Gaza fishermen livelihood under the occupation fire, restrictions
Occupation forces often arrest fishermen while they are working at sea, confiscate their boats and tools, and take them to an unknown fate inside the occupied territory to detain, interrogate and torture them.
When looking for livelihood becomes a path to death, captivity, and kidnapping, or an increase in torment and suffering... you would be looking at Palestinian fishermen in the besieged Gaza Strip, who insist on working to achieve a decent living for their families despite all the complexity and hardship surrounding their profession as a result of the siege imposed by the occupation on the Gaza Strip and its residents.
Perhaps what is most well-known about the fishing sector in the besieged Gaza Strip is that the occupation forces impose a security cordon and suffocating punitive measures that determine the nautical miles within which fishermen are "allowed" to practice their profession. These nautical miles are - at best - twelve miles from Gaza's shore. While everybody sees this as acceptable, it provides a temporary availability of fish in the local market.
The truth is that the occupation intermittently reduces these already few miles to reach six nautical miles in some periods, a surface that can - in the normal human condition outside Palestine - be passed by a simple boat for an ordinary person who does not intend to nor practice fishing.
Dozens of hasakat boats, as the Palestinians from Gaza call them, are docked at the Gaza port, or what the fishermen call the boat cemetery. Some of those boats have been there for many years, as their owners fail to perform the necessary maintenance due to the occupation's measures prohibiting necessary materials from reaching the Gaza Strip through the crossings designated for the entry of commercial and industrial goods.
According to the data of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as the data of the Fishermen’s Syndicate in the Gaza Strip, more than 300 boats are completely out of service, and a large number of fishermen’s boats suffer from technical malfunctions of varying damage, operating partially in a condition that constitutes a safety hazard for the fishermen.
Published data indicates that there are about 2,500 fishing boats in all of the Gaza Strip, making for the livelihood of more than 10,000 fishermen, 4,000 of which are registered with the Fishermen's Syndicate.
However, all these boats urgently need technical maintenance, even those that appear to be in good condition suffer from defects that may lead to serious problems while sailing. It is worth noting here that - according to experts - there is not a single fishing boat, in the entire Gaza Strip, that can be described as new.
The Israeli occupation authorities have been preventing for 15 years the entry to the Gaza Strip of various materials needed in the construction or maintenance of ships and fishing boats through the main crossings designated for goods and materials, such as fiberglass, boat engines, and spare parts for these engines, as well as other materials used in the maintenance of boats, which "Israel" considers to be dual-use items, claiming that they could be used for both civilian and military purposes.
In light of this complex situation, the task of carrying out comprehensive maintenance of dozens of fishing boats to make them qualified for safe sailing is an almost impossible task due to the preventive Israeli occupation's measures. This forces technicians working in the field of boat maintenance to follow the primitive, manual method in their attempt to rehabilitate the boats. They resort to using fiberglass, for example, and other adhesive materials, all of which are quite scarce in the market. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the world in the era of great technical and industrial developments when it comes to the manufacture and fixing of fishing boats outside of Palestine using new advanced raw materials and smart computerized systems.
In this regard, Zakaria Bakr, an official in the fishermen's committees in the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, indicates that this ban and the methods used by technicians led to the price of one package of fiberglass (20 kilograms) to increase $500 when its true value does not exceed $100.
One tour with the fishermen and their equipment in the port of Gaza is enough to give a deeper understanding of the suffering they experience. The fisherman trying to "patch" his boat so that he can sail in pursuit of his livelihood that the occupation is fighting to pry from his hands is required every day to check the fishing nets, which may have been burnt or torn as a result of the occupation opening fire at the fishermen.
Attacks targeting the beaches of the Gaza Strip in an arbitrary and aggressive manner have become commonplace, especially during periods of military and security escalation with the Gaza Strip. Thus, the fisherman is required to manually "patch" his nets on his own, which is considered to be outdated outside Palestine, as this way consumes a great deal of time and effort. Even machines for sewing fishing nets are not available in the besieged Strip.
Another, more painful story told by any Palestinian fisherman who sailed in the few miles that the occupation allowed in his "Palestinian sea" is the story of being chased at sea and having his rickety boat fired at by the Israeli occupation, not to mention getting arrested and taken to Israeli military bases built on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948.
Israeli occupation forces often arrest fishermen while they are working at sea, confiscating their boats and tools, and dragging them toward an unknown fate inside the occupied territory. They detain, interrogate and torture them. The fishermen, port officials, and the Fishermen's Syndicate all confirm that indiscriminate shooting by the occupation's gunboats brutally takes place very often, especially when there is fog and bad weather conditions. Dozens of martyrs fishing in the sea of the Gaza Strip have been killed as a result of the brutal Israeli attacks.
Palestinian fishermen in the various governorates of the Gaza Strip have always renewed their demands to be allowed to sail further into the sea, have the arrival of the materials needed to maintain and equip their boats facilitated, and be allowed to import necessary engines and equipment.
On several occasions, the Fishermen's Syndicate called on the competent authorities and the international community to ensure international protection for fishermen who work within the agreed upon "safe" zone and held responsible for their lives and freedom of work while holding the Israeli occupation accountable for its transgressions and repeated aggression.