Following petition by Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan, Israel returns 21 boats to Gaza fishermen

On July 1, following a prolonged legal battle led by three human rights organizations, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Israel returned a boat to a Gaza fisherman after seizing and holding it without legal authority for three years.

In a High Court petition (Hebrew) submitted in January 2019 on behalf of Gaza fisherman Abdel Ma’ati Habil, whose boat was seized by the Israeli navy in September 2016, Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan demanded that Israel immediately return all boats seized from Gaza fishermen, along with their equipment. In the past, Israel has returned boats to fishermen without the equipment that was on board at the time they were seized.

In its response (Hebrew) dated June 13, Israel notified the court that Habil’s boat would be returned to him within two weeks and that Israel would return another 65 boats and fishing vessels seized from Gaza fishermen within the next four months.

Habil’s boat sustained considerable damage from live fire during its seizure by the Israeli navy and during the three years it was held without maintenance, to the point that it could not be returned to the Strip by sea. Instead, Israel transported the boat by land to Kerem Shalom Crossing. The boat’s journey from the crossing to the Gaza Port took another seven hours due to logistical challenges.

On July 3, Israel returned via the sea another 20 of the boats it seized from Gaza fishermen to the Strip. Representatives of the fishermen’s unions in Gaza told us that the boats were returned without their engines or fishing equipment.

Israel restricts, and even prohibits, the entrance into Gaza of materials and equipment that it considers to be “dual-use,” including spare parts for boat engines and fiberglass, making it difficult to repair boats, including those damaged by the navy. Habil estimates that repairing the damage to his boat will cost over $45,000.

Israel routinely seizes boats from fishermen in Gaza and holds them for months, even years, without any legal authority and in violation of international law. This punitive, violent and illegal measure causes severe harm to the fishing industry and to Gaza’s economy, and must be stopped.