Friday, May 11, 2007
Feature: Gaza's fish break the blockade
"Gaza - Yousef Alhelou - Joy has filled the hearts of hundreds of Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip this week as they expressed their happiness over the most plentiful fishing season in 40 years, especially in the shadow of the Israeli navy restrictions on fishing off Gaza's coast.
There are some 433 boats registered at Gaza's port, but only a few of them are seaworthy; fewer still risk the Israeli-imposed ban on Gaza's fishermen. Collectively, Palestinian fishermen have seen their monthly catch drop from 823 tones in June 2000 to as low as 50 in late 2006.
The number of registered fishermen has also dropped significantly, from as many as 5,000 in the 1980s to less than 3,000 today, according to the UN. At least 35,000 Gazans directly rely on the fishing industry for subsistence, amid poverty levels that the UN pegs at more than 80 percent in Gaza......
Palestinian fishermen are routinely arrested and shot at by the Israeli navy. In the past year, four fishermen have been killed after being attacked by Israeli forces. Dozens have been arrested.
Palestinians are often compelled to fish within a few hundred meters of the beach, or even cast their homemade nets from the shoreline.
Under current restrictions, Palestinians are allowed to fish only up to six nautical miles off the Gaza coast, whereas a deal in 2002 between the UN and Israel allowed for fishing up to 12 miles off the coast and the Oslo Accords of 1993 gave fishing rights for up to 20 miles.
This spring was a surprise for fishermen and drew smiles on their faces as their nets yielded sardines, which Gazans always crave for.....
Munir Al-Hessi, fisherman, said: "I'm very excited. This season is a surprise for all of us. Other fishermen and I are subject on a daily basis to the Israeli gunboats and vessels and we risk our lives to feed our families, but today, I earned $500! Finally, I will be able to support my family."
Hani Gandil, 48, said while buying sardines: "I usually buy frozen fish but when it comes to sardines, I buy them fresh. This season, the sardines seem bigger and more numerous. May God protect the fishermen, who risk their lives to carry out their job in order to feed their children and bring us these sardines."
Hamdi Baker, 42, fisherman, said: "Today the sardines broke the blockade!"....."