza.

The state is not disputing the fact that the fishermen on the boats it seized were engaged in fishing in order to support their families. International law affords special protections to civilians who are not involved in hostilities and to fishing boats engaged in fishing for sustenance. In denying already impoverished people the means to access livelihoods and nutrition and seeking to gain ownership of these means, Israel is directly harming civilians and effectively obliterating these protections.

Again, we caution: If the Maritime Court accepts the state’s condemnation requests and authorizes Israel to permanently confiscate fishing boats in Gaza, a dangerous precedent will be set, providing Israel with yet another tool of punishment that will vastly exacerbate the harm to Gaza’s fishing sector.

For more details on the case, click here.