By agreement with the state of Israel, the fishermen of Gaza are supposed to be allowed to cast their nets and lines up to 20 nautical miles from the coast of besieged territory. Israel has never actually allowed them to go out so far from the shore, despite that agreement and in contravention of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which defines “territorial waters” as 12 miles and gives an “exclusive economic zone” of 200 miles for activities such as fishing, mineral exploitation and so on. Today, Gaza’s fishermen risk their lives not just from the vagaries of the sea but also from Israeli gunboats which seek to limit their fishing to within two or three miles of the Gaza coastline.
This is a particularly harsh reality at this time of year as it is the sardine migration season (mid-April to mid-June) with rich pickings available 12 miles off the coast, beyond the Israeli-imposed limit. This causes huge frustration to the fishermen of Gaza, and the people who are so reliant on what they catch, as they are so close and yet so impossibly far away from this natural source of food and livelihood.
Even further out of reach, just past the Israeli gunboats, the sea has a rich stock of diverse varieties of fish which are thriving at this time of year. It is far too dangerous for the fishing boats to venture out so far. Even in the waters where the Israelis allow them to fish, Gaza’s fishermen are not allowed to get on with their work quietly; the Israeli gunboats harass them and, in the process, churn up the water and drive the fish away. Israeli forces on the gunboats also shoot at the unarmed fisherman on a daily basis, arrest them frequently and destroy their boats, and thus their livelihood.
That the fishermen of Gaza are still able to bring their catch to shore every day is a testament to their bravery, hard work and ardent desire to feed their families, who are now living for the fourth year under the Israeli siege of their land. The same siege, incidentally, which includes sardines on the Israelis’ list of banned goods.
Israel is well-known for having contempt for international laws and conventions, breaking them with apparent impunity. The people of Gaza have every right to ask the world how much longer the Israelis are going to be allowed to get away with it. Does anyone have an honest answer to that?
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad