GAZA SEA, May 29 (JMCC) - Israeli gunfire glittered deceptively in the dark around the Palestinian fishing boat as it pulled close to the shores of Beit Lahiya
, north of Gaza city
The fishermen dropped to the deck as the boat’s navigator turned the rudder to leave the area. The shooting continued.
This is a part of our work -- to face the Israeli gunfire. At any moment, someone could be killed or wounded, said the 50-year-old captain, Adnan Abu Riala.
At five in the evening, four fishermen from Gaza
led by Abu Riala had boarded their 13-meter long motorboat, packed dinners in hand. Twenty-five-year old Nidhal Abu Oda called it a new “death trip.”
These holes are from Israeli gunshots,” he said, pointing to several repaired scars in the boat’s hull. “Several times, we came under fire, said Abu Oda as he operated the diesel engine.
Gaza fishermen use two main fishing methods, dragging and encircling. These men will drag along a huge net, hoping to catch fish.
The second common method is to set up a net, in the night, in the shape of a circle, around a small boat with a light in the middle. The net is then drawn in the morning.
Captain Abu Riala cleans his spectacles and stares into an electronic device that is supposed to guide the fishermen into those areas where there are fish.
This device shows us only where there are rocks,” he says. “It’s been a long time since I have seen fish on this screen, he said.
Three hours later, the workers pull up the net, pouring out a catch of some 200 kilos. But they were soon disappointed -- the net contained only jelly fish, algae, snails, some pieces of wood and a few shrimp.
You see, after three hours we have just this heap of garbage, Abu Riala said, sounding depressed as he collected three kilos of shrimp from the deck.
Usually we spend 12 hours a day to catch 10 kilos of fish. We cannot cover the salaries of the fishermen, nor the fuel we use. All of this is because of the blockade
, he said.Israel
tightened its closure of the Gaza Strip after Palestinian armed groups captured an Israeli soldier in June 2006.
Peace agreements signed in 1993 between PLO
and Israel allow Palestinian fishermen to fish 20 kilometers into Gaza’s sea, but Israel has since reduced the fishing area to three kilometers.
Most of the fish do not stay so close to the shoreline, say the fishermen.
We are now in the season of sardine, so we should be doing good business,” says Abu Riala, “but sardine swim nine kilometers out and we are not allowed [there].”
FEAR ON THE SEA
The Palestinian Association of Fishermen says that Gaza’s fishermen have been killed, detained, arrested and their boats and equipment confiscated and damaged by Israeli forces at sea.
Today, Abu Oda asks Abu Riala not to sail north, just as an Israeli ship shines a glaring light on the fishing craft. I do not want to be killed, or to be arrested again. I prefer to leave the sea right now, he said.
He recalls how one stormy windy night, a group of Israeli commandos stormed his boat and detained him.
They forced us, at gunpoint, to take off our clothes and to jump in the water despite the cold. The boat was towed to Ashdod
harbor, where its crew was detained for four hours. It was months before the boat was released, said Abu Oda.
The boat that we are riding in was itself severely damaged by an Israeli gunboat – its crew had to abandon ship and swim the two kilometers to shore.
These Israeli restrictions on fishing have made fresh fish a rare commodity in the coastal Gaza Strip and driven prices up.
Teacher Khaled Uwaida says that he can’t afford fresh fish on his salary, so he usually pays for frozen fish imported through Gaza’s black market.
The average of the price of one kilo of fresh fish is 50 shekels. I cannot afford this, so I buy frozen which averages 14 shekels, Uwaida said.
After Israel’s war in Gaza
in early 2009, Palestinian fishermen began breaking the closure in other ways – infiltrating Egyptian waters in their small boats.
Some fishermen go to Egypt, despite the danger, to buy fish from Egyptian fishermen or to fish in Egyptian waters, Abu Riala says.
At least 3,500 Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip work as fishermen, using 700 boats of all sizes. The largest of these boats is approximately 15 meters in length, according to the Association of Palestinian Fishermen in Gaza.