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Expanded Gaza fishing zone 'merely a lie', say fishermen Open in fullscreen

Rami Almeghari

Expanded Gaza fishing zone 'merely a lie', say fishermen

Khaled Alhabeel aboard his fishing boat at the port in Gaza city [Rami Almeghari]

Date of publication: 22 June, 2018

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In-depth: Despite Israel reportedly easing a marine blockade, Gaza fishermen say in reality the hardships and harassment continue, reports Rami Almeghari.
Khaled Alhabeel and Ali Alaamoudi are two Palestinian fishermen from the Beach Refugee Camp, west of Gaza city.

Over the past couple months, they, along with many of their fellow fishermen, have been able to go deeper into the sea off the Gaza Strip, after Israeli authorities - along with the Palestinian Authority's ministry of agriculture -announced Gaza's fishing zone had been extended from six to nine nautical miles. 

The expansion announced, however, included only a part of the Gaza Strip's coast, mainly from the central Gaza Strip area of Gaza valley to the outskirts of Rafah city, in the south of the coastal territory, a strip about 17km long. 

"There is nothing called fishing in that expanded zone," said veteran fisherman Khaled Alhabeel. "At first, me and many other fishermen thought we would be able to enlarge our fishing and thus earn some good living. Yet, we found out that the area expanded contains mainly sand not rocks, the best location for fish. Actually, this whole thing was a lie."

Alhabeel, 53, is sceptical of such Israeli announcements, especially when told by The New Arab that the move was reported to have been aimed at easing hard living conditions throughout the Gaza Strip. 

"For over a month, now, I have not been able to fish. The only type of fish that can be found in an area of two miles is shrimp. After nine miles, we are exposed to attacks by the Israeli navy," said Alhabeel, whose fishing boat is one of the 13 similar-sized trawling vessels in the area. Many hundreds of smaller boats are also in operation.

In order to run his boat for a single day of fishing, he needs a return of about 20,000 New Israeli Shekels ($550).

"In past times, mainly before the imposition of the Israeli marine siege, I was able to go deeper into the sea to an area of almost 20 miles, where my four brothers and I used to earn a good living. As you see here, this is an invoice for fuel and other coasts for one-day fishing journey. It is worthy of 15,000 shekels, yet the income we earned was less than 400 Shekels."

The Israeli announcement about the expansion from six to nine miles of fishing area is only aimed at misleading the world public opinion

Attacks continue

Alhabeel told The New Arab that, along with his inability to earn a decent living for more than 11 years, his boat has been frequently subjected to Israeli naval attacks or harassment, including in 2009 and more recently. 

"A couple of months ago, I was in the Israeli town of Beer Sheva, mainly at the town's court, to pursue a case pending since 2009, when an Israeli navy vessel attacked my boat. Only one month ago, another vessel attacked the boat with waste water. They pumped the waste water into the boat, which is 100 square-metres in size. My son was able to pump the water out again, with the help of a special machine, but the naval force saw him and aimed the water cannon directly at him."

Merely a lie 

Over the past couple of months, Ali Alaamoudi, a member of the Gaza-based fishing syndicate, has been struggling to earn a better living, trying to make the most of the alleged Israeli easing of the marine blockade. 

"Nothing has been different over the past couple of months. Four years ago, fishing was better than in current times. In the beginning, we managed to go fishing onboard in a number of big boats, trying to get use of the expanded fishing zone in the south. We stayed 12 hours, we spent 1500 shekels for fuel and other expenditures, but we only managed to bring fish worthy of 300 shekels," said the 43-year-old. 

Alaamoudi told The New Arab that the former concentration of many fishing boats inside such a limited area, could not work. 

"The availability of many boats in one small area will not allow all of us fishermen to earn even a basic living. Actually, in terms of fishing standards, fishing by hundreds of fishermen should take place across a vast area. This would mean that lightings of the boats themselves will be away from each other, so that fish will not flee the vicinity. So much lighting can not help us attract fish."

Rafah also affected 

In the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, more than 700 Palestinian fishermen continue to suffer under the marine ban imposed by Israel since 2006.

Ibrahim al-Hozouq, head of the Rafah-based syndicate, spoke to The New Arab of some of the suffering endured by local fishermen. 

"The six-nautical-mile fishing zone along Rafah's shores is not that helpful for earning a living. Can you imagine? This week, Israeli naval forces turned back more than 20 small fishing boats. I do believe that even nine nautical miles are not even enough. In order for fishermen to earn a living, they need to fish to at least 12 nautical miles, deep into the sea. Any less than this area, the suffering will continue. Compared with previous times, fishermen now only earn less than 30 percent of their living."

An Israeli policy

The main seasons for fishing in Gaza are from April to the end of June and from September to early December. The Gaza-based Palestinian fishermen's syndicate told The New Arab that the past couple of months have been less productive than usual, despite the Israeli decision to expand fishing in some of the southern Gaza areas. 

"Actually, what is being practiced on the sea is a real occupation of the Palestinian waters. The naval forces carry out various attacks. This month is the 12th anniversary of Israel-imposed marine siege," Zakariya Baker, a senior official with the Gaza-based fishermen's syndicate, told The New Arab.

Abundance 

"Fish are always abundant beyond nine miles. Fishing in restricted areas is very difficult. Fishermen are forced to fish some smaller fishes in a zone of six miles, something that contravenes with fishing standards," Baker added.

"Also, you might be aware of the fact that over the past several months, large quantities of untreated waste water are being pumped into the sea due to the shortage of power supplies in Gaza. This could cause pollution up to about half a mile into the sea."

Baker believes that restricting fishing in Gaza is attributed to economic calculations by Israel: "The Gaza Strip needs about 20,000 tons of fish yearly. Sine 2006, only 1,500 to 2,000 tons of fish are produced by about 3,000 fishermen, across the Gaza Strip, on an annual basis."

On a weekly basis, Israel exports to Gaza between seven and eight tons of fish.

"I can say that the Israeli announcement about the expansion from six to nine miles of fishing area is only aimed at misleading global public opinion. In the past couple of months, 13 fishermen have been wounded and many boats have been intercepted off the shores of Gaza, even inside the newly expanded fishing zone, south of Gaza City," Baker told The New Arab.

In 2006, Israel imposed a maritime siege on Gaza's 42-kilometer coast, denying thousands of fishermen from earning a normal living. The imposition of the siege came in the wake of a cross-border attack by the Islamist Hamas movement in which an Israeli soldier was captured.

The siege restricted fishing within only six nautical miles - but Israel said the recent expansion of the legal fishing zone was to enable Gaza's economy to recover.

"It is merely a lie, only a lie. The nine-nautical-mile expansion is only meant to mislead the whole world," Ibrahim Al-Hzouq, head of Rafah's fishermen's syndicate told The New Arab.

"Once fishing is allowed within more than 12 nautical miles, we will be able to recover."

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. 

Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari 

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