What is Solidarity with Gaza Fishers ?
We aim to link the struggle of Palestinian fishers in Gaza – under blockade and under constant attacks by the Israeli Occupation Forces – with their counterparts in countries all over the world, and to build international civil society support for the end of the blockade. Sustainable fishing is a way of life endangered by mostly political factors around the globe. We believe that by standing with Palestinian people in Gaza we can raise awareness not only ofthe need to lift the blockade, but also the importance of respecting fishers everywhere.
We call on you to join us in this campaign by telling us your experience as fishers, helping us spread information about the situation of fishers in Gaza and showing your solidarity with them by organizing events in your local community or fishing port, for example by sailing in symbolic protest while flying Palestinian flags and banners of this campaign. Fishing organizations and individuals
Why focus on Palestinian fishers in Gaza?
About one billion people worldwide rely on fish as their primary protein source. Many of these people live in poverty and many of the world’s 54 million fishers are also poor. Gaza, a 43km coastal strip of land, depends heavily on its inshore fishery to feed its population of nearly 2 million Palestinians.
Over the past ten years, the ability of Gaza’s people to make a living from fishing has been severely undermined as a result of fishing access limits imposed by the Israeli Occupation Forces along the Gaza coast (source). Fish, particularly sardines, is a major source of protein, micronutrients and essential Omega 3 fatty acids for Palestinians in Gaza and contributes to nutritional diversity, as well as providing employment for thousands of households. The destruction of the fishing industry is one of the reasons why over half of the households in Gaza are food insecure (source).
Our partners in Gaza include the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which represents Palestinian fishers.
How often does Israel attack Palestinian fishing boats from Gaza?
The Israeli Occupation Force’s Navy (IOF) regularly opens fire on unarmed Palestinians fishing peacefully inside the small fishing zone that Israel has illegally forced upon the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Although they do not usually shoot to kill, the Israeli gunboats shoot live fire towards the fishing boats in order to terrorize the fishermen. These attacks often result in injuries, damage and confiscation of boats, as well as the destruction of nets and boat engines. It is extremely difficult to replace these items because the illegal Israeli blockade restricts imports, including: engines; engine parts; and fibreglass to Gaza. Fishers in Gaza are being terrorized and many find it difficult to do their job.
Every week, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) issues a detailed and well documented report on Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. During the first three months of 2017 it reported 52 fisher related shooting incidents. The Ma’an News agency has reported an additional 12 incidents. Spokespersons for the fishers say that the actual number of attacks are much higher, but many incidents are not reported. The biweekly reports from UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) confirm and document the shooting by the IOF towards fishers in Gaza.
On 4 January one fisher was killed when an IOF gunboat attacked his boat and caused it to capsize within five nautical miles from the shore. According to PCHR’s reports for the first quarter of 2017, five of the shooting incidents resulted in injuries, six fishers were wounded, some of them seriously. Fishersare frequently detained and their boats are damaged or confiscated, which means that their livelihood is destroyed. When the IOF attacks, the fishers are often ordered to take off their clothes, jump into the water and swim towards the gunboat, where they are arrested and taken to Israel.
What should the Palestinian fishery zone be off Gaza? What area are they restricted to by Israel?
According to international law a coastal state can establish a fishery zone of up to 200 nautical miles (nm) from the shore. In that zone it can prohibit foreigners from fishing. Outside of that zone free access is granted to all. The Oslo Accords said that the fishery zone of Gaza should extend to 20nm from the shore. But it was a very special kind of fishery zone. It was a reverse fishery zone, meant to shut in the fishers in Gaza. They were not allowed to fish outside 20nm from the shore. To ensure that they were totally shut in, the zone was flanked on both sides by two military protected no-go zones: 1.5 nm on the border with Israel and 1 nm on the border with Egypt. Even this remaining minimal fishery zone was never respected by Israel. Every year since 1998, the IOF has often opened fire on fishers inside the 20nm zone. Israel pressed the zone closer and closer to the shore. In 2005, Israel unilaterally reduced the Palestinians fishing zone to 6 nm, and often to just 3 nm. Most of the fish in the seas outside Gaza are found at least 6 to 10 nm from the shore, and yet fishers are not allowed to go there. As part of the ceasefire agreement of 26 August 2014, Israel accepted a 6 nm limit, however the IOF continues to regularly attacks fishing boats within 3 nm of the shore.
In recent years Israel has temporarily extended the fishing zone from 6 to 9 nm only in the southern part of the Gaza Coastal area. Figures gathered by the UN indicate that both variety and quantity of catch increase while the extension lasts. The right of fishers to access their sea should not be left to the occupiers’ arbitrary decisions. There continue to be attacks, including fatal ones, on Palestinian fishers inside the permitted fishing area.
Gaza’s coastal area within the 6 nautical miles area is heavily polluted, largely due to Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s sewage treatment facilities (which remain largely unrepaired, because the blockade has caused an ongoing shortage of materials due to the blockade), resulting in huge volumes of raw sewage and waste water seriously contaminating the coastline and making this restricted area unsuitable for fishing. The best fishing stocks are beyond the 20 nautical mile zone.
Why does Israel attack Palestinian fishing boats from Gaza?
These attacks are part of the Israeli policy of harsh restrictions towards the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. The purpose of this policy to repress the Palestinians – to destroy the possibility for people in Gaza to develop the prosperous society that Gaza has the potential to be. One part of this policy is the extremely tight export blockade, which has no positive security effect for Israel. Another part of the same policy are Israel’s bombing campaigns whichtarget and destroy Gaza’s vital infrastructure. A third part of this policy is disabling the fishery sector, which traditionally is very important for the population of the Gaza Strip. As a result of the Israeli Occupation, the number of fishers has decreased from approximately 10,000 in 2000 to approximately 4,000 now.
The ongoing Israeli attacks on fishers and farmers reduces Gaza’s ability to provide its own food, and thereby creates a market for Israeli food production, partly financed by international humanitarian organizations. People in Gaza depend increasingly on meagre food supplies delivered via Israel, which makes the ongoing blockade particularly profitable for the occupying power.
Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, by land or by sea, are a pillar of the occupation of Palestine, and a violation of fundamental human rights.
How are the offshore petroleum and gas fields related to Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian fishing?
Palestinian territorial waters off Gaza are part of the Levant Basin Province, which is considered of economic interest for its gas and oil resources.
“Exploration activity in the Levant Basin underwent a significant resurgence since 1999-2000 when several, large gas fields were discovered at a shallow depth within Pliocene sands west of towns of Ashkelon and Gaza” (source).
The Gaza Marine field was one of the earliest discoveries, in 2000, approximately 20 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza. It is considered to be a potentially very valuable field, not very large, but economically viable. In 2014 the British business periodical The Economist wrote this about the Gaza Marine field: “The Israelis, for their part, have prevented the Palestinians from developing Gaza Marine, a field off the coast of Gaza where BG (formerly British Gas) found gas a decade ago”.
By preventing Palestinians from accessing their coastal waters to which they have a right, Israel is profitting from Palestinian undersea resources, which should be contributing to the Palestinian energy needs and helping build the Palestinian economy.
Could Palestinian fishing boats from Gaza be involved in smuggling weapons, as Israel claims?
Israel enforces its strict naval blockade of Gaza’s coast, claimimg this is needed to stop the shipment of arms. The coastline of the Gaza Strip is only 43kilometers long. It is a straight and an open sand shore, with nowhere to hide. The no-go zones adjacent to the border of Israel and Egypt reduce the length to approximately 37 kilometers. The Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) Navy keeps the area under continuous surveillance electronically, while its gunboatsconstantly patrol the area and often fire towards fishing boats on a daily basis. Any claims of weapons smuggling are not credible, as such an attempt would be certainly detected and captured by the IOF, with catastrophic consequences for the fishers, including: imprisonment, confiscation or destruction of their boat and with this the destruction of the family’s livelihood. Three times in the last two years the IOF has claimed to have arrested weapons smugglers, although the accuracy and authenticity of the videos that they have released have been challenged. It is not clear if any of these alleged incidents involve fishing boats from Gaza. Even if there were an example of smuggling of weapons, it would be unjust and illegal to use that as a reason for collective punishment on all of the Palestinian fishers of Gaza.
What is the Freedom Flotilla Coalition? Which countries are participating?
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition consists of civil society organizations and initiatives from many countries. We have been challenging the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade of Gaza for many years and are committed to continue the struggle until the blockade is unconditionally lifted and Palestinian people everywhere realise their full rights.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition campaigns participating in the Solidarity with Gaza Fishers campaign include: Ship to Gaza-Sweden, Ship to Gaza-Norway, Canadian Boat to Gaza, Freedom Flotilla-Italy, Palestine Solidarity Alliance-South Africa, Rumbo a Gaza (in the Spanish State and building connections with Latin America), US Boat to Gaza, Kia Ora Gaza – New Zealand/Aotearoa, International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza and MyCARE Malaysia.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition has been challenging the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza in several different ways for six years, while other organisations have importantly been challenging the land blockade of Gaza.
How and when will you challenge the naval blockade with this SGF project?
In 2017 we are focussing our efforts on raising awareness of the situation of Gaza’s fishers, hardly reported in mainstream media. This is also a way to build up civil society support through linking their cause with those of fishing communities around the world. A wider support base will enable us to sail again in 2018 to challenge the illegal and inhuman Israeli blockade with larger international participation.
You say your campaign supports the full rights of the Palestinian people: what are these rights?
While our focus is on opposing the blockade against the Palestinian people of Gaza, we see this in the larger context of supporting the right to freedom of movement for all Palestinians. The Occupation daily violates the rights of Palestinians to move freely around their country and to leave and return to their country, as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We also support other broad-based demands for Palestinian rights based on International Law, including:
- Ending the Israeli Occupation,attacks on and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Apartheid Wall;
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 of 11 December 1948.
For information about the devastating effects of the blockade, see this Fact Sheet produced by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Why is the Israeli blockade of Gaza illegal?
Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip since 1967 and, as the occupying force, it is responsible for the well-being of the population within this territory. Experts warn that if the siege of Gaza continues, normal life will not be viable in the territory by 2020. The current blockade has been imposed for ten years by Israel and Egypt, with support from many international governments. The blockade has imposed restrictions on the movement of people and goods, for more than a decade. By applying restrictive measures that affect the population as a whole, it violates International Humanitarian Law, including the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit collective punishment.
But didn’t a UN report find that the blockade was legal?
In 2011, the UN received a report from the the Palmer-Uribe Commission which suggested that the Israel had a legal right to enforce a blockade on Gaza, even though that Commission had no legal expertise on which to base their political conclusion. A report by five UN Special Rapporteurs, all experts in International Law, found in September 2011 that the blockade is clearly illegal because it violates the rights of Palestinians in Gaza. According to these UN experts, “decisive steps must be taken to defend the dignity and basic welfare of the civilian population of Gaza, more than half of whom are children. The Israeli blockade of Gaza must end immediately and the people of Gaza must be afforded protection in line with international law.” Under human rights law and international humanitarian law the people of Gaza, even while living under occupation, have the right to an adequate standard of living, and to the continued improvement of living conditions.
Why is the blockade called ‘collective punishment?
As the Occupying Power in control of Gaza, Israel is obliged under the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law to allow Palestinians to maintain a normal economic life. The same Conventions prohibit collective punishment: an Occupying Power must not punish a whole population (all the Palestinians in Gaza, or all the Palestinian fishers in Gaza) for the acts of a few individuals. Under International Law, and the 4th Geneva Convention,Article 33: “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.“ Israel routinely violates this by frequently and indescriminately subjecting innocent civillians to punishment.
Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime. Fishers in Gaza are collectively punished based on an unfounded allegation that they might be smuggling weapons into Gaza (discussed above).
One clear example of how Israel punishes the whole population of Gaza is by reducing the supply of electricity to a life threatening degree. Gaza requires 400 to 500 MW, out of which its own power plant is only able to supply 60 MW (after being bombed by Israel in 2006 and due to limited fuel purchased also from Israel, this plant was bombed again in 2014 and repairs depend on permission from Israel to import equipment and parts). Gaza’s inability to produce its own electricity in sufficient quantities is a direct result of prolonged Israeli control and restrictions on entrance of materials and equipment, as well as limitations on economic activity. Given its extensive control over life in the Strip, Israel is responsible for enabling normal life for its residents. Israel is obligated to find solutions that will allow for the continued supply of electricity at existing capacity, and to take active steps toward increasing supply, to allow residents to maintain acceptable living conditions. Failure to comply means that Israel is directly responsible to the humanitarian disaster caused by power shortage.
Is the Freedom Flotilla a non-violent initiative?
Yes, our goal is to peacefully end the illegal Israeli blockade. Every initiative that the Freedom Flotilla Coalition has launched has been grounded theoretically and practically within the framework of non-violence. We choose to always counter oppression using non-violent strategies.