For years, Gaza’s fishermen have struggled under severe restrictions on their trade as the Israeli military enforced limits on the distance they could fish from the Mediterranean shoreline. The eight days of bombardment by the Israeli military in late November also took its toll. In the coastal area near Khan Younis, Israeli bombs targeting a Palestinian coast guard station destroyed buildings used by fishermen to store their equipement, as well as the only medical clinic in the area. Frequent shelling of the coastal area damaged boats and homes and traumatized families.
With the ceasefire announced November 21, one part of the agreement expanded the area fishermen would be allowed to travel from three nautical miles to six. (Under the Oslo Accords, they were supposed to be allowed a 20 nautical mile fishing zone.) But Fuad Al Amouri, president of the fishermen’s union on the Gaza coast near Khan Younis, says that moving from three to six miles doesn’t change much. According to him, nine to twelve miles is where the fishing is best.
But a meager catch is not the only challenge facing Gaza’s fishermen. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reports recent incidents in which fishermen have been arrested and humiliated while their boats are confiscated. According to one report:
Attacks against fishermen escalated despite the Israeli authorities’ announcement of allowing the fishermen to fish up to 6 nautical miles off the Gaza shore in the context of the ceasefire. Since the ceasefire agreement came about, Israeli occupation forces have arrested 29 fishermen, including 14 who were arrested on Saturday, 01 December 2012. Additionally, 9 fishing boats were confiscated and damaged, including 3 boats that were confiscated on Saturday.
The details of the arrests are particularly troubling:
The fishermen’s reports are generally the same: they are fishing within the new 6 mile limit (or even within the former 3 mile limit) when Israeli gunboats approach and start firing at them, oftentimes aiming at the motor. They order fishermen to strip down to their undergarments, jump into the water, and swim towards the gunboat, where they are handcuffed and blindfolded, and sometimes beaten. Some are taken to Ashdod or Erez and interrogated. Most are released the same day.
Al-Amouri spoke of similar treatment, emphasizing that in addition to the trauma and humiliation of the arrest, the loss of a boat or motor can ruin a family whose livlihood depends on fishing. Given the trade restrictions imposed by the Israeli military on Gaza, buying a new motor alone can cost up to US$5000–a fortune for families who are barely scraping by with the income generated by fishing.