The Israeli navy is routinely using live ammunition against Palestinian fishermen working off the coast of the occupied Gaza Strip, according to UN OCHA.
In just the first two months of the year there were 64 “shooting incidents” recorded, resulting in one fatality and eight injuries, a sharp uptick from the more than 200 times that Israeli forces opened fire on fishermen in 2017.
The figures are part of a monthly update by the UN agency, which notes that “live ammunition continues to be widely employed by the Israeli navy to enforce the maritime limits”.
Israeli authorities have unilaterally fixed the fishing limit at six nautical miles (NM) since August 2014, with seasonal extensions to nine NM along the southern coast.
In 1994, a permitted fishing range of 20 NM was agreed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, though in practice, “Israel only allowed fishing up to 12 NM until 2006, when the fishing zone was reduced to six and later to three NM”.
According to UN OCHA, 213 shooting incidents were registered in 2017, resulting in one fisherman killed and 14 injured, including one child. “Another fisherman died in unclear circumstances and 39 more were arrested, of whom three were children”, the report added.
In January-February 2018, meanwhile, 64 shooting incidents were recorded. The fatality, 18-year-old Ismail Saleh Abu Riyalah, “died when the Israeli navy fired at his boat without a verbal warning or warning shots, reportedly at close range and in the absence of a threat to life or serious injury”.
In addition to deaths and injuries, in 2017 the Israeli navy confiscated 13 boats, with “another seven incidents of damage, confiscation and loss of fishing equipment were registered”. In January and February 2018, “four boats were confiscated and not returned, and one more was damaged”.
UN OCHA points out that “under international law, the use of firearms should be strictly limited to situations of last resort, i.e. in response to an imminent threat to life. Otherwise, the use of firearms constitutes excessive and unlawful use of force”.
Looking closely at two fatalities in 2017, UN OCHA documented how, on 15 May, Mohammad Mjid Fadil Bakr, aged 25, was killed while working on his fishing boat three NM off the coast.
“Reportedly, the Israeli navy instructed the boat to stop by loudspeaker, while simultaneously opening fire”, UN OCHA stated. “The boat disregarded the warnings and continued to move until a bullet hit the engine: Mohammad was shot in the back as he was trying to protect the engine”.
In addition, on 4 January 2017, Mohammad Ahmad Jameel al Hisi, aged 33, “went missing about five NM off the Beit Lahia coast in unclear circumstances” – an Israeli navy vessel crashed into his boat which, the military claimed, “was not visible due to the conditions out at sea”.