Palestinian fishermen do not trust Israel’s announcement that they will be allowed to work up to six nautical miles offshore. They fear that this could be a public relations exercise. Israel, they insist, does not respect its own obligations and experience shows that Israel, literally, calls the shots on this issue.
The decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon cancelled an earlier order to reduce the fishing zone to three nautical miles. The internationally-recognised territorial waters extend to 12 miles, but Israel has imposed a 3-mile limit as part of its blockade of the Gaza Strip. The terms of the ceasefire agreed last November increased it to 6 miles, which was largely ignored by the Israeli navy. Fishermen and their boats have been attacked regularly by the Israelis.
Israel’s blockade has led to hundreds of fishermen being laid off, leaving their families without any source of income. “Even a six-mile limit is insufficient,” said Abu Ahmed, “as the bigger fish are found beyond that.” The fishing crews are sceptical that the newly-announced return to a six-mile limit will last very long.
The head of Al-Tawfiq Cooperative for Gaza Fishermen, Mahmoud al-Asi, pointed out that a real diversity of fish is only found beyond 12 nautical miles, so even a six-mile limit is unsatisfactory. One fisherman pointed out that his colleagues have yet to understand what exactly pleases the Israelis as far as Gaza’s once-thriving fishing industry is concerned.
There are about 3,700 Palestinian fishermen in Gaza, working from 700 boats. Prior to 2000, there were 30,000 fishermen, with the Oslo Accords allowing them to sail up to 18 nautical miles off the coast.
Although the Gaza Strip is a coastal enclave, only seven per cent of its residents can afford to buy fish on a daily basis. The shortage of fish leads to high prices, taking this staple food out of most Palestinians’ reach.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad