Thursday, August 30, 2012

OPT: PCHR Condemns Continued Israeli Violations against Palestinian Fishermen in the Gaza Strip

Source: Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns Israel’s continued violations against Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip, and expresses concern about the escalation of these violations. On Tuesday morning, 28 August 2012, 2 Palestinian fishermen were arrested and a Palestinian fishing boat was heavily damaged in 2 separate incidents in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.

According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 06:45 on Tuesday, 28 August 2012, Israeli naval forces positioned off Beit Lahia shore arrested 2 Palestinian fishermen who were fishing in the sea nearly 300 meters from the shore of al-Waha Resort. The Israeli naval forces also opened fire at a fishing boat belonging to Kamel Deeb al-Anqa (60), from Beit Lahia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, who was sailing with his son Mahmoud (16). Al-Anqah stated the following to a PCHR fieldworker:

At 05:00 on Tuesday, I went fishing with my son Mahmoud. At 06:15, we collected the fishing nets and sailed to the shore. At 06:30, when we were nearly 300 meters off al-Waha Resort, 2 Israeli gunboats arrived and they circled my fishing boat. There were 5 soldiers on board each gunboat. The soldier started firing intensively above our heads. One of the soldiers shouted at me and ordered me to stop. The gunfire continued. My son and I were panicking, so we stopped. One of the gunboats got closer to our boat and one of the soldiers ordered us to take our clothes off and swim towards the Israeli gunboat. The other gunboat was behind us. We took our clothes off and swam towards the gunboat. The soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded us. I saw a soldier leave the other gunboat and go to my boat. He attached a rope to my boat. They then sailed for more than 2 hours. We were transferred to a security center near the shore. We were interviewed by an officer, who questioned us until approximately 10:30. The soldiers gave us clothes to put on and then drove us in a jeep to an unknown place. At around 12:00, we arrived at a place. I could recognize this place. It was the Erez crossing. The soldiers held us in a room there till 14:00. They asked us what our names were and about our work in fishing. We were released at approximately 15:30. The soldiers refused to give me the fishing boat and tools back. My son Mahmoud has suffered from bad psychological conditions because of the pressure and panic we experienced.

In a separate incident that took place at 10:50 on Tuesday, 28 August 2012, 2 Israeli gunboats surrounded 6 Palestinian fishing boats sailing nearly 400 meters off al-Sudaniya area in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Gaza Strip. Roussa Sekiano, an Italian activist who was on the shore off the area where the incident took place, stated that she saw 2 Israeli gunboats only a few meters from 6 Palestinian fishing boats. There were around 25 Palestinian fishermen on board these fishing boats. The Italian activist stated that she saw one of the Israeli gunboats open fire at one of the 6 Palestinian fishing boats. Sekiano reported that the Israeli gunboats chased the Palestinian fishing boats for nearly 15 minutes, forcing the Palestinian fishermen to flee and leave the sea.

Mohammed Mahmoud Hejazi al-Louh (21), who was leading one of the 6 fishing boats, which belongs to Kamel Tawfiq Baker (52), stated that 2 Israeli gunboats with several soldiers suddenly appeared and came close to his boat. There were 3 other fishermen on the boat with Al-Louh. The Israeli gunboats were only a few meters from his boat. Al-Louh said that, while firing at the front of the fishing boat, a soldier on one of the gunboats ordered him to stop, but he refused. The other gunboat was surrounding al-Louh's fishing boat. Al-Louh said that he turned his boat around to escape, although the boat was under direct fire, and that the fishermen on board the fishing boat miraculously survived and managed to leave the sea. He added that he managed to escape, even though the Israeli gunboats were only 400 meters from the shore, and that his boat was hit by 5 bullets in different places. The other 5 fishing boats also managed to escape.

It should be noted that Israeli forces have recently imposed more restrictions on the work of fishermen in the Gaza Strip. Since 2000, fishermen have been denied their right to sail and fish. Israeli forces reduced the area of fishing from 20 nautical miles, which was established upon in the agreements signed between Palestinian and Israel, to 6 nautical miles in 2008. However, Israeli forces have continued to prevent fishermen from going beyond 3 nautical miles since 2009. As a result, fishermen are prevented from reaching areas beyond that distance where fish are abundant. Sometimes, Israeli forces also chase fishermen within the 3 nautical mile area. Consequently, Palestinian fishermen have lost 85% of their income, because of limiting the fishing area.

The violations that took place yesterday denied more than 30 fishermen and owners of fishing boats their right to work. More than 50 families lost their source of income, including fishermen who were forced to flee, owners of the fishing boats and fish traders. The IOF is not expected to return the confiscated fishing boat and tools, at least not quickly. This means that the owner of the boat and his family, compromising 15 members, have lost their source of income.

In light of the above, PCHR condemns the recurrence of the violations recently committed by the Israeli Naval Forces against Palestinian fishermen. PCHR believes that these violations are committed in the context of the escalation of collective punishment policies against civilians, and that they are part of the fight to ensure civilians cannot meet their subsistence needs, which is prohibited under international humanitarian and human rights law. PCHR calls upon the IOF to:
  • Immediately stop its policy of chasing and arresting Palestinian fishermen, to allow them to sail and fish freely, and to return confiscated fishing boats and tools.
  • Pay compensation to the victims of Israel’s violations for the physical and material damage caused to fishermen and their property.
  • Return the confiscated boats to their owners immediately, and compensate them for any damages caused by the confining of these boats for a long time or any other damage that might occur to them.