Between 28 November and 2 December, Al-Haq reported numerous cases of farmers being targeted by the Israeli military while working on land located in the proximity of the buffer zone along the border of the Gaza Strip. During the same time period, Al-Haq monitored eight cases of fishermen who had been shot by the Israeli Navy while fishing between four and six nautical miles (NM) from the coast.
In choosing where to carry out their work, fishermen and farmers of the Gaza Strip relied upon the ceasefire agreement negotiated between Hamas and Israel following the latest escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, which took place between 8 and 21 November 2012. The agreement called for ‘facilitating the movements of people, refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas.’ Based on these terms, Palestinian fishermen fished beyond three NM from the coast and farmers accessed their land in close proximity to the border. However, the Israeli military continued to enforce the movement restrictions in place before the ceasefire and did not hesitate to open fire directly on Palestinians in the buffer zone on land and at sea. The vague terms of the agreement, which did not specify what territory or water farmers and fishermen are permitted to access, put the lives of Palestinian civilians at risk.
With regard to the fishermen’s cases, the Israeli navy surrounded and shot at the Palestinian boats. Then, the Israeli soldiers ordered the fishermen to take off their clothes and swim towards the Israeli vessels, where the fishermen were handcuffed and interrogated. Some fishermen were taken to Ashdod port in Israel and interrogated for hours. All fishermen were released the same day that they were arrested, except for ‘Umar Muhammad Bakr (20 years old) who is still being held in detention by the Israeli army. During these operations, six boats were confiscated and another four were damaged. Such damages further compound the difficult conditions suffered by fishermen in the Gaza Strip, whose livelihood is already severely affected by the movement restrictions imposed as a result of the buffer zone at sea.
Muhammed Khaled Bakr (17 years old) - al-Shate’ Refugee Camp (Gaza city)
On 1 December, at approximately 7:00 am, Muhammad Khaled Bakr boarded the boat of Ramez ‘Izzat Bakr (40 years old), along with Rami ‘Izzat Bakr (35 years old), Bayan Khamis Bakr (18 years old) and ‘Umar Muhammad Bakr (20). All the fishermen are from al-Shati’ Refugee Camp, west of Gaza city.
The fishermen travelled four NM off the coast of Beit Lahiya, north of the Gaza Strip, and fished for a couple of hours. There were some 40 fishing boats at the same distance from the coast. At approximately 10:15 am, Mohammad saw four rubber boats and an Israeli military vessel, which were at a distance of approximately five NM from the coast, heading rapidly towards them. Immediately, all the Palestinian fishermen tried to leave the area, fearing that they would be arrested or have their boats confiscated by the Israeli forces. When the Israeli boats were at approximately 500 metres from the fishermen, they opened fire on the Palestinian boats and hit the engine of Ramez’s boat. The Israeli vessel approached Ramez’s boat and the soldiers ordered the fishermen to take off their clothes at gunpoint and swim towards the rubber boats. Once there, the fishermen were blindfolded and had their hands cuffed behind their back. Fishermen on other boats were also arrested and their boats seized.
Afterwards, the fishermen were taken to Ashdod port and had the blindfolds removed. The Israeli soldiers gave the fishermen some clothing and forced them to walk for about 200 metres. Then, the fishermen were taken to a room, where Mohammad recognised some of his relatives who had been at sea that same morning. Muhammad and the other fishermen were blindfolded and handcuffed once again. Approximately two hours later, Muhammad was taken to another room, where a doctor visited him. Afterwards, he was taken to yet another room where an Israeli officer questioned him about his work and the reasons for being at four NM from the coast; Muhammad replied that on the basis of the ceasefire agreement, fishermen were allowed to work over three NM. Following Muhammad’s interrogation, the Israeli authorities continued questioning the other fishermen who had been arrested. Later that night, Muhammad and the fishermen had their hands and legs cuffed and were blindfolded again. They were then taken by bus to Eretz border, where they were eventually released.
Israeli military targeted farmers in the proximity to the buffer zone
Throughout the last week, the Israeli military opened fire at numerous farmers, injuring 24 persons, two of whom sustained severe injuries. The main incidents were concentrated in the areas next to Jabaliyya (Northern Gaza governorate), al-Shoka village (Rafah governorate), Khan Younes, al-Maghazi and al-Breij refugee camps (Central governorate), and Deir al-Balah (Central governorate).
On 30 November, at approximately 4:30 pm, the Israeli soldiers stationed on the Gaza Strip side of the border near Rafah, opened fire at a group of residents walking towards the border. A civilian, Mahmoud ‘Ala Jarghoun (21 years old), was hit in his pelvis by a live bullet and taken to the Abou Yousef al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah. Subsequently, Mahmoud was transferred to the intensive care unit of Gaza European Hospital in Khan Younis. At 00:30 am, medical sources reported that Mahmoud had died due to the injuries sustained.
The continuous targeting of Palestinian civilians in the buffer zone at sea and on land by the Israeli military constitutes a blatant violation of Israel’s obligations under international law. As the Occupying Power, Israel must abide by international human rights law when enforcing the restrictions in the buffer zone and must refrain from resorting to the use of lethal force against civilians.
As the protection of the occupied population is the primary responsibility of the occupying power, Israel is obliged to clearly inform the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip of the exact terms of the ceasefire agreement. In doing so, Israel must clarify which areas of the Gaza Strip are accessible on land and at sea to the civilian population. Access restrictions to these portions of occupied territory must be enforced only if imperative needs so demand. Additionally, Israel has a duty to conduct investigations into the incidents in which Palestinian civilians have been killed or injured.