Israel’s control over the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip knows no bounds. For more than 15 years, more than 2 million people have been living under siege, in conditions of scarcity and overcrowding, on a territory that has suffered periodic campaigns of destruction. And as if the land blockade and the difficulties involved in entering Israel for work were not enough, there is also the total disconnection from the West Bank. In the past, Israel justified its measures as stemming from security considerations. But its latest edict against Gazans doesn’t even have the pretense of a connection to security.
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On Monday, Israel moved to ban fish and seafood exports from Gaza to the West Bank after uncovering an attempt to smuggle fish from the West Bank to Israel (Jack Khoury, Haaretz, November 10). The justification this time is health-related – Israel fears that fish from Gaza might harm Israelis’ health. It turns out that not only do the Palestinians frighten Israelis, but their fish are also dangerous. And as with every security threat that the state believes justifies the unacceptable use of collective punishment, here too, the fact that Gaza’s fishermen had no connection to the attempted smuggling didn’t prevent Israel from imposing yet another collective punishment on the entire Strip.
Gaza has around 5,000 active fishermen, while another 500 people work in fish farming and packing. Around 80 tons of fish are sent to the West Bank every week, and from there, some is exported to Jordan. Given Gaza’s high unemployment and lack of other sources of income, fishing is one of the territory’s last remaining productive industries. Yet Israel is piling difficulties on the people who work in this field, too.
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Every time security tensions rise, Israel restricts the area in which Gazans are allowed to fish to a minimum and sometimes even blocks fishing completely. More than once, Gazan fishermen have been shot for no fault of their own and their boats confiscated. According to the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, during the first 10 months of the year, there were more than 400 incidents of violence against Gazan fishermen by the Israel Navy, some of which involved gunfire. Nineteen boats were confiscated and 54 fishermen were arrested – an increase of 350 percent over the number arrested last year. Now the fishermen are also being barred from selling their wares to their compatriots in the West Bank.
Israel must rescind this draconian order immediately. The Gaza Fishermen’s Association is desperate to market its fish while upholding all the regulations of veterinary supervision. At least let Gaza’s fishermen support their families.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.