A fresh catch in the Rafah market, southern Gaza Strip. (MaanImages/Hatem Omar)
Since the abduction by Palestinian resistance groups of Israeli soldier Gila’d Shalit on 25 June 2006, Israeli gunships have prevented Palestinians from fishing off the Gaza coast. This has severely affected both fishermen and food security for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Thirty-thousand people are dependant on Gaza’s fishing industry, but since last June, the Israeli naval forces have harassed those Palestinian fishing boats that dare leave the dock.
In the main fishing site of Gaza City, called Almina, there are dozens of fishermen trying to feed their children under harsh economic conditions. Abdurrahman Abu Riyala approached us and spoke out about his daily suffering.
“I have recently come under fire. While I was working on my boat, I was surprised by them approaching me. They took me to the west, then to Almajdal. They also forced me to strip off my clothes and jump into the water,” Abu Riyal said.
The practice of forcing sailors to strip and swim naked from their boats has become a routine method of humiliation. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reports that near-naked fishermen must then endure freezing temperatures while being taken to an Israeli port. Fishermen are later returned to their boat and again forced to swim across.
Israeli gunboats have carried out hundreds of such attacks — shooting at fishing boats and forcing them back to shore or detaining those on board.
According to the Oslo agreement, signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, Palestinians are free to fish within 20 nautical miles of the coast. These incidents have taken place even within hundred yards of the shore.
Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, lawyer Raji Sourani confirmed that Israeli harassment of Gaza fishermen happens on daily basis.
“On most days, Gazan fishermen are not even allowed to depart. Most of the time they can’t practice their fishing and we can talk about hundreds of violations against the fishing community, including the destruction of boats, including imprisonment, including injuries”.
B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Mikhaeli called the Israeli actions off Gaza coast ‘unjustified.’
“Since the abduction of Corporal Shalit at the end of June 2006, Israel has actually had a policy that every fisherman takes his boat to the sea beyond a very short distance, the boat is being prevented from boating, fishing. This policy has not been made public … it’s not a kind of official policy and there has not been any kind of official comment on it.”
The Israeli navy has said the ban on fishing is to prevent Corporal Shalit from being taken to Egypt by his captors. The effect has been to put thousands out of work and to deprive Gaza’s population of a vital food source.
The World Food Program states that Israel’s closure of Gaza’s borders has led to a steep rise in malnutrition due to the loss of fish and other animal protein.
In the UN-run clinic of the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, where Hala Abdurrahman, a staff nurse, sees many cases a day, we learned that there have been many cases of malnutrition and low hemoglobin among children and adults alike.
“The situations of the families are very poor; they can’t serve the children with principal food elements and that’s lead to many complications. First of all … is anemia. We have about fifty percent of children under five years with hemoglobin under 10 grams and seventy percent of adolescents at school have anemia under 10 percent as well”, Hala maintained.
In the market of Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, fish sellers are sitting idle as many men and women shop for other basic goods and pay no attention to fish stands.
“A woman has got only 20 shekels (USD $5) with which she wants to buy vegetables, and some sweets for her children,” Eljorani, a local fish seller said asked the cost of a kilogram of fish.
One kilogram of a popular fish called ghobos costs 10 shekels (USD $0.25).
Fish is now too expensive for most Palestinians, who are suffering through a severe economic crisis which the World Bank has said is directly caused by the Israeli closure and movement restriction regime.
Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including the Palestine Chronicle, aljazeerah.info, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at email@example.com.