A Gazan Fisherman’s Tale

The old fisherman was sitting across the small table, smoking and gazing at the blue sea with sad eyes. The sixty years old fisherman Eid Abu Hasira found himself confined helplessly, sitting and waiting at the cafeteria of Gaza Port, now for weeks at one stretch. Israel prevents him from going to the sea and fishing.

‘Ahlan Wa Sahlan’. With these Arabic words meaning ‘welcome’, Eid pulled a couple of chairs as a warm gesture and graciously asked us to join him at his table. ‘My family is famous here in Gaza for centuries as a family of fishermen’, Eid said with pride. He continued, pointing his hand to the blue beautiful sea of the Mediterranean, ‘from my great great and great grandfather, my family love this sea and always made a living from its blessings’.

Then, the old man stopped, took a deep sigh and added, ‘never I experience such harsh and difficult times like this. Only during Israel occupation, my work has become almost impossible to continue. Israeli gunboats shoot at us, harass and arrest us inside the sea’.

In the Gaza Strip, the number of fishermen is 3,000 working with 723 fishing boats in total. Under Oslo agreement, Palestinian fishermen are allowed to fish up to 20 nautical miles deep inside the sea. However, in practice, Israel military patrol boats permit Palestinian boats only 12 miles. Many other times, fishermen can only venture up to 3 miles. Sailing inside more than that would mean being shot at. According to a Palestinian official from Ministry of agriculture, the total amount of fishing area which is allowed to Palestinians is about 660 KM Square. ‘That is considered a very small area to fish’, said the official.

The fisherman Abu Hasira has a lot to speak about unjust incidents with Israeli military inside the sea. ‘Not many people know about the hardships imposed on us by Israeli gun boats’, said Eid.

He added, ‘let me tell you a story which happened not far ago’. ‘One day, I got a permit from Israeli authority to fish within one and a half mile only. That was February 14th of this year. I remember it was a Thursday, exactly at 10 in the morning. Suddenly, an Israeli patrol boat appeared in front of us. The officer ordered us to lift the nets from the water. Next, he ordered to bring in all the fishermen in one boat. We were eleven of us. The Israelis arrested three of the fishermen. Two of them were my sons’.

Eid, at this moment paused and said: ‘I told you before we are a family of fishermen. And my three sons were with me fishing that day’.

He continued his story. ‘The Israeli gunboat arrested my two sons, Kamel and Adel. The soldiers blindfolded three and took them to their big boat. Now, my third son, Talal, saw his two brothers being taken away just like that. So, suddenly, he jumped inside one fishing boat and escaped towards the beach’.

‘The Israeli gun boat fired heavily at the my son’s escaping small fishing boat. And Talal barely made it to the beach, jumped off the boat and ran for help’.

Among the fishing community of Gaza Strip, every fisherman speaks of Israeli terror confronting them inside the sea. Israel military boats fire at the fishermen during their work. In addition to that, soldiers drown fishing nets, towing boats to Israeli ports like in Ashdod, 70 KM north of Gaza, imprisoning of fishermen and fining them. Sometimes, the military boats attack the beach areas like what happened before in Rafah, south of Gaza Strip. There, the soldiers took away boat engines and nets and arrested fishermen to seek information on Palestinian coastal police stations. For the last 9 months, Israeli authorities have been preventing the south area of Gaza strip from fishing entirely. Also, Israel closes off the sea with gunboats during the high fishing season. As one fisherman put it that was to destroy our livelihood.

When the two sons, Kamel and Adel, were arrested, they were taken to an Israeli port called Ashdod. The father, Eid, explained that his two sons were taken to a prison and after six days they stood before a military court. The Israeli court accused the two sons of ‘smuggling weapons’. The court verdict was swift in which it ordered the confiscation of the boat engine, a fine of 250 shekels (about $60) and finally not to permit the two sons from fishing with a boat in the future.

‘The court’s accusation is a lie. That is a lie’, the father stressed. ‘I have lost all of that now. I do not know what will happen,’, Eid said. ‘Since seven months, there is no financial income. The same goes with most fishermen. The Israeli gunboat knows where is the fish. But he prevents us form going to the best places’. He added, ‘you know now, it is the Sardine season. But Israel says: ‘NO FISHING’. Israel always provides the excuse: ‘security”.

Since beginning of Intifada, Palestinian fishermen have lost a major part of their income. According to official Palestinian sources, the value of fishing production (3650 tons) in 1999 was eleven million dollars. However, in year 2000, the amount of production decreased to 2623 tones of fish, making a value of nine million dollars only.

As for the year 2001, it is even worse. The production fell to 1950 tones. And the value of money was only six million dollars.

The Palestinian ministry official commented that fishermen families normally were made up of many members. Many are losing employment chances and income and consequently creating a lot of hardships for many dependants within the family.

As for the old fisherman, Eid Abu Hasira was determined to go on fishing. ‘I must buy another boat. It will cost me $ 10,000’, he said.

Eid leaned forward, his voice turned soft but serious, reflecting a face of confidence of hundreds of years of a Gazan family tradition and said, ‘fishing is a family business. There is no other’.