Gaza fisher tortured by Egypt

Posters on display in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, depict Yasser, Mahmoud and Hasan al-Zazou, three brothers attacked by Egypt. 

Ashraf Amra APA images

There were two men named Hasan in Hala al-Zazou’s life.

The first Hasan was her father. He died following a heart attack in August last year.

The second Hasan was her cousin and fiancé. He was shot dead the following month when the Egyptian navy attacked the fishing vessel in which he was sailing.

“After my father died, Hasan and I decided that – as a mark of respect – we would postpone our wedding for a year,” she said. “Now it has been canceled altogether.”

“My fiancé was working hard so that we could have a small house to live in after we got married,” said Hala. “Is that a crime?”

Hasan al-Zazou was near the maritime boundary between Gaza and Egypt at the time of the attack. His brother Mahmoud was also killed.

Another brother, Yasser, was wounded and then arrested by the Egyptian troops. Yasser was only released on 17 January.

Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, Yasser told of how he had been tortured during his detention.

During his interrogation, Yasser was ordered to strip naked and was subjected to electric shocks. His interrogators threatened him with dogs and abused him verbally.

For two weeks, Yasser was confined to a cell so small “I could not stand up or lie down,” he said. “I was only able to sit.”

Throughout his time in Arish Central Prison, the food was bad and the conditions were unhygienic. No measures were introduced to protect prisoners against COVID-19.

“I cried at night because it was so cold,” he said. “We didn’t have anything to keep us warm.”

Financial strain

While Gaza has a long fishing tradition, the al-Zazou brothers were relatively new to the trade.

Previously, the family ran a poultry farm.

It was destroyed during the major offensive Israel launched against Gaza in the summer of 2014. The family incurred a loss of approximately $25,000.

After that offensive, the brothers worked in the construction trade for a while before taking up fishing in 2018. Doing so meant that they had to find a boat, which put the family’s finances under further strain.

The boat in which the brothers sailed had been bought just three weeks before the attack last September. The brothers raised money for the boat by selling jewelry belonging to one of their sisters.

The boat cost approximately $7,000 yet the brothers weren’t able to pay the full amount. Buying it left them in debt of around $2,000.

“My children were trying to make money to pay off the debts from the farm and from buying the boat and to prepare for their futures,” said their mother Nawal.

“Their father is sick and they wanted to help him. They don’t deserve what happened to them,” she added.


The brothers were in no way hostile to Egypt and its people. On the contrary, Yasser was among the Palestinians who helped rescue seven Egyptian fishers when they got into difficulty near Deir al-Balah port in central Gaza during 2019.

Speaking while Yasser was still imprisoned, his mother asked: “Shouldn’t that [the rescue] be enough to free Yasser?”

“My son was sick and exhausted for almost a week after the rescue of the Egyptian fishermen,” she said. “His imprisonment is not fair.”

Apart from the al-Zazou brothers, five other fishers from Gaza have been killed by Egyptian forces since 2015.

Israel killed nine Palestinian fishers since 2000.

For the past two decades, Gaza’s fishers have generally been allowed to operate within six to nine nautical miles of the shore. Yet many attacks on fishers have been inside the permitted zone.

Ten years ago there was some hope that Egypt would finally begin treating Palestinians in Gaza with a degree of humanity. A popular uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir Square led to the downfall of the dictator Hosni Mubarak.

A decade later and Egypt is once again led by a dictator – Abdulfattah al-Sisi. Along with the Israeli authorities, he is continuing to impose a blockade on Gaza by both land and sea.

Everyone living in Gaza has felt the consequences of that blockade. For the al-Zazou family, the consequences have been especially cruel.

Hamza Abu Eltarabesh is a journalist based in Gaza.