Despite their persecution, arrest and confiscation of their boats, the fishermen of the Gaza Strip insist on going to the sea, not risking their lives, but because they lived and were raised on this profession, generation after another, making a living to feed their children.
From over 4,000 fishermen, Mohammed Mekdad seeks to find a foothold in the sea of Gaza, ploughing the sea, to bring his children some food that kills their hunger. Yet, this time, he leads a miserable life that is different from the one he used to live years ago.
Mekdad confirms to the Palestinian Information Center that he fishes using a paddle that “saves him the expenses of fuel, which is a too much burden, except that it is cheaper than those boats that have engines, even if confiscated or destroyed by the occupation, the loss will not be that much.”
Coordinator of the Committee of Fishermen in the Federation of Agricultural Action Committees Zakaria Bakr, told the Palestinian Information Center that the fishing sector has been exposed since 2006 to an Israeli process of systematic destruction through tightening the siege on fishermen and restrictions on the entry of fishermen to the sea.
Bakr explained that the Israeli occupation authority deliberately announced in recent years its intention to increase fishing zones to show to the world that it is trying to help fishermen and make their life easy, “but what was actually taking place on the ground was merely continuing crimes by dividing approximately 36 kilometers of the coast to five different areas.”
Four martyrs in 2018
Last year witnessed an unprecedented escalation against the rights of fishermen by the Israeli navy. Bakr noted that the Israeli naval forces opened live fire at the boats of fishermen, which led to the killing of four fishermen.
He added: “The number of martyrs in 2018 was unprecedented. We did not experience such a thing before. The occupation forces arrested 70 fishermen in the same year, and released 65 of them, while five are still in custody, and injured more than 30 fishermen,” he said.
Bakr pointed out that the Israeli navy confiscated 20 boats during the past year, and destroyed dozens of boats, noting that January 2019 witnessed 5 arrests among fishermen, confiscation of three boats and tightening of the siege on fishermen, especially in fishing zones.
Restrictions and obstacles
According to the Federation of Agricultural Labor Committees, the most prominent restrictions on fishermen and their profession are the high prices of fishing materials, the prevention and restriction on bringing in fishing materials and the high prices of spare parts for boats.
Bakr pointed out that 85% of the fishermen are living below the extreme poverty line, and 95% of them live below the poverty line, pointing out that those who work in the fishing sector, according to official records, are 3,800 fishermen.
He explained that as a result of the difficult economic situation of fishermen, the number of fishermen is about 4,000 fishermen, in addition to 1,500 others associated with the profession, pointing out that more than 60,000 people live on the fishing profession in the Gaza Strip.
“The fishing sector was the second most important productive sector in the entire Gaza Strip and in some cases, Gaza fish used to be sold in local as well as in Israeli markets,” he noted. “Unfortunately, the fishing sector now is very weak to the extent that the Gaza Strip imports fish, people are not satisfied with their needs and fishermen are living on social support.”
Demands of fishermen
The Palestinian fisherman in the Gaza Strip wish to work in freedom and dignity, without fear of being killed, arrested or the confiscation of their only source of livelihood, according to Bakr, who demanded applying international laws relating to the fishing profession, which provide protection and immunity to the fisherman.
He called for lifting the unjust siege imposed on fishermen as well as providing international protection for them, indicating that the Israeli crimes against fishermen is aimed at forcing them to stop work and thus threaten an important source of food security for the Gaza inhabitants.
Bakr called on the Palestinian government to give more attention to the fishing sector in the Gaza Strip, and to strengthen the steadfastness of fishermen by supporting them materially and morally as well as highlighting their plight in the media, and exposing the crimes of the occupation against them to the world.