Israel Navy to Return Gazan Fishing Boats, Despite Escalation

The boats had been confiscated because they had strayed from the area permitted by security forces.

Palestinian fishermen fix the net on their boat in the seaport of Gaza City, January 26, 2015.
AP

The Israel Navy is preparing to return about 10 fishing boats to Gaza that were seized because they had strayed from the area permitted by security forces in recent years.

According to a naval officer, about 30 fishing boats have been returned to their Gazan owners so far, including 15 in April. The Israel Defense Forces plans to return the remaining 10 boats that it still holds. The navy had intended to return them sooner but contacts were broken off in the wake of last month's border demonstrations and confrontations.

At first the navy returned the boats by loading them onto trucks and driving them through the Kerem Shalom terminal. But at the Palestinians’ request, it decided to return the remainder by sea. Because some of the boats were rickety and others were damaged by IDF gunfire when they were seized, the navy is fixing the boats and their engines so they will be in working order upon their return.

The IDF decided to return the fishing boats following a series of meetings which naval representatives held with the coordination and liaison administration in Gaza after Operation Protective Edge. In the meeting, several ideas were raised on how to improve the Gazan fishing industry, which supports some 2,500 families in the Strip.

For instance, the security officials offered to hold enrichment courses for Palestinian fishermen.

According to army procedure, when soldiers identify a fishing boat nearing the 10-kilometer limit from the Gaza border, they call on it to stop. If the boat does not respond to the soldiers’ calls, they implement a so-called distancing procedure, including shooting in the air and then shooting at the body of the boat if it does not stop. Then the soldiers arrest the fishermen and bring them to Israel for interrogation. Most of them are released after a day, but their fishing equipment, including the boat, is seized.

“What happened before Operation Protective Edge is not what is happening now,” a naval officer familiar with the situation told Haaretz. “We are trying not to kindle unnecessary fires, not at this moment. [The matter of the boats] is nice and important, but it is not a matter of carrots and sticks. We are all in the same boat.”