Gaza City – Abu Mohammad el-Hissi spent his whole life working on fishing boats before eventually becoming head of the Gaza-based Palestinian Fishermen’s Society.
Due to the eight-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, the 70-year-old Hissi says Palestinian fishermen can no longer make a decent living. “This work isn’t enough to provide for a family,” he told Al Jazeera.
Whether or not fishermen bring in a big catch, operating the boat each day requires roughly 800 litres of fuel. “This runs fishermen about 4,200 shekels ($1,080) and sometimes they don’t catch nearly enough to cover the operational costs,” Hissi said.
Although Israel agreed to respect the fishing zone as six nautical miles in the August 26 ceasefire agreement that put an end to last summer’s 51-day war in Gaza, fishermen and human rights groups alike accuse Israel of regularly violating that condition.
An Israeli military spokesperson said the amount of space allotted to fishermen is determined by “security threats” such as “shipments of weapons, some of them headed for Gaza”.
“Just last week, we announced another foiled shipment of materials headed for Gaza that would have enabled Hamas to build more rockets,” the spokesperson told Al Jazeera. “The naval blockade is lawful and necessary in order to maintain the security of the state of Israel.”
Yet fishermen should be allotted at least 20 nautical miles, according to the 1993 Oslo Accords agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. Israeli authorities have continually shrunk the fishing zone’s size in recent years, particularly “after its military operations in the Gaza Strip”, explained Sarit Michaeli, director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
“The most important impact is on their livelihoods,” Michaeli told Al Jazeera. “If Israel, on the one hand, says it is a security risk, [fishermen] have to be provided an alternative.”