Gaza City, IPS- By Eva Bartlett (blog version longer than original published)
“From the coast to eight miles out, the sea is like a desert: it’s
sandy and there are no fish.” Mohammed Al-Bakri traces a thick line on
the wall map before him, following the lines of Gaza’s eastern and
northern borders, continuing south from three miles off the coast.
manager of Gaza’s Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Bakri is
well-versed in the woes of the Strip’s fishers and farmers. He explains
the insufficient fishing waters Palestinians are limited to, and the
consequences of being on the sea at all.
“The Israeli navy attacks the fishermen, arrests them and takes their boats, even
within three miles,” he says, referring to the three-mile limit the
Israeli authorities have unilaterally imposed on Palestinian fishers.
Under the Oslo accords, Palestinian fishers are authorised to fish 20
nautical miles into Gaza’s sea. The Israeli authorities have illegally
downsized Palestinian fishing waters, using lethal violence to enforce
new fishing limitations. On a given day, Palestinian fishers are subject
to Israeli navy machine gun fire, shelling, water cannoning, and
“When the fishers are arrested, they just have a boat and a net,”
says Bakri. “No weapons, they are just trying to catch to sell at the
market, to earn money for their families.
On August 28, the Israeli navy arrested two fishermen: a 60 year old man and his 16 year old son, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reports.
Bakri says were less than one mile off Gaza’s coast. “The boat was engine-less, they wouldn’t go more than 3 miles in it.”
Testimony given to PCHR confirms this, the abducted fishers stating
“when we were nearly 300 meters off al-Waha Resort, two Israeli gunboats
arrived and circled my fishing boat.”
Following intensive shooting around their boat, the fishers were
ordered to remove their clothes and swim to the Israeli gunboat, a
practice that the majority of abducted Palestinian fishers say they are
“More than 500 fishers have been arrested and at least 12 killed by the Israeli navy,” says Mohammed Al-Bakri.
A July 2012 report by the Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights,
covering the period from January 2011 to April 2012, recounts offenses
the Israeli navy committed, including the abduction of at least 60
fishers, the shooting and injuring of at least 12 fishers, more than 13
fisher’s boats taken, and the intentional damage of fisher’s nets and
With over 3,600 fishermen and 70,000 people dependent on income from
the sea, Gaza’s fishing has been decimated by such Israeli tactics and
policies. “When there is no income, fishers must depend on food aid from
the United Nations (UN),” says Bakri. “But there are a lot of other
needs, like housing, clothing, medical care, education.”
“If the situation continues like this, we won’t see any fishers on the sea in the future.”
Bakri refers back to the red line on the UN map of Gaza marked ‘Areas
restricted for Palestinian access’. Imposed unilaterally by Israeli
authorities, the “buffer zone” officially bans Palestinian farmers and
civilians from the 300 metres of land flanking Gaza’s eastern and
In reality, the UN, international NGOs, and Palestinian organisations
have documented Israeli soldiers’ targeting of Palestinians even as far
as nearly two kilometres from the border.
“Shooting at people accessing restricted areas is often carried out
from remotely-controlled weapon stations…every several hundred metres
along the fence, each containing machine guns protected by retractable
armoured covers, whose fire can reach targets up to 1.5 km,” reads a
2010 UN report.
Via machine gun fire, shelling, flechette (dart) bombs, drone
attacks, land razing and setting crops on fire, the Israeli army has
rendered one-third of Gaza’s agricultural land deadly and inaccessible.
Palestinian farmers continue to face Israeli attacks as they attempt
to farm their land, for the majority their sole source of income and
food for their families.
“We need political support internationally, to pressure Israel into
allowing farmers to work their land and fishers to access their sea,”
Heeding his call, and hoping to build “connections of mutual
solidarity between Canada and Palestinian farmers and fishers,” a
Vancouver-based group aims to broaden political support via their Sep.
30 ‘Day of Action For the Fishers and Farmers of Gaza, Palestine’.
“This particular aspect of the siege is quite compelling because when
a society is deprived of the ability to fish and to farm, it is
deprived of its ability to sustain itself. It’s part of the ongoing
Nakba, and part of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine,” says Charlotte
Kates, a lawyer and one of the Day of Action coordinators.
Kates and a delegation traveled to the Gaza Strip earlier this year, meeting with Palestinian fishers and farmers.
“We want to make it clear what is happening at the hands of the
occupation, and how it is denying people’s right to live, to exist,”
Kates says. “One of our translators could not attend our meetings: a
cousin, in the ‘buffer zone’ had been murdered the same day by the
Noting the close alliance of the Canadian government with Israel,
Kates says “the government of (Canadian prime minister) Stephen Harper
has nothing but praise for the Israeli state that enforces this siege on
Gaza. On March 29, 2006, Canada became the first country in the world
to impose a siege on the Palestinian people living in Gaza and the West
Bank, declaring cancellation of aid to Palestine.”
Building cross-Canada and international alliances with Palestinian
farmers, fishers and civil society is the Vancouver group’s focus with
its Day of Action. No less important is changing Canadian policies
regarding the siege of the Gaza Strip.
“We want to build a movement that can challenge the Canadian
government on these policies, policies which predate the Harper
government,” Kates says.
Canada is not alone in endorsing the illegal siege on Gaza – what
Desmond Tutu and UN special rapporteurs John Dugard and Richard Falk,
among many others, have called collective punishment.
“Last month, the European Union decided to increase their support with Israel,” says Mohammed Al-Bakri.
The Sep. 30 Day of Action will take place in cities across Canada,
with “rallies, vigils, the launching of the book ‘Freedom Sailors’, and
leafletting,” says Charlotte Kates.
The day of solidarity with Palestinian farmers and fishers has the
backing of, among others, Independent Jewish Voices, the Simon Fraser
Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG), and former Vancouver city
councillor Tim Louis.
“The UN is quite aware of the inhuman condition that Palestinians are
subjected to and yet there is no concrete action, except allowing
humanitarian aid,” says Louis, calling for “the Canadian government stop
its indiscriminate support for Israel until such a time when Israel
complies with international law.”
Doors to the Sea: Gaza’s Fishers Under Siege (video)
Staying: Palestinian Fishers and Farmers in Gaza (video)
fishing under fire
farming under fire
articles from the “buffer zone”