In the latest tragedy for a well-known Gaza fishing family, Israeli forces have shot and killed Muhammed Majed Bakr, 25, while he was out fishing. Muhammed was the cousin of the four young boys killed in an incident that appalled the world when they were hit by an Israeli naval shell during the 2014 offensive against Gaza. They were playing football on the beach at the time, Israel subsequently exonerated itself from any wrong-doing.
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) who are investigating this latest incident, at 8.30am yesterday morning Israeli gunboats opened fire at a fishing boat, wounding Bakr with a bullet to the abdomen. The Israeli naval soldiers then arrested Baker and took him to an unknown destination; he died later in the day. An Israeli spokesperson claimed that Bakr was killed when the boat he was fishing from: “ignored warning shots and continued to stray out of its authorized zone”, however, medical sources in Gaza say that the boat was within four nautical miles of Gaza’s shore.
The ‘authorized zone’ changes continually. According to the Oslo Agreement it should be 20 nautical miles, however Israel operates the zone between a varying 3 and 9 nautical miles, but attacks frequently occur within these limits. In 2016 PCHR documented 133 incidents in which fishing boats were either shelled or fired upon while working within the permitted area. In addition, fishing boats and equipment were confiscated or damaged, 12 fishermen were injured and 131 detained. About 4000 fishermen work off the coast of Gaza, half of whom live below the poverty line.
The killing of Muhammed Majed Bakr is the latest in an ongoing pattern of attacks by Israel on Gaza’s farming and fishing community, termed ‘economic warfare’ by Israeli officials who see this as a legitimate campaign against Gaza and its Hamas-led government. For the Bakr family, it adds to the terrible weight of grief they endure and the economic burden of providing for Muhammed Majed Bakr’s wife and two small daughters in an already impoverished community.
The UN, Human Rights Organisations and International NGOs continue to call for the end of Israel’s siege of Gaza, including the naval blockade. Meanwhile, the head of the Gaza-based fishermen’s union, Nizar Ayyash, has called on the UN to intervene to stop Israeli assaults against Gaza fishermen.