We can't survive if we don't fish, say Gazan fishermen risking their lives daily

Israeli warships patrol the seas off Gaza and open fire at fishermen who cross its shrinking fishing border

Palestinian fishermen fear Israeli gunboats near Khan Younis port

Palestinian fishermen fear Israeli gunboats near Khan Younis port
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“Fishing means fear,” Mohammed Al Jabour, a Palestinian fisherman, told The National.

“We go into the sea anxious, making a living is difficult,” he said.

Mr Al Jabour operates off Khan Younis port where Israeli gunboats patrol the waters.

Gaza's fishermen say they are risking their lives every day as they head out to sea despite the Israeli warships.

“I come here every day at 6 in the morning, I carry the fishing net and head [out] despite the risks from gunboats … so we can make a living for our children,” fisherman Ahmad Al Laham told The National.

“If we don't fish we can't survive. There are no jobs at all,” he added.

The fishermen's struggles come as Israel further expands its siege on the enclave, which began in response to Hamas militants' October 7 attacks.

But even before the latest war on Gaza, Israel had been restricting Palestinian fishermen for decades.

The number of registered fishermen in Gaza has fallen from 10,000 to 4,000 since 2000 according to a report from the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

Naval blockage

In September, Israel closed the only crossing used for commercial shipments in the Gaza Strip, at Kerem Shalom, for four days, banning exports from the territory, and further choking the besieged enclave.

This caused 26 tons of fish to rot and resulted in $300,000 in weekly losses, Gaza’s main fishermen’s union said.

Palestinian fishermen, businessmen and rights advocates condemned the measure as collective punishment of Gaza’s two million people.

The crossing was closed again after October 7 and only reopened last week, to allow in aid.

Israel restricts Gaza's fishing area to just six miles off the coast and patrols it with ships and naval commandos who injure and kill anyone who crosses the border. Israel also controls how much and what type of fish can be caught.

This blockade violates the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the 1990s which allow fishermen to operate in an area reaching 20 nautical miles from the shore.

Since the blockade was imposed after Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007, Israel has sharply reduced the zone, altering its size periodically.

Seizures of fishing boats, engines and nets are also a regular occurrence.

Fishermen told The National that sometimes they came under fire well inside the permitted limits.

Since the start of the year, the UN humanitarian office, OCHA, has recorded more than 400 incidents of Israeli forces opening fire at Palestinian fishermen approaching the sea boundary.

“These actions severely jeopardise livelihoods,” Noel Tsekouras, head of OCHA’s Gaza office, told AFP.

Updated: December 19, 2023, 1:17 PM