In 1999, Gazan fishermen harvested 4,000 tons of fish, and their sale represented 4 percent of the total economy of both Gaza and the West Bank. Today, the fishing economy has collapsed, as Gazan fishermen have depleted schools of fish in their now highly restricted range. Over 90 percent of Gazan fishermen are living in poverty. To pursue fish beyond the permitted range means to risk arrest, the confiscation of fishing boats or even shooting by the Israeli navy.
“I was born here in Gaza in 1964, and I’ve always lived off the sea and what it provides…Before the blockade my family used to go far out into the sea and get amazing amounts of fish…we used to access 12 nautical miles around Gaza City….but since then restrictions have become much tighter…these days it’s not so easy to find fish.
Pictured: Jamal Bakr, Fisherman
Since the blockade, most days I don’t make a single penny…I even owe the gas station money because it costs a lot to fuel up the boat…most days I am losing money. But even when there’s not enough fish to sell in the market, I feed my family sometimes with the fish I can catch. We eat a lot of sardines…mostly for dinner, but sometimes for lunch as well if we’ve caught enough.
When I’m out on the water, I’m nervous about being shot. Shootings happen all the time on the water. I have a cousin who got killed a year ago…He was nineteen, and he’d just got engaged. My cousin didn’t do anything wrong, he was just a little outside the restricted area. There was no good reason why he was shot.
I probably see around three Israeli gunboats every day I go out. They are about 40 feet long with a crew of twelve or so. Sometimes they’ll pull close to a Gazan fishing boat like mine and simply shout curses through a megaphone…They have water cannons that they sometimes fire on boats, as well as rockets and machine guns.
Every single day I hear that someone got shot at. Every single day, I expect to be killed. Whenever I leave my home in the morning, I’m not sure I will get home alive. The soldiers often shoot for no reason at all. It doesn’t have to be because someone went out of the restricted area…It could be because of something else that was happening in Palestine, or the mood of a soldier….they can just do whatever they want without fearing anyone.
In 2012, I had two boats: my old boat that I got at sixteen, and a newer, nicer one with a motor that I had saved up to buy. My son, Khadeer, and his cousins took the new boat out to fish early in the morning one day. Later that morning, his cousins showed up at my house. When I saw them, I thought right away that my son had been killed.
My nephews told me that they were out fishing in the sea…Suddenly an Israeli gunboat appeared a few hundred feet away. Without warning, the boat fired a missile at my boat’s engine and disabled it. It caught fire. Then an Israeli navy guy called to Khadeer and his cousins through a megaphone and told them to strip to their underwear and to jump into the sea, because they were going to blow up the boat. My son jumped in the water, and they hit the boat with another missile and it exploded.
After the boat was destroyed, the navy guys began shooting in the water all around where my son and his cousins were swimming. They were all really scared. Then the Israeli boat pulled up and grabbed Khadeer out of the sea. His cousins watched him get handcuffed to the mast of the boat. He was in his underwear and it was one of the coldest days of the year. Khadeer’s cousins then swam to another fishing boat, got a lift back to shore, and came to see me.
Pictured: Restricted fishing area, Gaza City
That morning, I stayed home waiting for news from my son. At some point, friends called to tell me they’d talked to fisherman who had stayed for a while near the attack on my son. They said he was still okay, that he was aboard the Israeli boat. But I wasn’t even focusing on what my friends were saying, because my heart was about to stop. Then a few hours later…Khadeer came back. When I saw him, I felt that I got my soul back. The first thing he said was ‘We lost the boat.’ I told him, ‘You shouldn’t have to worry about the money and the boat. It’s fine. As long as I didn’t lose you.'
The important thing is that I have Khadeer back, but the attack has totally affected my life…It’s really hard to support my family through fishing. It’s really bad…I’m living on international aid. It’s only because of this that I can survive. I haven’t made anything for a month. But I never feel discouraged. I’m always hoping for the best.
I owe a lot of money to a lot of people. I’ve borrowed money from family and friends. People don’t hassle me about it yet, but I feel the pressure whenever I see them. Since the incident of the boat, I don’t sleep much, only two hours a day. I didn’t sleep at all last night. How would I sleep knowing everyone wants money from me?...I wake up in the morning and I’m not sure I’ll be able to feed my children...”