Muhammad al-Lahham had two new sons.
To celebrate the birth of Ahmad and Anwar, as the twins had been named, Muhammad arranged a party on 6 March.
Three cakes were made specially for the occasion. Juice and nuts were served.
The older children at the party danced and sang. And the family’s home was decorated with balloons.
After the festivities wrapped up around midnight, Muhammad, 27, went to check on the family’s fishing boat with his brother Zakaria and their nephew Yahia. They always checked that their nets were in good condition and the boat’s engine was functioning properly a few hours before setting out to sea.
Early the following morning, the three fishers sailed approximately 1.5 miles beyond Gaza’s coast. From there, they cast their nets into the sea.
An hour or so after setting out, an explosion occurred.
The three fishers were killed in the blast. The family’s boat was blown to pieces.
Al-Mezan, a human rights group, issued a statement following the tragedy. According to that statement, “the explosion was likely caused by an errant missile fired from the shore.”
Eyewitness testimony indicated that Palestinian resistance fighters were involved in a training exercise in the Khan Younis area of Gaza and that they were firing missiles and other projectiles, Al-Mezan added.
The Palestnian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza also published a statement suggesting that the killings had been caused by the training activities of armed Palestinian groups.
Gaza’s interior ministry, however, has held Israel responsible for the fishers’ deaths.
A few days after the incident, the ministry claimed that parts of a quadcopter drone belonging to Israel were found in the fishers’ nets. The drone carried explosives, according to the ministry.
The ministry has suggested that the drone could have been used in an Israeli airstrike against Gaza during February and remained in the water since then.
While there is much uncertainty surrounding the incident, two things are clear.
The first thing is that the story exemplifies how Palestinian fishers are at constant risk.
With Israel and Egypt putting Gaza under a complete blockade since 2007, the area in which fishers are allowed to work is extremely limited. And even when they are within the permitted zone, fishers can be shot at and injured or killed.
The second thing is that the incident has brought immense pain to the fishers’ families.
Muhammad al-Lahham’s wife Firyal now has to raise the baby twins and their three siblings on her own.
“I was very happy when Muhammad arranged the party [for the baby twins],” she said. “The next morning all the happiness I felt turned into great sorrow. It will never fade away. I do not know how I will be able to manage with five kids on my own.”
Mustafa al-Lahham is grieving for his son Yahia, 29, and his two younger brothers Muhammad and Zakaria.
“I am torn apart,” Mustafa, 48, said. “I cannot describe the feeling of losing my two brothers and my son in the blink of an eye.”
Mustafa is accustomed to the dangers faced by fishers. In 2013, he was attacked by the Israeli navy while at sea. He was arrested and detained for two days.
“The situation here is not like it used to be,” he said. “Most of the time now we work for days and weeks without making any money. But, unfortunately, we still regard the sea as our only source of income. We are a hopeless case.”
His son Yahia had become a father just six months before the explosion.
Yahia and his wife Suad were delighted that they had a little daughter, whom they named Samira.
The couple had been married for nine years but had encountered difficulties in conceiving a child.
“Our life had changed for the better since Samira was born,” Suad said. “Yahia would talk to Samira before he went out to sea. He could spend an hour telling her about his dreams, about how he was making plans for our future. That was something he did almost every day.”
“Now that we have lost Yahia, life is miserable again,” Suad added. “I hope that I will not show Samira how sad I am. The thing that mattered most to Yahia was to see her smile.”
Zakaria al-Lahham, 24, also left behind a child. His son Mumin was born in June last year.
“One of Zakaria’s dreams was that he would be able to help Mumin to get a good education,” Zakaria’s wife Alaa said. “Zakaria hoped that Mumin would study to be a dentist. My heart is broken now but I will try to make this dream come true.”
Hamza Abu Eltarabesh is a journalist based in Gaza.