Report: Israel Navy Harassing and Humiliating Gaza Fishermen

According to B'Tselem rights group, fisherman detained, then made to undress and swim to Israeli ships.

An Israeli human rights group has charged that the Israel Navy is harassing and humiliating Gaza fishermen, who said they cannot make a living because of restrictions.

According to a report published by B'Tselem, a group that examines Israeli human rights violations in the West Bank in Gaza, at least 10 Gaza fisherman have been stopped by Israeli navy vessels in recent months.

The fishermen said they were forced to undress, leaving only their underwear, and made to swim to the Israeli ships, and then they were taken to the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod for questioning. Some said Israeli forces fired at them.

The Israel Defense Forces responded that the fishing boats were intercepted near Egypt, where they are forbidden from entering. The suspects were brought in for questioning under suspicion of security offenses, the military spokesman's office said in a statement, including smuggling weapons into Gaza, adding that they received medical treatment, food and drink.

Israel has tightened restrictions on fishing off the Gaza coast during the past six years of Palestinian-Israeli violence. The limits have driven many of the territory's 3,000 fishermen into poverty.

Military officials said the restrictions were necessary because of past incidents of Palestinians using fishing boats for smuggling and attacks.

Several fishermen said they were within the six nautical mile fishing zone when they were accosted by the Israeli navy.

Musalam Abu Shalouf, 32, said he was taken in January after trying to retrieve a fishing net about two kilometers (one mile) from the shore. An Israel Navy boat approached and fired bullets in his direction. He was then told to strip to his underwear and swim toward the boat - but it kept moving away.

"I swam for about 20 minutes. I was then handcuffed and blindfolded," Abu Shalouf said.

Abu Shalouf said he was later given IDF clothes to wear.

Khaled Hissi, a 23-year-old fisherman, said fishermen now went out in groups to avoid harassment.

"Before Israeli-Palestinian fighting broke out in 2000, fishing accounted for almost 7 percent of agricultural output," said Tarek Saker, director general of fisheries at the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry. "But in 2006, Palestinian fishermen caught half as much as they did in 1999 - largely due to Israeli restrictions on fishing."

"It is endangering their life and certainly their health, and it's also very humiliating and threatening," said Sarit Michaeli, a B'Tselem spokeswoman.