In violation of ceasefire agreement, Israel tightens fishing restrictions on Gaza
By John Space
According to numerous media reports, Israel has cut the fishing zone in Gaza in half, from six nautical miles to three, causing extreme hardship for fishermen trying to make a living in the harsh conditions imposed by the occupation. The Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemned Israel’s tightening of the fishing restrictions in a report released March 24. “According to Al Mezan’s field investigations, at approximately 12:30 am on Friday, 21 March 2013, the Israeli Navy opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats, which were around the six nautical mile mark off of the Gaza City coast,” the report stated. “In his affidavit to Al Mezan, one of the fishermen heard an Israeli soldier via amplifier saying in Arabic, ‘this is a decision from the State of Israel: you have to withdraw your boats to three nautical miles. Any boat that goes beyond three nautical miles will be sunk.'” According to the report, Al Mezan has documented 44 attacks against fishermen in Gaza resulting in four injuries since the ceasefire agreement that ended the Israeli assault on Gaza known as Operation Pillar of Cloud. Additionally, occupation forces have arrested 44 fishermen, damaged fishing equipment in five separate attacks on fishermen and confiscated nine boats. “The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights strongly condemns the Israeli restrictions on the fishing zone as it is collective punishment placed on the people of Gaza,” the report said. “Al Mezan reiterates its previous calls on Israel to end violations against Palestinian fishermen and to lift the closure of the Gaza Strip.” The Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem released a separate report the same day that also highlighted the injustices of Israel’s restrictions on fishermen. “Reduction of the fishing range in the Gaza Strip in response to missile fire on southern Israel constitutes collective punishment and severely damages the livelihood of Gaza fishermen,” the B’Tselem report said.
According to the report, Al Mezan has documented 44 attacks against fishermen in Gaza resulting in four injuries since the ceasefire agreement that ended the Israeli assault on Gaza known as Operation Pillar of Cloud As the B’Tselem report noted, the Israeli military says the fishing area was restricted in response to rockets fired at Israel from Gaza in recent weeks, including several fired during President Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank. This statement by the Israeli military openly admits that the restriction on the fishing range is an act of collective punishment, which is considered a war crime under various international statues, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which Israel is a signatory. “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited,” the text of the Fourth Geneva Convention reads. Under the Convention, “protected persons” are all those “taking no active part in the hostilities.” This clearly includes the fishermen of Gaza, a purely civilian group. The fishing restrictions obviously have no bearing on the number of rockets fired, as the sea is on the opposite side of Gaza from the border with Israeli cities under rocket fire such as Sderot and Ashdod. Furthermore, it would be extremely difficult to fire a rocket from a fishing boat, particularly since all fishermen in Gaza are under constant surveillance by Israel while at sea. Cutting the fishing area in response to rocket fire therefore serves no purpose whatsoever except punishing a civilian population for rocket fire they had no part in. This fact was noted in the B’Tselem report. “The decision to once again reduce the fishing range in response to missile fire by armed groups constitutes collective punishment imposed on fishermen for the actions of others,” the report stated. “Article 33 in the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids collective punishment and states that a person must not be punished for an act that he or she did not commit.” The B’Tselem report highlighted another war crime routinely committed by Israel against the fishermen of Gaza.
“Over the past few years, B’Tselem has collected dozens of testimonies from fisherman apprehended via the dangerous and humiliating ‘swimming procedure’: fishermen were compelled to undress at gunpoint and swim from their boat to a navy craft, regardless of weather conditions,” the report said. “Based on fishermen’s testimonies and data from their boats’ GPS, some were apprehended this way even without having strayed beyond the military’s designated fishing limits.” The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” Forcing someone to undress at gunpoint certainly meets the criteria of “humiliating and degrading treatment.” The report further stated that since 2000, four fishermen have been killed during the “swimming procedure.” This is, of course, in addition to countless other human-rights violations committed by Israel on a daily basis.
And it’s not the first time Israel has arbitrarily reduced the size of the fishing area for Gaza’s fishermen. As detailed in both the B’Tselem and Al Mezan reports, the Oslo Accords mandate a fishing area of 20 nautical miles. Israel has never honored this, however, as the largest fishing area ever allowed was 12 nautical miles, later reduced to six. After the end of Operation Cast Lead, Israel reduced the fishing area to three nautical miles before expanding it again to six after Pillar of Cloud. The B’Tselem report states that between 2000 and 2010, the number of fishermen in Gaza dropped from 10,000 to 4,000 as a result of the restrictions.
Israel’s conduct toward fishermen in Gaza is unacceptable and must be condemned by the international community. Unacceptable as the tightened restrictions may be, however, they are far from surprising, as they are merely the latest in a long history of Israeli war crimes and human-rights abuses committed against the Palestinian people.