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Gaza fishermen still struggle despite Israel’s loosening restrictions

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On April 1, Israel doubled the area where Palestinians can fish in the Mediterranean Sea off of the Gaza Strip as part of Egyptian-brokered talks with Hamas. The distance fishermen can operate in was extended from 6 nautical miles at the narrowest sea corridor, to 15 nautical miles at the widest.

This is the first time that part of the fishing zone has been extended to this distance since restrictions on access took effect in 1995, following the implementation of the Oslo Accords. One main benefit, Reuters reported, is that Palestinian can now reach deep sea fish like tuna and mackerel, and Gaza’s most-desired fish, grouper.

Yet for Gaza’s shallow water fisherman, the extension of the fishing zone has no impact.

At the end of a 12-hour day, Wayel al-Habeel, 46, said he can catch a combined 45 pounds of crab, shrimp and anchovy, regardless of the fishing zone.

“I was catching the same amount when we were boating 6 miles a few days ago,” said al-Habeel. He said the rush to excitement amongst Palestinians is short-sighted. “We are being tricked again by Israel’s decision.”

Al-Habeel owns a 45-foot boat with his three brothers. They dock it at the Gaza Port in the western part of Gaza City.

Palestinian fisherman Wayel al-Habeel at the Gaza Port. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Palestinian fisherman Wayel al-Habeel at the Gaza Port. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

According to the new regulations, fisherman can travel to 15 nautical miles out a narrow sea corridor in the southern Gaza Strip between Deir Al Balah and Rafah, a distance of about nine miles north to south. Between Deir Al Balah and the Gaza Port in Gaza city, another eight miles, fishing is allowed up to a distance of 12 nautical miles.

Sea access in the northern area of Gaza is still limited to only 6 nautical miles from Gaza’s coast.

Zakaria Baker, the head of a fisherman and agricultural workers’ union told Mondoweiss, “The sea off of the southern area that was expanded today has shallow and rocky areas, meaning that the potential catch is poor.”

He said the widest range Israel has permitted over the last decade is 12 nautical miles. At times, the limit was decreased to 1 nautical mile.

In the areas of sea closest to Gaza’s border with Egypt to the south and Israel to the north, the fishing zone is still limited to 1 nautical mile out to sea.

Musa Baker, 45, a fisherman, said that the non-expanded zone is the richest in terms of the catch of fish. Both Musa and al-Habeel have worked as fishermen since 1987.

Fisherman at sea off of the coast of Gaza. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Fisherman at sea off of the coast of Gaza. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Many fishermen are concerned about the presence of the Israeli navy. In the past it has turned Gaza boats around or fired on them. Sometimes boats and fishing equipment are confiscated, and fisherman have been arrested. Thursday morning Ma’an News reported the Israeli navy fired on fishermen 2 miles out at sea in an area where the fishing zone is 6 miles.

The Gaza based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights documented 1283 incidents of abuses by Israeli forces on the seas since 2000, including killing 8 fishermen, injuring 134, arresting 656, and seizing or destroying 209 boats.

There are 3,500 commercial fishermen in the Strip, operating some 1,000 boats.

Al-Habeel said his own boat was fired at and is still punctured with holes. “Who would stop them from fatally shooting me or arresting me?” Indeed al-Habeel said he has been detained “maybe more than 20 times” by the navy while at sea.

In addition to the Israeli navy harassing the fishermen, technical challenges stand ahead for the Gaza’s professionals watermen.

Import restrictions on Gaza make boat repairs tremendously costly and limited. Boats with Yamaha engines are often fixed with scrap parts from trucks.

Gaza fisheries sector lacks access to essential imports, including fiberglass, boat engines and spare parts, which are restricted by Israel as “dual use” items. Fishing nets and other items are often too expensive for fishermen on their limited income.

Mohammed Shehadeh, 57, said his boat floating at the Gaza Port is totaled. He needs a new engine but cannot find one for sale, nor can he afford to repair the one he has.

“My boat has docked here since last summer,” said Shehadeh, who used to employ 14 young fishers on deck.

“I lament that everyday since I am broke and am not able to pay for the workers?” he said.

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Palestinian fisherman Musa Baker at the Gaza Port. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Palestinian fisherman Musa Baker at the Gaza Port. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Gaza fish market. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

At 8 a.m., al-Habeel sits on an empty crate used to carry fish at a street market near the port. He still has five crates full of unsold fish, as he expected.

“No fool would waste his little money on such tiny anchovy, after hearing about the new expanded 15 miles!” he said.

Ahmad Kabariti

Ahmad Kabariti is a freelance journalist based in Gaza.

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8 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson on April 5, 2019, 4:22 pm

    RE: “Zakaria Baker, the head of a fisherman and agricultural workers’ union . . . said the widest range Israel has permitted over the last decade is 12 nautical miles. At times, the limit was decreased to 1 nautical mile.” ~ Ahmad Kabariti

    ■ FROM ALISTAIR CROOKE, London Review of Books, 03/03/11:

    [EXCERPTS] . . . It was [Ariel] Sharon who pioneered the philosophy of ‘maintained uncertainty’ that repeatedly extended and then limited the space in which Palestinians could operate by means of an unpredictable combination of changing and selectively enforced regulation, and the dissection of space by settlements, roads Palestinians were not allowed to use and continually shifting borders. All of this was intended to induce in the Palestinians a sense of permanent temporariness. . .

    . . . It suits Israel to have a ‘state’ without borders so that it can keep negotiating about borders, and count on the resulting uncertainty to maintain acquiescence. . .

    SOURCE –

  2. Abe Bird on April 7, 2019, 6:52 am

    1. The restrictions on fishing distance were imposed during the Intifada. By 2002, the Gazans had been fishing for up to 15 nautical miles. Hamas naval terrorism has developed and Israel has taken a basic action required to reduce its risk, as required by law’ moral and logic. In cases where terrorists disguised as fishermen and crossed the line into Israel’s territorial waters, Israel managed to stop them, some were captured and on sea and others were killed in a gunfight on the sea or on the shores of Israel.

    2. The fact that Gazan fishermen do not make full use of the fishing space is not Israel’s problem but rather for fishermen with their Hamas leadership.

    3. The Oslo agreement, if anything still remains, does not include Gaza because the Hamas government never accepted it. On the contrary, Hamas rejected the treaty and started wave of terror actions because of it.

    4. Hamas leaders declare again that they desire to destroy Israel, they prepare their armaments and the mood of their citizens for the great clashes with Israel. The last year fence demonstrations are part of their efforts to wake up the שאננים, to tie them with the terrorist שורת הפיקוד but at the same time to collect Gazans angry and despair from the failed incompetent Hamas organization/government. Hamas is an undemocratic government that violates the election rules and roams its citizens, in order to strengthen its status and leaders. When the Gazans demonstrated about a month ago, the Hamas policeman went out and beat them mercilessly. A number of seriously injured people were rushed to Israel, where their lives were saved.

    5. My recommendation to the Gazans, and in general to the Palestinians: accept the right of the Jews to a nation-state in the Land of Israel alongside a Palestinian Arab state and live with it in peace, and you will prosper economically and mentally. Your life will become a Real New Middle East, not that one of murderous and betrayal world that lies out of the Israeli borders, from Algeria to Pakistan.

    • CHUCKMAN on April 7, 2019, 12:09 pm

      Sorry, but not a point you make is fair and honest.

      They’re all in the service of Israel’s most extreme political interests, the very people causing such immense hardship that they should be ashamed, but they are not.

      Hamas is not and never was a terrorist organization. It is democratic and it tries to give these poor people some hope. But Israel always opposes democracy in its neighbors, embracing only tyrants who suppress their people, like the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the military dictator of Egypt.

      Only today, Netanyahu said there’ll never be a Palestinian state. That has always been his view and what is seen in virtually all of acts. He just hasn’t always openly said it. He hated the Oslo Accords from the start and worked to kill them.

      The Intifada? Well, how much oppression and abuse are millions to take before they react? Imagine Americans being treated like that and what they would do with more than 300 million guns in private hands?

      The truth is that the Palestinians have been remarkably restrained in the face of their seventy years of abuse.

      Gaza today resembles a giant concentration camp. It is one of the world’s most appalling situations.

      We even have the camp guards out regularly, kneeling behind a fence, shooting into crowds of civilians, unarmed civilians, only demonstrating for some human rights. They have murdered between 200 and 300, and they have wounded literally thousands. Women, children, medics, journalists – it doesn’t matter.

      No, what Israel has been doing with Gaza is what General Dayan advised after the 1967 War. He said we must make them miserable enough, so they all want to leave.

      My God, what a terrifying goal, but there it is, being carried out for decades right before our eyes.

      • Abe Bird on April 12, 2019, 3:33 am

        I was referring to reality, and not to fairy tales of fundamentalist Islamists and their weird supporters in the West.

        You speak like a greedy propaganda machine when the facts do not bother you. Good for you.

        Hamas was established as a terrorist movement, an arm of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. They took advantage of Israel’s desire to give more independence to the Gazans in late 1980s and allowed them to create a social organization for the locals. But it turns out that the Arabs can’t be trusted. Very quickly, their warm relationship with their brethren gave boost to terror forces to emerge and be formed.

        You deny the first rule of terrorists: a terrorist organization cannot be democratic. The second rule: a democratic regime can’t be a terror group.

        So calling Hamas democratic is pathetic joke.
        How can a terror group Hamas rules Gaza for 12 years without elections? How is Gaza a democracy and there are no parties but only terrorist groups that are also fighting amongst themselves?

        The Gazans are unfortunate because they chose a terrorist organizations to lead them and now they are stuck with it. The popular revolt, a month ago, only attests to the size of the anomaly in a situation in which a terrorist organization imposes a harsh reality on the civilian population, devoid of means and weapons to defend themselves against the terrorist ruler Hamas.

        How exactly do you prove your claim that Israel opposes democracy among her neighbors? Do you always blame the Jews for your own faults. I thought you already have leant the lesson.

        After all, the claim that Israel embraces the tyrants in Saudi Arabia and Egypt does not mean that it opposes democracy there, but only that it is concerned about its interests in the face of a difficult Islamic reality.

        And in the case of opposition to democracy – does the US, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and India oppose democracy in Arab countries too?
        Does the fact that al-Sissi was elected president in Egypt for the third time in a row in democratic elections prove to you that Egypt is not a democracy? On what basis?

        And yet you are so enthusiastic to call Hamas a “democracy” against all the Hamas’ facts, defects and reality. A pathetic claim that only attests your biased impertinence ability to discern.

        Palestinians have not been abused for 50 years because they exist as a people only since late 70’s.They aren’t even mentioned in 242 [1967] and 336 [1973] UN resolutions. For 19 years those were citizens of Jordan and Egypt and they did not think they were unique Palestinians, but were called Jordanians and Egyptians, as well as Palestinian Arabs as the Jews were called Palestinian Jews.
        They were just Arabs, Jordanians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians, who were used by the Arab governments as a spearhead to terrorize Israel after the Arab armies suffered repeated defeats in wars they have launched against Israel.

        Anti-Semitism in the West raises its head, and it uses their tactics to discredit the Jews as if they were today’s Nazis, and the Arabs who always aspired to exterminate the Jews in Israel, as they have learned from their Nazi ally in the 1930s and1940s, now called peace lovers.

        You ignore the fact that Islamic forced of every kind are fighting among themselves for decades all around the world. Not a Jew involved.

        Gaza is controlled by an insane Islamist terrorist organization that was on its own initiative at war with Israel, so Gaza’s citizens suffer from the result of their election.
        Yet Gaza also has a border with Egypt, so why don’t you make a similar claim against Egypt that was closed the border for many years [only weapons and sabotaging smuggling through tunnels from Sinai]? And remember, Gazans are not in war with Egypt, so why do you Avoiding and ignoring that fact?

        This testifies that you’re dishonest and you make all efforts to conceal facts to in order to reinforce your lies.

        Israel does not provide Gaza with anything, just as it does not supply Jordan or Greece. Gaza buys everything it needs or can from and through Israel. Israel is not interfering in the Gaza Strip’s consumption basket, apart from preventing the weapons and terror means to go in. Therefore, if you call Gaza a “concentration camp,” then you should turn to complaints about your “democratic” Hamas.

        The fact that the residents of the “camp” have enough weapons to attack Israel only attests to the absurdity of your claim. If Hamas pays every child’s parents 10 shekels to commit suicide action on the fence, then you are a moral partner of Hamas and share their Hamas golden calf sacrifice culture.

        You are right that there is an increasing number of young Arab people immigration from Gaza to Europe and Americas. Immigration exists also from Judea and Samaria. More and more Arabs are willingly emigrating to the West, which is good for both sides. Such emigration has always been, yet the migration scale from the rest of the Arab countries and Africa is still much greater. In other words, Palestinian parasitism [full dependence on Arab states and US organizations and Israel good will] has moderated the scope of immigration. But now, in the wake of the brutality of Hamas and the PA, more and more local young Arabs wish to emigrate out. There is no doubt that this is a natural positive process.

      • Bumblebye on April 12, 2019, 3:45 pm

        Oh fly away Birdie, with your rot.
        IRA – Sinn Fein. “Terrorist” and political wings of the same organisation, with a lot of cross-over. So we have “terrorists” elected to the british parliament – though they refuse to take their seats.
        Just as israel has had *hundreds* of former (genuine) terrorists serving in its governments for 70 + years. Elected and appointed.
        Still terrorising the indigenous people of occupied Palestine.
        Shove your guff about hamas where the sun don’t shine.

      • Mooser on April 12, 2019, 4:16 pm

        The Jews are unfortunate because they chose a terrorist organizations to lead them and now they are stuck with it.

  3. Elizabeth Block on April 7, 2019, 7:36 am

    Why should anyone pay attention to what Israel says? Look at what they do.
    And the quote above, about “permanent temporariness,” is very revealing. It leads to the question of why Israel does this – just to make people’s lives a burden? To justify what it has done in the past to the people of Gaza by doing more of it today?

  4. CHUCKMAN on April 7, 2019, 11:45 am

    Of course, Israel has inflicted countless abuses on Gaza.

    Just looking at pictures of it, you have to wonder where the world’s humanity has fled.

    But I find the stories about the fishermen especially touching, this one and others in the past, such as fishermen being shot at and shot.

    Here are a people living by the sea, not even able to fully partake of its bounty.

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