Gaza is a narrow strip, six-to-twelve kilometers wide and 37 kilometers long along the sea. In theory, any person out of the 1.5 million living here could catch food in the sea if they have a boat. If you drive along the shore, you will see boats on the shore during the day, and at night they sail into the sea.
The sea in which thoughts are thrown
The port is a dam in the center of Gaza City. All the buildings and cranes in the port were destroyed back when Yasser Arafat was still alive, during the 2000 Intifada. The Free Gaza Flotilla was supposed to dock here. All five boats that have been able to break the blockade since 2008 docked here.
Water splashes outside the dam. Fishermen and their boats are at the piers. Many Gaza residents go fishing – it is a form of local therapy. Their children play nearby. One doctor told me, “I don’t catch fish; I throw my thoughts into the sea.”
If you look at the city from the dam, you will see a beautiful seaside park of a happy city bathing in the sun. From here you can’t see any signs of the blockade, no ruins. From here you can’t see anything but beauty.
When foreign journalists report from Gaza, a small number of them place their cameras here, and they get an idyllic seaside view.
The art of fishing in unusual circumstances
Sami Ioge is 30 years old. He lost his left arm. It happened before the Operation Cast Lead. He was fishing and got attacked by Israeli soldiers one-and-a-half kilometers from the shore, even though Palestinian fishermen were and still are allowed to fish at up to three kilometers.
“I had a 12-year old kid with me. I was severely wounded. We waited for an ambulance for an hour,” Sami Ioga recounted, “Israeli media called me and this boy terrorists. But for some reason they transferred me from a Palestinian hospital to Israel, even though they don’t do that with terrorists.”
My wounds were severe – I spent 60 days there, the health ministry in Ramallah paid $40,000, and Israel didn’t pay anything. I filed a law suit, but haven’t gotten an answer yet.”
I ask him if he still fishes.
“It is impossible to fish with one arm. My boat was broken, and I haven’t gotten any compensation for it, it would cost me $10,000 to fix it. The engine alone is $5,000. I don’t have this kind of money,” says the fisherman.
He has two children. He is from a small town Hamam near Ashkelon. He keeps the keys to his house and all the paperwork. As a refugee he gets a bag of food every three months. Three kilos of sugar, 25 kilos of flour, two cans of oil for four people. That comes to eight grams of sugar and 70 grams of flour a day per person. Sami’s estimate is 40 shekels for each person every three months. He lives in a refugee camp in Al-Shati.
“After the Oslo Accords (the 1993 agreement between PLO and Israel – NK) we could fish 18 kilometers away from the shore, then they changed it to six, and now it is three. There is no fish at this distance. Israel knows that. Many fishermen sail out just to dive in, to have fun with their children. I come to the shore, because I cannot live without the sea. I dropped out of school, because I loved the sea,” he says.
In June, after the Freedom Flotilla was attacked, Israel told about terrorists in diving suits, shot by Israeli soldiers. I ask how many armed terrorist divers there are.
“They are fishermen, just like me. I know them. It was the Radi brothers. They didn’t have any diving suits, any weapons – just snorkeling goggles. As usual, they were attacked at night. They attack fishermen every day. Many have been arrested, lost arms and legs, their boats have been stolen and confiscated,” Sami told me.
Right to fish
Makhfuz Kabariti, the head of the fishermen association, is 53 years old. He went to Alexandria University in Egypt, but he is from Gaza.
He explained that this peaceful profession has become very dangerous:
“Three hundred people have been wounded, seven killed. Boats use GPS navigation; most of the equipment has been broken. They can’t buy new equipment. Navy patrols break compasses on the boats, so fishermen have a hard time telling how far they are from the shore. Soldiers give no warning, start shooting right away. Many have been arrested, Israelis tried to make them work for Israel, inform their army about what happens on our territories. I used to be a fisherman, but there is no more fish. Now I just use the boat to teach kids to swim. We have to get a permit from Israel for everything. We even need a permit for what any person with no rights has – a right to catch fish in our own sea.”
“Qatar sent Palestinian children ten boats as a gift. Israel did not let them into Gaza. Now they are just waiting for us in Cyprus,” Kabariti added.