For the 1.7 million Palestinians crammed into the tiny, war-torn seaside enclave of the Gaza Strip, the fishing industry has long been an integral part of Gaza’s health and economy. Once a thriving industry — bringing in nearly 3,000 tons of fish in 2004, for example — the fishing industry has been decimated by the Israeli naval blockade for nearly a decade. In 2006, Israel unilaterally restricted the Gazan fishing zone down to only six miles off the coast, eliminating 60% of Gaza’s potential fishing grounds. The shallow fishing zone, combined with the poor sanitation of Gaza’s sewage system, have plummeted fishermen’s families into poverty and further disrupted Gaza’s already vulnerable food supply. According to the United Nations, 2012’s fishermen’s catch was less than half of what it had been just 10 years ago.
For the over 4,000 boat-owning fishermen families in Gaza, the Israeli naval blockade has been devastating economically and psychologically. According to the United Nations, 95% of fishing families are dependent on food vouchers and now represent the poorest sub-section of Palestinian society. In addition to the financial burdens, confrontations with Israeli authorities are common. In 2013, there were over 130 attacks on fishermen in Gaza waters, and at least five Palestinian fishermen, all judged as “non-combatants” by the United Nations, have been killed by the Israeli navy since 2010. Furthermore, Israeli arrests — that include detention in Israeli ports, aggressive interrogation, a fee to get back into Gaza, and their equipment impounded — are common, despite the fact that no fisherman has ever been charged with an offense and no legal challenge for compensation has ever had any success.
In November 2013, Alex Renton and I joined Gaza’s fishermen on board with veteran Captain Issa Abu Naim for The Guardian’s Sunday Edition, The Observer. Harassed by Israeli gunboats in some of the world’s most contested waters, we witnessed firsthand how Palestinian fishermen are chasing dwindling shoals in the heavily guarded six-mile fishing limit off the Gaza coast. Our story is available here and full photoessay here at TheGuardian.com.
In 1994, the international community recognized the Palestinian’s right to fish 20 miles off the coast of Gaza. The UN has been calling on Israel to respect this Palestinian right and to end its use of excessive force in its patrol zone.