Gazan fishermen recount narrow escape from Israeli fire

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At around 9.00 am on June 21, two fishing boats were attacked at about two and a half miles off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

Since 2008, Gazan fishermen have experienced a reduction in the areas in which they are permitted to fish. The 20 mile limit, which was agreed during the Oslo Accords was first reduced to six and later to the current three-mile limit. But yesterday seven fishermen and two children faced open fire while still within this limit, which is imposed by the Israeli Navy.

Yaser Baker holding bullet shrapnel from inside the motor of his boat. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)

Yaser Baker was aboard the first boat to come under fire, along with three other fishermen who had been at sea since about 6.30am. “We were at around two and a half miles out to sea when they shot at our motor and it broke. We stopped the hasaka boat and all moved to the front of it, away from the engine so that we wouldn’t get hit. Then they shot at the front, right at us, the bullets just missed our bodies and one landed right by my leg.” Baker added, “They shot to kill.”

Baker on the bullet-riddled bow of his boat. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)

Mohammed Bakri Sabir came to aid Baker’s boat but then came under fire himself. First his engine was shot and disabled, and then he and his crew came under fire, along with the two sons, aged nine and ten, who were also aboard.

Sabir explained, “One week ago they shot a hole in the boat, which I patched up. Two years ago they confiscated my fishing net. This boat is what brings us food. Fifteen of us live in one room in my house, six of them are sick. And now? I can’t work. This is how the siege kills people; I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Baker explained, “Eventually, about 20 fishing boats came to the rescue, they surrounded our two disabled boats and escorted them back to shore. We only escaped because one of the kids, a nine-year-old boy pretended to be dead, he saved the day. He had to play dead, it was the only way we could get them to stop firing.”

Mahfouz Kabariti, President of Palestine Association for Fishing and Marine Sports explained the intensity of the situation, “It sounds like a movie, but they have no choice. Those who fish in hasaka boats are the poorest fishermen here, they don’t have large or multiple boats. This is all they have to make their living.”

Baker pointed to a crate of fish and uttered, “These are the fish which we die for,” as Sabir recalled, “One year ago they shot and killed Mohammed Mansour Bakar, who was a 22-year-old fisherman. It was the same situation; same story.”

Sabir said, “I want the world to come to see how life is for Gazan fishermen, for Gazan children. I want you to put me on camera, come and see what it is like. It has been five years of this death-siege and now my boat is broken. How am I going to feed my family?”

Over 8,000 people work in the fishing sector in the Gaza Strip, with a total of around 50,000 people depending on the fishing industry as their main source of income.

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