Israeli naval vessels have again attacked Gaza fishermen going about their lawful business at sea; no causalities have been reported in the latest incident. A statement from the Palestinian Fishermen's Union said that some of its members were targeted by the Israeli navy at dawn on Friday. The attack caused them to stop fishing and return to port.
Friday's attack follows a similar assault on Wednesday, when four fishermen were kidnapped by the Israeli navy. Their whereabouts is as yet unknown.
According to Nizar Ayesh, the union head, such "continuous and organised" targeting of Palestinian fishermen is aimed to disrupt the whole Palestinian economy. "The Israelis only allow Palestinian fishermen to have a three-nautical-miles fishing limit," he said, "but that is much smaller than what is necessary." There is an internationally agreed 12 miles of territorial waters around all of the world's coastlines.
Mr Ayesh said that the Israeli navy arrested 9 fishermen in May. He described the arrests as "a measure by which the Israelis hope to stop our people fishing in order to undermine the Palestinian economy."
Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights condemned the Israeli policy towards Gaza's fishermen, agreeing that the measures target the Palestinian economy. "Fishing boats are always being confiscated and fishermen are obliged to swim naked to the beach," said a spokesman for Al Mezan, who also confirmed that such action breaches international law. "As collective punishment, this kind of treatment is banned."
Other human rights activists also condemned the Israeli measures against the Gaza Strip which are designed to undermine the little that has been done internationally to help the shattered Palestinian economy.
Sa'ed Abu-Zeyada, a spokesman for the Union of Agriculture Workers' Committee in Gaza, said: "Offensive Israeli measures at sea, as part of the Gaza blockade, have forced hundreds of fishermen to lose their livelihood." Large projects funded by Oxfam have been put in place to help the fishermen, he added, but they have now been wasted. Abu-Zeyada's organisation is Oxfam's partner in the Gaza Strip.
Economist Maher al-Tabba', confirmed that Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have a harmful effect on the Palestinian economy, "which has been shrinking for years". Indeed, according to Nawwaf abu-Shammala, the head of the economic committee of the Arab League, a serious increase in poverty has been recorded as a result of Israeli actions against the people of Gaza. "Recent statistics put the poverty figures at 18 per cent in the West Bank and 38 per cent in the Gaza Strip, during 2009 and 2010." He added that the rate has increased even further since 2010.
An Arab league report on poverty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, based mainly on World Food Programme and the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation statistics and studies, found that more than 50 per cent of Palestinian families suffered food insecurity in 2011.
The report also mentioned that there are "more than 500 Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank which hinder transportation of goods", adding that the Israeli Separation Wall is "a big threat to the Palestinian economy".
Photographer: Motasem A Dalloul