Gaza's fishermen caught in Israel's net
Abu Nemer Baker, 70, and his 35-year-old son, Abu Rezeq, spend their time on the shore with little to do.
The pair are fishermen from Gaza City; their boat harboured at the Gaza sea port. And, up until 2006, they earned a good living.
Following the siege imposed that year by Israel on the Gaza coast, they - and almost 3,000 other fishermen - practically stopped working.
"I remember very well that, back in 2006, we used to sail about 20 nautical miles, deep off shore. But the situation was changed with the imposition of the marine siege by Israel," Abu Nemer Baker told The New Arab.
"Then one day, my father and I - along with three of our relatives - were sailing within three miles of the northern shores of Gaza. Suddenly, a naval vessel came over and rubbed against our boat, overturning our boat and causing all the fish we caught to drop.
"After this, we began avoiding any harm, as much as we could. Our boat is worth $15,000, and that we cannot risk," said the 70-year-old, while repairing a net.
Years of coping
Abu Nemer and his seven sons have no work but fishing. To comply with Israeli restrictions, they must sail within the set limit of six nautical miles, where fish is scarce, and many are juvenile, threatening long-term stocks.
"As you see here at this sea port area, only one-third of almost 200 boats actually set sail for fishing, since Israel has imposed the siege. We can only fish for small fishes that are improper to fish, yet we are forced to catch them in order to get by," said Abu Rezeq.
"When there is a storm during winter times, we can fish larger quantities of the more popular sardines, as a storm with strong winds push the sardines inside the zone," he told The New Arab.
Abu Rezeq's family income is, understandably, considerably lower than before the Israeli marine blockade.
"Can you imagine?, we only earn an average of 1,000 shekels [less than $300] a month. Before the siege was imposed, we used to earn more than 5,000 shekels [$1,400] a month," explained Abu Rezeq.
A small breakthrough
By early this summer, Israel had been reported to have eased the marine siege, for the first time in a decade. The loosening of restrictions included the expansion of the sailing limit by three more nautical miles.
But the Gaza-based Palestinian Syndicate for Fishing told The New Arab that a nine-nautical-mile limit still fails to meet the needs of fishermen, as it is centred off the central and southern Gaza shores. Nezar Ayash, the syndicate's chief, said the slight relaxing of the blockade failed to mitigate the setbacks suffered by the industry in the past 18 months.
|Many varieties of local fish are no longer available [Shadi Alqarra]|
"In the Gaza Strip, there are almost 3,500 fishermen, and these fishermen feed more than 40,000 family members," said Ayash.
"Following the Israeli war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, Israel began restricting the movement of fishermen, shooting at boats and detaining fishermen. Such measures have prevented us from sailing beyond six nautical miles. Now in Gaza, we can't catch various types of fish that only live outside of the Israel-imposed fishing zone. For instance, Lucos fish is so rarely fished by our fishermen."
At the Gaza sea port, there are two workshops for producing and repairing fishing boats. But Israel has banned the import of fibreglass - an essential component of small boat manufacturing. This has reduced the number of working boats to one-third. The Gaza sea port has only 700 fishing boats.
Safwat Alghalayeeny, a boat mechanic, was repairing the engine of an ageing vesel.
"I am repairing the engine for this big boat. It was broken a couple of days ago. Unfortunately, we cannot find a little spare part, and in order to make it available, you need to wait about two or three weeks," he said.
"Over the past year and a half, we have been finding it difficult. Usually, what we could repair in only one day now might take weeks."
A legal perspective
The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has rejected Israel's moves against Gaza's fishing industry.
Khalil Shahin, a legal adviser with the PCHR, told The New Arab that Israeli "violations" had been steadily stepping up.
"Such practices are contradicting basic human rights and international humanitarian law. Israel should respect all the rights of the civilian population, including fishing freely. Nevertheless, Israel has instead resorted to the siege policy on marine life. A six-mile fishing zone is in contravention of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, which allowed fishing within 20 miles."
Khalil continued: "In 2015, Israeli naval forces fired on fishermen, causing the death of one and the injury of 25 others."
Fishermen continue to submit complaints about Israeli damage to their boats, mainly the engines, he said. Israel particularly prevents fishing vessels from operating during peak seasons, he added.
Each week, there are around ten attacks on Gazan boats, reports the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza. Boats have been shot at, faced water cannon, had engines damaged, and fishermen intimidated.
At the local marketplace, in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, fishmongers complain of fewer buyers than ever before.
"You see, today I managed to bring to the market about 100kg of various types of fish - including locally fished, like Sardine, and some other types from Israeli shores that we have been managing to import," said Raed Mohareb.
"For the time being, though we can hardly sell half our stock, as prices are higher than ever."
Once a month
Mohammad Alheila, a private sector employee, told The New Arab that he used to buy fish every week, but now he only buys it once a month.
"I have a five-member family; I only buy one kilogram and a half or even less," he said, while picking over some small morsels on offer at the Nuseirat market.
The blockade was enforced in 2006 after Palestinian parliamentary elections brought the Islamist Hamas movement to power. Israel has since demanded that Hamas abide by previously signed peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, despite its own frequent contraventions of the various deals, including the Oslo accords.
Rami alMeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari