MIFTAH holds special session on Israeli violations against the rights of farmers and fishermen in the Gaza Strip
March 31, 2021

Ramallah – 27/3/2021 – As part of its “Palestinian youth human rights defenders” project, MIFTAH simultaneously held a EU-funded session in Jerusalem, Hebron and the Gaza Strip last week showcasing factsheets and policy papers on Israeli violations against fishermen and farmers. The session also discussed proposed interventions and policies by various parties, including international institutions, namely OCHA, WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to support and protect farmers and fishermen. To this end, the papers proposed policies for protecting farmers and fishermen by national and international institutions.

MIFTAH Executive Director, Dr. Tahreer Araj opened the session: “The significance of this project in our Palestinian context stems from this current, critical political moment in time. It is an important tool for monitoring and documenting Israeli violations that could be used to expose Israel and hold it accountable in international forums for the crimes and violations its commits against the Palestinians. For MIFTAH, it is important in that it contributes to creating youth in Palestinian society who are aware of their rights and who have the ability to monitor and document Israeli violations. It also serves as a means of conveying the Palestinian narrative to the world and therefore to the struggle, for a free and democratic rights-based society.”

This was followed by a presentation from youth defender Amal Kafarna from the northern Gaza group, which included a factsheet and policy paper on violations against fishermen and ways to protect them. The papers pointed out that Israeli occupation forces do not abide by the provisions of the Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the PLO, and which limited the fishing area up to 20 nautical miles. However, in 2000, Israeli occupation forces reduced the fishing area to 12 nautical miles as a collective punishment measure until 2006 and then cut it down again to just 3-6 nautical miles following the Israeli siege imposed after the Hamas takeover. In 2019, Israel decreased the access area for fishing boats nine times in total, four of which fishing was completely prohibited. What’s more, Gaza fishermen received 19 notifications from Israeli authorities throughout the year about a change in the radius allowed for fishing.

In the first half of 2020, 171 incidents were reported about Israeli navy gunboats opening fire at fishing boats in which six fishermen were injured and three arrested, including one minor. Furthermore, the Israeli navy caused serious damage to seven boats, destroyed fishing equipment and impounded one boat.

The recommendations called for internationalizing the issue of fishermen through addressing international parties. They also called for empowering Palestinian fishermen by adopting policies and measures that provide them with protection through an independent compensation fund set up by the PA. This fund would cover natural disasters and agricultural insurances of all kinds and be named the “Risk Reduction Fund and Palestinian Agricultural Insurances”. While there is a law in this regard, it has fallen short in addressing the fishing sector on the one hand, and in covering the Gaza Strip due to the political division, on the other.

Human rights defender, Arwa Qadeeh, from the southern group, presented two factsheets and policy papers on violations against farmers and ways to respond to them. The papers also covered the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip for over 13 years. She said since 2014, Israeli occupation forces had been spraying toxic chemical materials twice a year such as glyphosate, Diurex and Oxygal on Palestinian farmland in border areas, maintaining that crops and farmland had been sprayed at least 17 times in the past two years.

Available data has shown serious effects from these chemicals on crops, the environment and people’s health. They have caused many crops to either die or change color, according to testimonies from dozens of farmers, in addition to the fact that some of these materials are carcinogenic or cause other serious illnesses. This is in addition to the many environmental hazards that ultimately result in the violation of several rights associated with having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, including the right to life, the right to enjoy the highest possible level of physical and mental health and the right to a dignified standard of living.

One of the most significant recommendations was the need to open an international investigation into the nature of the chemical substances sprayed by Israeli planes on agricultural land and to detect their risks to the soil, environment and people’s health. It also called WHO and FAO to establish laboratories in the Gaza Strip and develop Palestinian skills to study these chemical materials and provide farmers with materials to protect their soil from their risks. Furthermore, the recommendation mentioned the need to implement the Law by Decree No. 12 of 2013 regarding the Risk Reduction Fund and Palestinian Agricultural Insurances, to shelter the agricultural sector from all military operations and activities and to allow farmers to use their farmland located at Gaza’s border regions. In addition, it called for all available measures to be taken towards ending the siege on the Gaza Strip and to guarantee that perpetrators of grave human rights violations are held to account.

WHO representative, Mr. Ben Bouquet, commented on the policy papers, commending the data, outcomes and recommendations they produced, maintaining that WHO would take these recommendations seriously. He also stressed on the need for international organizations to band together to protect human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, within their legal mandate.

The session closed with Director of MIFTAH’s Policy, Dialogue and Good Governance Program, Lamis Shuaibi, who confirmed the importance of the role human rights defenders play in documenting grave Israeli violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in the Gaza Strip, which are oftentimes tantamount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. She cited violations against farmers and fishermen in Gaza in particular, which are not included in the reports presented to the UN on Palestine.