Madelene
Kollab on the beach of Gaza city

 

Despite
Israel’s imposition of illegal restrictions which confine fishers to within 3
nautical miles of the shore, fishing remains one of the major pillars of the Gazan
economy. At present there are approximately 8,000 fishers working in the entire
Gaza Strip, including 3,500 who are registered by the authorities. Of them,
Madelene Kollab, 18, is the only woman. She fishes sardine and squid with a
small engined boat, a fishing rod and a net inherited by her father from her
grand father, who were also fishers.

 

 Madelene started fishing when she was 13 years
old after her father, Mohamed, suffered from paralysis. As she was the eldest
of four children, Madelene was forced to continue her father’s work to ensure
the family livelihood. “I used to fish with my father since I was 6 years old.
Now, together with my brother Kayed [17], I continue fishing to guarantee my
family’s subsistence. However, the difficult situation of the sea due to the
Israeli blockade, does not allow us to earn enough to cover our needs. The richest
area for fishing is located beyond 3 nautical miles, however the Israelis
prohibit us from working there. As a result, we are forced to rely on support
from the Ministry of Social Affairs. We [fishers] do not have anything to do
with politics or terrorism we just want to make a living from the sea. I wish
Israel would allows us to fish freely in our waters.”

 

 

Madelene
Koollab on the beach of Gaza city with her colleagues

 

Madelene
wakes at 6 a.m.
every morning to collect the fish caught in her fishing net overnight, then she
returns to the sea at 4 p.m. where she fishes until 7 or 8 p.m. Madelene’s work
is well-known amongst the other Gazan fishers. On Thursday, 5 April 2012, she
will receive an award for the ‘Best sea rescuer’ by the Sea Rescuers association.
“I love my work,” she says, “the sea is my life. It is my only source of
income.”

 

In
January 2011, due to an unreliable supply and high costs, the authorities in
the Gaza Strip stopped importing industrial fuel from Israel. Since then the
Gaza Strip has relied on inherently unreliable smuggled fuel from Egypt. In mid
February, following a shortage of fuel supplies in Egypt, the Egyptian
government decided to halt distribution to the Gaza Strip, creating a fuel
crisis, which has affected all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip, including the
ability of fishers to work.

 

Before
the fuel crisis started, Madelene used to take her boat everyday from the
Northern part of Gaza city to the Port of Gaza. In normal conditions, she used
to spend an average of 20-25 litres of benzene a day. When the crisis erupted
she was forced to limit her daily travel distances, as the effect of the
closure on the fishing activities restricted her ability to afford the prices
of benzene. By suppressing the visits to the Port, she managed to reduce her
benzene consumption to 10 litres a day. However, for the last 3 weeks she has
been unable to afford benzene. “There is a huge shortage of benzene and when
you find some, the cost is very high. In the last weeks, the prices have
increased from 4 to 8 NIS per litre. Considering that even before the benzene
crisis we could barely cover the costs of fishing, now we found ourselves in an
extremely difficult situation.” As a coping mechanism, Madelene operates her
boat by rowing. “Through this system, we cannot go far from the shore where the
fish population is minor affecting our fishing ability. For instance, while I
use to catch between 3 to 4 kg a day, now I only get 1.5 kg.”

 

The
International Covenant of Economic Social and Cultural Rights recognises the
right to work.  Palestinian governments
in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank are severely endangering this, and other
rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living, health and
education, while they fail to find a solution to the fuel and benzene crisis.
In addition to the obligations contained in the said covenant, Israel, as the
Occupying Power is also under an obligation to ensure the maintenance of public
order and civil life in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s continuing closure of the Gaza
Strip is internationally recognised as a prohibited form of collective
punishment.