Shaimaa Mustafa, IOL
April 1, 2009
GAZA CITY —Sea has always been Ibrahim Shahada's life. For years he used to join fellow fishermen heading to the shores with the first sun beams.
Today, the 50-year old Gazan says the word sea has become a synonym of fear and death.
"We are now terribly terrified every time we try to get into the sea," Shahada told IslamOnline.net.
"it's not that we fear the rolling sea waves, but the much more dangerous Israeli war machines yearning for a chance to shoot at us."
Along with the 40km Gaza seashore, Israeli military ships keep roving to threaten any Palestinian boat that dares to get any deeper into the water.
"As soon as we log into the sea, we face a sudden burst of machine gunfire rattling from their military ships," Shahada said.
"Many of us opt to get back to the shores."
Abu-Lou'ai Shehata, a Palestinian fisherman in his fourth decade, says he escaped the Israel death machines with a miracle.
"I survived with a miracle after an Israeli shell hit my boat few days ago," he told IOL.
"Shooting fishermen is now a daily routine for Israelis that my family presses me to end my career."
Just last week, a Palestinian fisherman was injured when Israeli naval boats opened fire on fishermen who gathered at the beach near the Beit Lahyia town in the central Gaza Strip.
Last October, Andrew Muncie, a Scottish human rights activist, has filmed the Israeli navy firing machine guns at unarmed Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of the Gaza Strip.
The footage, taken on September 6, showed an Israeli gunboat engaging fishing boats while international observers hold their arms in the air and scream for them to stop firing.
During the past 12 months, Israeli naval forces have killed eight Palestinian fishermen.
Not only the Israeli fire that turns fishermen life into a nightmare. There is also the Israeli restrictions and the stifling siege that leaves them struggling to make ends meet.
"Even If we managed to escape the Israeli fire, we usually end up with few fishes that barely make up for the price of our boat fuel," Yasser Ramadan, another fisherman, said.
"We r lucky if any money was left to bring food to our tables."
The blockade Israel imposed on Gaza since 2007 is causing severe shortages of fuel and gas supplies - the backbone of the fishing business.
Helpless and desperate, the fishermen are even using cooking oil to run the engines of their boats.
Worse still, now after the Israeli 22-day offensive on Gaza which ended last January, fishermen say their boats and fishing gear have been damaged so much that many can't fish any more.
"My boat was damaged by the Israel fire. I can not afford to repair it anyway," Shehata says.
Under the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, Palestinian fishermen have the right to sail up to 20 miles from the Gazan coast.
After the latest offensive, Israel has reduced this limit, however, to only three miles.
Shehata says that the real death for any fisherman is to stay at shores while his livelihood is right in front of him, but inaccessible.
"I'm a sailor who can't sail. I'm a fisherman who has not tasted fish for months," he lamented in a sad voice.
Shahada, the elderly fisherman, is filled with grief that being caught between Israel's fire and blockade, his longtime profession is sinking.
"We used to hunt from 60-70 fish kgs a day. Today, we hardly get 5 kgs.
"The good old days has gone."