Fishing zone reduced again in act of collective punishment

Fish in Gaza port. Photo by Eman Mohammed

Fish in Gaza port. Photo by Eman Mohammed

*Update: According to media reports, on June 4, 2019, Israel again expanded a small section of the fishing zone to a distance of 15 nautical miles.

May 30, 2019. Israel again reduced the fishing zone off Gaza’s coastline from 15 to 10 nautical miles (nm). Just five days ago, Israel announced the fishing zone would be restored to 15 nm; it had been enforcing the zone at 10 nm since May 23 in what was framed openly as a punitive response to the launching of incendiary balloons from Gaza towards Israel.

On April 1 this year, Israel announced it would expand a section of Gaza’s fishing zone to 15 nautical miles for the first time since it began enforcing restrictions on the fishing zone in 1995 following the Oslo Accords. The expansion to 15 nm was implemented in a relatively narrow stretch of sea opposite the south of the Strip, between Deir Al Balah and Rafah.

At the time of the expansion, Israel notified fishermen that only large towboats would be allowed to enter the area of sea between 12 and 15 nm off the coast. According to the Gaza Strip Fishermen’s Association, there are only 12 boats in Gaza equipped to fish at this distance, following years in which Israeli restrictions in Gaza’s territorial waters and on entrance of equipment and materials needed for repairing damage to boats have severely impaired Gaza’s fishing industry.

On April 1, sources within Gaza’s fishing sector told Gisha that Israel would also permit the entrance of steel cables into the Strip. The cable are essential for maintenance of larger vessels. However, to the best of our knowledge, they have yet to enter the Strip.

Since the expansion to 15 nm in early April, Israel has repeatedly reduced access to the sea in Gaza as a punitive measure: On April 30, it reduced the zone to only 6 nm; between May 5 and May 12, access to the sea in Gaza was banned altogether. On May 23, the zone was reduced again to 10 nm. All three instances were framed by Israel as responses to hostilities from the Strip.

The constant and arbitrary changes to the fishing zone mean that Gaza fishermen have hardly benefited from the expansion of a section of the zone to 15 nm. Israel’s toying with the demarcation of the zone constitutes illegal collective punishment against the entire fishing sector for actions which no one is claiming are in any way related to fishermen in the Strip. The recurrent reductions cause deliberate harm to one of Gaza’s most vulnerable sectors.