GAZA CITY, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES – Israel returned a boat to a Gaza fisherman it had seized for allegedly breaching the limits of the Palestinian enclave’s fishing zone, an NGO said on Sunday, following an Israeli court order.
Israeli authorities had called for the vessel, belonging to fisherman Mohammad al-Hissi, to be permanently confiscated, triggering fears of more such seizures off the Gaza Strip.
But a Haifa court last month ordered that the boat be returned to Hissi even as legal proceedings continued, according to Gisha, the Israeli group defending the Gazan.
Hissi received his vessel on Friday, Gisha said.
According to Miriam Marmur, public advocacy director at Gisha, the Israeli navy had seized Hissi’s boat in November 2022.
She also told AFP the navy had seized another boat belonging to Hissi’s relative Jihad al-Hissi in February 2022 — but it had been released in September.
The court case against Israeli authorities demanding the two boats be permanently seized is ongoing, Marmur added.
While it ordered the boats be returned until the end of proceedings, “the court also subjected the release of the boats to onerous conditions, including a substantial financial deposit”, Gisha said in a separate statement.
Mohammad al-Hissi was unreachable for comment but his relative Jihad said the court order was still “unfair”.
“The decision is unfair because we paid a large amount of money in addition to our loss of not being able to fish” since the boats were seized, he told AFP.
Contacted by AFP, the Israeli army had no immediate comment.
The navy had seized the vessels off Gaza, claiming they had breached restrictions enforced by Israel.
The authorities later called for the boats to be permanently confiscated in what Gisha said was a “first of its kind” request.
“Israel has no authority to seize boats engaging in fishing for sustenance and income in Gaza’s sea space, much less to permanently confiscate them,” Gisha said.
The issue is crucial for thousands in the blockaded Palestinian territory of 2.3 million people, where fishing in the Mediterranean Sea remains one of the few economic lifelines.
The fishing zone allowed by Israel currently extends only to the heavily fished areas between six and 15 nautical miles (about 11 to 28 kilometers) off the Gaza coast.
The court battle comes amid a rise in Israel’s temporary seizures of fishing boats suspected of smuggling or breaching the fishing zone.
Last year saw 23 boat confiscations, the highest number since 2018, according to the Palestinian non-governmental group Al Mezan.
Israel says its land, air, and sea blockade of Gaza is needed to protect it from rocket and other attacks from Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the enclave.
Palestinians argue it is an effective siege that has crippled Gaza’s economy and further impoverished its people.