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The Palestinians are fishing for European justice

Israeli occupation forces extended the fishing area off the Gaza Strip from 6 nautical miles to 9 for a period of six weeks allowing Gaza's fisherman to travel further for their catch [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]
Israeli occupation forces extended the fishing area off the Gaza Strip from 6 nautical miles to 9 for a period of six weeks allowing Gaza's fisherman to travel further for their catch [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Had there been any genuine determination in the Arab world to deliver justice to the Palestinian people it would have been done years ago. However, many of the states and their rulers have proven themselves to be both incompetent and impotent when it comes to occupied Palestine.

I've often said the injustices endured by Palestinians, especially those living in the Gaza Strip, should be treated more like a European problem than one that can be solved in the Middle East alone. To prove my point, we just have to look at the eleven European Union members that have expressed outrage and rallied behind France against Britain over the way the UK is handling the distribution of post-Brexit fishing licences. Germany, Spain and Italy, along with Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden, have all joined France in condemning Britain's behaviour.

The world's fishing industries have always invoked patriotic symbolism, perhaps nowhere more so than the Mediterranean which is also fished by four of the "outraged" countries: France, Greece, Italy and Spain. Sadly, their solidarity and support for French fishermen does not extend to their Palestinian counterparts in the Mediterranean.

Although the 1993 Oslo Accords granted the Palestinian fishermen of Gaza the right to fish up to 20 nautical miles offshore, the Israeli military does its utmost to prevent them from doing so and thus effectively destroys their livelihood. Palestinian boats are bombed, shelled and burned, and their owners and crews are targeted by Israeli snipers and arrested. Their vessels are also seized by the Israeli navy. MEMO reported one such incident just a few days ago.

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All of this unprecedented violence happens in the same Mediterranean Sea fished by the French, Greek, Italian and Spanish fishermen whose elected representatives, never mind their governments, maintain a strict silence for the simple reason that Israel is the guilty party. There's little or no outrage from any members of the European Union towards Israel on almost any issue. The apartheid state relies heavily on the international community's silence on its treatment of the Palestinians, including the almost daily seaborne assaults on fishermen. More than 4,500 Palestinians and around 50,000 of their family members depend on fishing for their livelihood. They live and work under extreme pressure and stress due to the Israeli blockade. Earlier this year, the arbitrary closure of the Palestinian fishing zone off the coast of Gaza was condemned by human rights groups amid accusations of "collective punishment", which is illegal under international law.

Those in the fishing industry working out of the Mediterranean rim countries —the four noted above plus Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Slovenia, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey — all worry about weather conditions, poor catches and fluctuating markets. Imagine the outcry if they also had to run the gauntlet of Israeli troops firing live rounds, or had their boats bombed and confiscated. That is the daily reality for the Palestinians.

Moreover, Israel unilaterally reduced the fishing limits from 20 nautical miles to just six nautical miles when Hamas was elected democratically in 2006 to run the Palestinian Authority. Yet more collective punishment. After the 2008/9 Israeli military offensive against civilians in Gaza the fishing zone was reduced even further to just three nautical miles. The Israeli navy targets Palestinian fishing boats even when they are well within that incredibly narrow zone. This has been documente in reports by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).

Palestinian fishermen were once among the wealthiest people in their community, but today 95 per cent rely on food aid to survive. The Zionist state has blocked their access to 85 per cent of the available fishing grounds, including the best waters for sardines and mackerel.

All of this is happening in the Mediterranean Sea and should be creating waves throughout the European Union and European fishing industry. If the EU agriculture and fisheries ministers can rally behind France over British posturing and gesturing in the North Sea, why can't they muster some support for Gaza's struggling fishing industry?

French fishermen accuse Britain of asking for too much documentation, making it impossible for them to obtain licences, but at least they don't have to contend with the Royal Navy firing at them and destroying their boats. The French government, meanwhile, has introduced a ban on British fishing boats landing their catches at French ports from Tuesday unless Britain issues more than 240 French boats with licences. The French have detained a British trawler in Le Havre and another was fined for not cooperating with the authorities a few days ago.

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A furious government spokesman in Westminster described the French actions as "unjustified" and apparently incompatible with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) or wider international law. France's Europe Minister, Clément Beaune, justified the need "to speak the language of force" because "it's the only [language] the British government understands." Neither the French nor the British seek to apply international law in occupied Palestine, where Israel treats it with open contempt.

It's worth pointing out that the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is a foreign relations instrument of the EU which links neighbouring countries to the east and south to the bloc. Palestine, including the Gaza Strip, is associated with the ENP, so Virginijus Sinkevičius, has no excuse. The EU commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries should turn his attention to events unfolding in the Mediterranean off the coast of occupied Palestine.

Twenty-three year old Muhammad Majid Bakr made a life or death decision when he cast his net to earn his living, and he was killed by Israel for doing so. Not even in the hypocritical diplomacy that governs Europe's relations with Israel can that ever be acceptable.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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