Gazan fishermen call for end of Israeli restrictions to keep their families afloat
Gaza - Gazan fishermen have expressed their hopes to benefit from more facilities and be able to sustain their families, as Egypt leads indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian factions.
Since 2007, the coastal enclave, home to more than two million people, has been put under a tight Israeli blockade after the Islamic Hamas Movement won the 2006 legislative election and forcibly seized the area from Fatah.
Israel has also banned the entry of several kinds of materials that could be used by local factions to assemble weapons. Boats, fiberglass, nets, and other fishing materials are also prohibited.
Mohammed Abu Ryala, a Gaza-based fisher, told The New Arab that the Israeli ban has prevented him from developing his work materials, such as buying a new boat from abroad or repairing his old one.
The 52-year-old said that sometimes he has been forced to stay ashore for many days, especially when his boat was in need of repairs.
"On many occasions, my colleagues and I have become real hostages of the Gaza-Israel conflict, and the first thing that Israel does is to close the sea and prevent us from fishing," said the father of ten.
Salem Baker, another fisherman from Gaza, told The New Arab that, despite the eased regulations issued by Israel, such as the expansion of the fishing area, locals still lack the essential materials and fishing tools. The fishing area used to range between six and nine nautical miles before the latest conflict between Hamas and Israel. It was expanded to 15 miles following an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire last May.
The 39-year-old father of six said the fishermen cannot rely on another source of income as most of them are uneducated. "We are hanging between the sky and the earth," said Baker.
In the past – before the Israeli blockade- each fisherman used to earn at least $50 a day as they were allowed to fish in the open sea. While now they can barely make $10 a day.
Low income is not the only concern. Fishermen complain about Israeli violations, with reports of Israeli naval forces arresting them, confiscating or targeting their fishing boats with live ammunition.
Both Abu Ryala and Baker said that Egypt has already obtained "many concessions from the Israelis" in Gaza-related negotiations. This has encouraged them to voice their hopes in an Egyptian role in pressuring Israel, in order to allow all fishing materials into Gaza and put an end to violations against local fishermen.
Nizar Ayyash, chairman of the Palestinian Fishermen Association in Gaza, told The New Arab that, although some sectors have witnessed a noticeable improvement with regards to Israeli restrictions, fishermen are yet to reap the benefits.
"Israel is still holding 30 boats and 60 engines needed to operate Palestinian fishermen's boats," said Ayyash. He explained that all the boats seized by Israel were abandoned in the port of Ashdod and that some of them were returned in dilapidated conditions.
According to Ayyash, 4,000 Palestinian fishermen live in the besieged Gaza Strip. At the same time, approximately 40,000 Gazans work in professions directly or indirectly related to fishing.