Palestinian fishermen ride their boats as they return from fishing at the seaport of Gaza City.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
Following their petition to the High Court of Justice, three NGOs have succeeded in getting the state to agree to return 65 boats of Gaza fishermen that the IDF previously confiscated.
Announcing their progress on Tuesday, the NGOs Adalah, Gisha and Al Mezan also made a push to try to get the state to return the 65 boats without specific financial or method of delivery conditions.
At the heart of the debate is whether the IDF was justified in confiscating the boats and the onus for getting the boats back to the fishermen is on them, or if it was unjustified and that state is bound to make the fishermen whole for some of their losses.
Generally, the IDF takes the position that it confiscates Gaza fishermen’s boats when they travel further out to sea beyond a zone imposed on them.
The IDF imposes a zone to keep Gazans close to their shores as well as a blockade on foreign ships trying to reach Gaza in order to prevent the smuggling of large quantities of weapons to Hamas forces in Gaza.
But the petitioners say that many of the confiscations are arbitrary.
They add that since the IDF frequently alters the limits on the fishermen based on the continuously changing security situation, many fishermen mistakenly violate the zone thinking that they are within their rights based on a less updated understanding of the IDF’s limits.
To the degree that the IDF confiscations are justified, the state has said that it will only return the 65 boats if the Palestinians pay for the cost of returning the boats and if the delivery of the boats occurs by land.
Moreover, the state previously told the High Court that it intended to “work within the next several months to return the boats… from the Gaza Strip that were seized by the navy… in accordance with security and political considerations and in line with a security assessment.”
Responding, the petitioners say that since the IDF confiscated the boats unjustifiably, it must return the boats by sea to the point where they were confiscated and must pay for the delivery costs.
Further, the NGOs argue that the state must return to the fishermen the gear that was on their boats at the time of confiscation or at least the value of that gear.
For example, they said that Gaza fisherman Abdel Ma’ati Habil’s boat contained $150,000 of equipment when it was confiscated.
Besides the wider issue of the 65 boats, the NGOs have already won in getting the state to agree to return Habil’s boat, though the costs issues are still under debate.
The IDF seized his boat in September 2016.
Costs are also an important practical issue as the petitioners say that the fishermen cannot afford to pay the cost of having their boats returned after having lost substantial income since their boats were confiscated.
Gisha Attorney Muna Haddad said, “Israel routinely seizes boats from fishermen in Gaza and holds them for months, even years, without any legal authority and in violation of international law.”
“While Israel claims it seizes boats following violations of its restrictions on the fishing zone – restrictions which Israel imposes and changes arbitrarily – this does not justify such severe harm to the livelihood and property of fishermen and their families,” adding that the state wanted to avoid a High Court ruling which would end “these punitive and illegal practices whose only purpose is to intimidate.”
The state is expected to file an additional response in the case on Wednesday.
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