Jihad, the Palestinian fisherman whose boat could be confiscated by Israel forever

Jihad al-Hissi used to surf the seas, but these days has to weather an entirely different storm: An Israeli court ordered her boat to forever sail, to sail out of Gaza’s fishing zone. threatened with confiscation.

6:30 a.m. at the port of Gaza. Fishermen reveal the fruits of their previous night’s catch sold on the dock at auction: sea bream, prawns or even sardines.

scruffy beard, square shoulders, revolves around jihad al-Hissi operations. His boat, “Haj Rajab”, returns from the south of the Gaza Strip, near the Egyptian border, where he finds “gambari”, large prawns.

If his bright yellow boat has a name, it has recently been obliterated. “I don’t want the Israelis to see us and confiscate my boat,” said the 55-year-old man, who comes from a large fishing family.

On February 14, 2022, his boat sailed past a sea zone imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip as part of the siege of this Palestinian territory that has been in place since 2007 when Islamists seized power from Hamas.

Jihad’s brother Nihad al-Hissi says, “A hundred meters from the area, we were surprised by three Israeli boats with commandos. They attacked our boat (…), tied us up and arrested us ” the sea that day

The tub’s cabin remains empty due to the effects of water cannons and rubber bullets fired by Israeli soldiers.

– Permanent Admission –

Palestinian fisherman Jihad al-Hissi with his children at the Gaza port on January 10, 2023 (AFP – Mahmoud Hums)

The limit of the fishing zone currently oscillates between 6 and 15 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza, while the Israeli-Palestinian agreement in Oslo in the 1990s fixed it at a maximum of 20 nautical miles.

Jihad al-Hissi therefore believes that when it crosses the border of the Israeli maritime blockade it respects the law in force.

Even though, he recognizes it, sometimes it’s up to him to cross over. Not for smuggling, but to try to find shrimp in the ocean, the quantity of which, with an export price of around 20 euros per kilo, could make the difference between an excursion at a loss or a profit.

Confiscated by Israel, his boat is now at the center of a veritable legal battle scrutinized by thousands of fishermen in Gaza, a narrow impoverished enclave of 2.3 million residents where fishing is one of the few economic engines.

According to Palestinian NGO Al Mezan, the number of temporary seizures by Israel of fishing boats suspected of smuggling or exceeding fishing areas is on the rise: 23 seizures in 2022, a record since 2018.

It also recorded 474 security incidents involving Gaza fishermen in 2022, the most since 2017.

Jihad al-Hissi may never see his boat again. Israeli authorities have asked the courts to “permanently confiscate” his boat, according to documents presented in court and consulted by AFP.

He is accused of “repeatedly violating security restrictions imposed by the Israeli military in the maritime zone adjacent to Gaza”.

The Israeli NGO Geisha opposed the request and in September secured the return of the boat.

But in front of the Israeli court in Haifa (north), where the Jewish state is trying to get back the jihad boat by court decision, the fight is still on… which has since left the fishing area.

– “Unprecedented growth” –

Palestinian fisherman Jihad al-Hissi in his boat at the port of Gaza on January 10, 2023 (AFP - Mahmoud Hums)
Palestinian fisherman Jihad al-Hissi in his boat at the port of Gaza on January 10, 2023 (AFP – Mahmoud Hums)

“Jihad’s case is first,” said Muna Haddad, a lawyer for the NGO Geisha, who represented the Palestinian fisherman in the Haifa court.

“This is an unprecedented escalation against fishermen, and this has never (…) been done in the past”, she argues, accusing Israel of abusing the provisions of international law on armed conflict between enemy-enemies. To prepare the seizure of the ships of – on citizens to implement it.

In documents seen by AFP, Israel claims the fisherman “abused” legal protection and that his crew “threatened” the safety of soldiers during the seizure at sea.

If their boat is permanently confiscated, it “poses a serious threat to thousands of fishermen in Gaza as they aim to stop fishing”, worried Nizar Ayyash, president of the union representing 4,000 fishermen in Gaza. Are.

Israeli military officials interviewed by AFP assured them that they wanted to support Gaza’s economy without compromising Israel’s security.

“We fish to survive,” said Jihad al-Hissi, whose family once lived in Jaffa, now a neighborhood of Tel Aviv, before fleeing Gaza during the 1948 war.

“And we will keep fishing even when our profits are at their lowest,” he says. “Anyway, I don’t know how to do anything else in life.”

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