The fishing port and fish market of Gaza are near our home. Every morning people would gather there for the fish catch and trade.
As part of the illegal closure Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip, a 3 nautical mile limit has been enforced since January 2009 beyond which the Israeli Navy will not allow Palestinian fishermen to fish. If fishermen do try to go beyond the 3 nautical miles, to get a better catch, they are often shot at, intimidated, and arrested by the soldiers patrolling the 3 miles limit. In addition their boats are often damaged or destroyed, and confiscated.
Part of the truce that was brokered between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza is the supposed agreement that Israel would allow fishermen to sail to up to 6 nautical miles out of the coast.
This week the fish market near our home does seem to go on for longer every day, with more and bigger fish. The fishermen and salesmen around the market agree; ‘we are sailing to 6 nautical miles now and we are bringing back a lot more fish than before.’ This is an incredible development that a few weeks ago was still hard to imagine happening.
Despite the improvement in catch, the fishermen still face daily harassment, intimidation and risk of attack when they are at sea. In the week following the truce (Thursday 22 – Thursday 29 November) the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights documented the arrest of 15 fishermen and the confiscation of 6 fishing boats within 6 nautical miles out of the Gaza shore. The Israeli Navy also shot at fishermen during arrests and as a means of intimidation, damaging several fishing boats.
Despite the constant threat, the Gaza fishermen are determined to access the sea, their source of livelihood. It’s this ‘sumoud’ (steadfastness) that is typical for Gaza.