Majed Fadel Hassan Baker (53) is a fisherman from the Gaza Strip. Having been a
fisherman since the age of 10, he has borne witness to the sharp decline of the
fishing industry in the Gaza Strip in recent years. Majed’s weathered skin
shows evidence of a life outdoors.

 

Life as a fisherman in the Gaza Strip is one of the most dangerous seafaring jobs in the
world. This is not due to adverse weather conditions, or because their catch
resides at unreachable depths. The greatest danger for fishermen in Gaza is posed
by Israeli gunboats.

 

The closure of the Gaza Strip has been in effect since the early 1990’s, though has
seen a sharp increase since 2007. While trying to provide for their families in
the face of great economic turmoil resulting from the Israeli-imposed closure
they are often attacked, and harassed, through random acts of violence and acts
of vandalism against their boats.
Imprisonment is also a concern, even when sailing well within the
fishing limits. The Israeli soldiers have a history of destroying fishermen’s
boats, and in turn their livelihood, affecting not only the fishermen but also
their families who often depend on them as their sole source of income.

 

After the
2012 November offensive, codenamed ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’, one of the
terms of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was the extension of the fishing limit
from 3 to 6 nautical miles. However, in March 2013 Israel again reduced the fishing
area to 3 nautical miles. Regardless of where the boundary is set, Israel continues
their attacks on fishing boats deemed to be too close to the limit. “They fire
if you come close to the limit,” explains Majed. Sometimes, even fishing boats
that are clearly within the nautical mile limit are attacked. Already
constrained by the fluctuating limit, fishermen also face the threat of injury
or death as they attempt to make a living.

 

Majed
lost his boat in October 2012, when he set sail to try his luck at catching
some fish. “It is hard to find good fish within the limit. Fish only come this
close to land when it is time to lay their eggs. Before the closure, when the
limit was around 12 miles, we could catch 30-50 kilos of fish every day. Now, I
cannot catch enough to cover the cost of fuel for the generator (Many fishermen
in Gaza have installed solar panels, which charge during the day so that they
may illuminate the sea at night in the hope of attracting fish) and maintenance
for the
engine. Most of my equipment was designed for
deep sea fishing. It is useless at 3 miles.”

 

“In
October, I was sailing with two of my sons within the limit. We were attacked
without warning by two Israeli gunboats. They fired at the engine and destroyed
it, and then warned us that we were past the limit.” Majed pointed out that
they had been within the limit and, moreover, that the Israeli forces had fired
upon them before issuing any warning.

 

The
aggression against Majed and his crew did not end after the engine was
destroyed: “The soldiers then made us strip and swim to their gunboat. They
bound our hands and feet, blindfolded us, and tied us to the boat.” The crew was
taken to Israel on the Israeli gunboat, and their fishing boat was towed
behind. After a number of hours of detention, the crew was released at Beit
Hanoun (‘Erez’) border crossing, where they crossed back into the Gaza Strip.

 

“Now they
want me to pay in transportation costs for them to bring my boat back to Gaza.
I am already $5,000 dollars in debt for the engine and solar panels. If I don’t
pay for my boat to be returned, I will have to buy another one. I don’t have
any money. How can I pay? I refuse to pay. They are the ones who did the
damage. They are the ones who fired without warning and took my boat. Why
should I pay for what they did? They have no right to ask for money.”

 

It would
cost the same to buy a new boat as it would to transport his boat home and
repair its engine. However, Majed cannot afford either option. “There is a
saying in Gaza: ‘Whatever you take from the sea, the sea takes back from you’.
Now, the only way I can make money is if a friend allows me to go with him on
his boat to fish but, because there are few fish within the limit, it is not
enough. I have 14 people in my family who all look to me to provide for them.
How can I?”

 

Since
April 2012 until February of 2103 PCHR has documented 7 cases whereby the
Israeli officials have attempted to charge Palestinian fishermen for
transportation costs for them to get their boats back. On the 8th of October,
one day after the incident the PCHR launched several complaints in regard to
this form of extortion, demanding a serious investigation and the returning of the
boat. PCHR then received a response saying that an investigation is under way
by Israeli officials. On the 23rd of May 2013 PCHR received a response from the
Israeli prosecution stating that they are ready to hand over the 7 boats
including the one mentioned in the narrative.

 

The
conditions dictate that the owner of the boat must sign a contract that they
will not exceed the fishing limits. They also state that the transportation is
undertaken by a third party loading company, so the fishermen are responsible
for the costs. The boats will also be returned as they were captured, minus the
engines as they exceed the Israeli imposed limitation of a 25 horse power
engine, so are therefore deemed illegal. Currently the owners of all the boats
have refused these conditions as the transportation and cost of a new engine is
generally more expensive than buying a new boat altogether.

 

When
asked how he felt after the incident, Majed seemed frail as his eyes began to
well: “I was… I am depressed. Fishing is my life. I know nothing else. I have
no education and no other skills. I have been fishing since I was 10 years old.
Now I live in poverty as I cannot find other work. If the closure carries on
and the Israelis keep acting so aggressively, there is no future for me, or the
entire fishing industry in Gaza.  I want
to ask Israel, ‘Why Palestine? We want our freedom and dignity back. Why are
you stopping us from doing what we love?””

 

Majed
explains the poverty trap that fishermen are in which, in turn, results in a bleak
outlook for the younger generations: “There are not enough fish, so we must
take our children out of school to help us fish, as we cannot afford to pay for
workers. This means they get no education, which means that they cannot get a
good job when they are older.”

 

Israel’s
attacks against Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip, who do not pose any
threat to the security of the Israeli naval forces, constitute a flagrant
violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. The fishing
exclusion zone, maintained through arbitrary arrests and attacks, constitutes a
measure of collective punishment, which is prohibited under Article 33 of the
Fourth Geneva Convention. The right to work, including in just and favourable
conditions, is provided for under Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, as well as under Article 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Moreover, Article 11 of the
ICESCR recognizes “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living
for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and
to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”