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Continued Targeting and Killing of Palestinian Fishermen in the Gaza Strip
[19 – 25 February] - Ref.: 43/2018
15، Mar 2018

Photo retrieved from Al Watan Voice, available at: On 25 February 2018, at approximately 4:00 pm, Israeli gunboats opened fire at a fishing boat in which three Palestinian fishermen, Ismail Saleh Abu Ryalah, 18, and Ahed Hassan Abu Ali, 24, and Mahmoud Adel Abu Ryalah, 18, were sleeping after finishing their night shift. The boat was anchored in the territorial waters off the Gaza Strip, three nautical miles from the coast. In an affidavit to Al-Haq, fisherman Mahmoud Adel Abu Ryalah describes how the fishermen awoke to the sound of gunfire during their afternoon nap, after a night’s fishing:

At about 3:30 pm, we were awakened by the sound of Israeli boat engines hovering around us. I saw three Israeli navy boats, two of which were small rubber boats, and a large corvette besieging us from three sides. Without warning, the marines on the boats began firing rubber bullets and the large corvette began to hit us with water hoses. I was hit with rubber bullets in my abdomen and my left leg, and my friends Ismail and Ahed were hit with rubber bullets in their backs and legs. In the meantime, I heard Ismail telling me: ”there’s a laser dot on your forehead… the soldier is aiming at you”. Then Ismail pushed me. I heard the sound of live ammunition and heavy shooting. The bullets were hitting the body of the boat, the engine and the fishing equipment. I saw Ismail falling on the boat with blood flowing out of his head, that is when Ahed and I rushed towards Ismail and covered him with our bodies. I saw blood flowing intensively from Ismail’s head. We yelled at the soldiers to stop shooting and to aid Ismail. (Al-Haq Affidavit No95A/2018) 

Following the attack, the Israeli soldiers ordered the two injured fishermen to strip, jump into the water, and swim for approximately 15 meters towards a rubber boat. Once on the rubber boat, the soldiers pressed down on Ahed’s and Mahmoud’s heads with their boots, tied their hands behind their backs with plastic ties, and covered their heads with placed plastic masks. Meanwhile, Ismail lay in the back of the fishing boat, bleeding profusely. Ahed and Mahmoud pleaded to the soldiers to give medical assistance to Ismail, but the soldiers did not intervene. After 15 minutes navigating through the sea, the two men were transferred to another Israeli navy corvette, where they were given clothes, and then transported to the Israeli port of Ashdod. At Ashdod, Ahed and Mahmoud were placed in an iron container, ordered to sit on the ground, and blindfolded.

Mahmoud explains how the two fishermen were examined by a female doctor and a soldier in Ashdod: “they took photos of us while holding a paper with words and numbers in Hebrew that I did not understand.” The two men continued to ask about Ismail but their questions were not answered. About half an hour later, they were handcuffed and blindfolded, then transferred on a small white bus to Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing into the Gaza Strip. At Erez, the two were physically inspected and interrogated for 15 minutes on information pertaining to their extended family members and places of residence. When Mahmoud asked about Ismail, the interrogator informed him that Ismail had been transferred to a hospital inside Israel and was receiving treatment. Mahmoud and Ahed were released that day at about 8:30 pm.

At approximately 7:00 pm, the family of Ismail Saleh Abu Ryalah, 18, received a telephone call from the Israeli occupation authorities, informing them of the death of their son. When the boat was returned later that evening, fishermen from the Union of Agricultural Work Committees informed Al-Haq that they saw traces of blood and an Israeli first aid kit on the boat.

A spokesperson for the Israeli navy, reported that the Israeli navy opened fire on the Palestinian boat after the boat crossed the fishing border (at a distance of three nautical miles) in the northern Gaza Strip.[1] Notably, Israel usually maintains the naval closure at six nautical miles. However, the fishermen maintain that “the fishing boat was anchored in the sea at a distance of about 5 miles near the fishermen’s Port to the west of Gaza Strip” and later when the fishermen “thought the Israeli navy wanted us to move back a little, so we moved back into the three nautical miles area” – an area within the permitted space for fishing.[2]

Legal Analysis

Israel’s attack on fishermen on 25 February 2018 which led to the killing of Ismail Saleh Abu Ryalah, the injury and detention of Ahed Hassan Abu Ali and Mahmoud Adel Abu Ryalah, is a clear violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.  The protection of civilians and their rights to life, work, liberty, and security of person is enshrined in Articles 3, 9, and 23 respectively of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).[3] In particular, the killing of fisherman Ismail Saleh Abu Ryalah when he did not pose any threat to the Israeli naval forces is a clear violation of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),[4] which provides that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

The United Nations (UN) Security Council has further demanded that all parties to armed conflict immediately put an end to the deliberate targeting of protected persons,[5] while the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms  prohibit the intentional lethal use of firearms unless “strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”[6] Notably, the Basic Principles require the Israeli navy to provide assistance and medical aid for injured persons, at the earliest possible moment.[7] Clearly, there is no necessity or consideration of proportionality established in shooting to kill an unarmed civilian fisherman. Accordingly, the killing of Ismail Saleh Abu Ryalah may further amount to  wilful killing and “[i]ntentionally directing attacks […] against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities,” which are prohibited and constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention[8] and war crimes.[9] As such, the killings may fall within the purview of the preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the situation in Palestine since 13 June 2014.

The tightening policy against fishermen, especially in relation to Israel’s arbitrarily imposed restrictions on the freedom of their movement within Gaza Strip regional water,[10] is a form of collective punishment that is prohibited under customary international humanitarian law.[11] Israel’s policy of targeting fishermen as they work infringes a myriad of international law provisions governing the right to work and amounts to a broader attack on Gaza’s fishing sector as a whole. For example, Israeli practices breach Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which requires that “States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”[12] In addition, Article 23(1) of the UDHR assures that “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”[13] The right is confirmed in Article 6 of the Declaration on Social Progress and Development, which requires the “assurance to everyone of the right to work and the free choice of employment.” [14] Israeli attacks on Palestinian fishermen also violate the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding the protection of civilians in times of war, in particular the protection of workers and their rights.[15]

Al-Haq condemns the systematic and continuous targeting and killing of Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip, in violation of their right to life, freedom of movement, and their right to work, which denies them and their families the enjoyment of numerous other rights. Al-Haq calls on the Israeli occupying authorities to respect and fulfill their obligations as Occupying Power towards the protection of the occupied civilian population. Al-Haq further calls on the ICC to open an investigation into the situation in Palestine and to examine all cases in which international crimes are alleged to have been committed in the OPT, and reminds third States of their obligation to trigger Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to hold Israeli perpetrators of grave breaches accountable.[16]


[1] Reuters, “Israeli Navy Kills Palestinian after Boat Breaches Sailing Limit, Military Says” (25 February 2018) available at:

[2] Al-Haq Affidavit No. 95A/2018, given by Mahmoud Adel Abu Ryalah, a resident of Al-Shati’ Camp, Gaza Strip, on 27 February 2018.

[3] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), UN Doc A/RES/217 (A) of 10 December 1948, Article 3.

[4] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR), Article 6.

[5] UN Security Council, Resolution 1674, UN Doc S/RES/1674 (2006), 28 April 2006, paragraph 3.

[6] Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 07 September 1990 (hereinafter ‘Basic Principles’), Principle 9.

[7] Basic Principles, Principle 5(c).

[8] Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war (adopted 12 August 1949, entered into force 21 October 1950) 75 UNTS 287 (Fourth Geneva Convention), Article 147.

[9] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (adopted 17 July 1998, entered into force 1 July 2002) 2187 UNTS 3 (Rome Statute), Articles 8(2)(a)(i) and 8(2)(b)(i).

[10] UDHR, Article 13. See also ICCPR, Article 12.

[11] ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law Database, Rule 103. Collective Punishments, available at:

[12] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 3 January 1976) 993 UNTS 3 (ICESCR), and Article 6(1). See also, Article 1(2), ICESCR: “All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence”.

[13] UDHR, Article 23.

[14] Declaration on Social Progress and Development, proclaimed by UN General Assembly resolution 2542 (XXIV) of 11 December 1969, Article 10: “The assurance at all levels of the right to work and the right of everyone to form trade unions and workers’ associations and to bargain collectively; promotion of full productive employment and elimination of unemployment and underemployment; establishment of equitable and favorable conditions of work for all, including the improvement of health and safety conditions; assurance of just remuneration for labor without any discrimination as well as a sufficiently high minimum wage to ensure a decent standard of living; the protection of the consumer.”

[15] Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 52.

[16] See also Al-Haq, “Israel Targets and Kills Unarmed Palestinian Juveniles in the Gaza Strip Using Heavy Weapons of War” (3 March 2018), available at: