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Fishing under fire in Gaza

Posted by Arwa Mhanna Oxfam Communications Officer in Gaza

16th Jul 2014

Damaged fishing boats in Gaza. More than ever, Gaza's fishermen are struggling to make a living.
Arwa Mhanna, Oxfam Communications Officer in Gaza, shares how the conflict there is affecting everyday life.


More than ever, Gaza's fishermen are struggling to make a living. Years of restrictions on their movement and livelihoods have taken a heavy toll, and the latest escalation in violence has made things worse.

Sabri Baker, 53, says his new boat and fishing nets were totally destroyed in airstrikes a few days ago. At least 32 fishing boats and 1,000 nets have been destroyed in the past week, affecting the livelihoods of around 3,600 fishermen.

"My boat and nets were completely burnt. To make things worse, it was a new boat and I haven't paid the loan for it yet. It cost me around $10,000," say Sabri. "I've been working as a fisherman for ever. Fishing is the only thing I know in life and it's been the sole source of income for me and the 16 members of my extended family."

Oxfam is calling for both sides to urgently agree a long-term ceasefire and end the violence that affects civilians like Sabri. The new escalation is just the latest in a long line of challenges for fishermen living under the blockade of Gaza. Under the 1994 Oslo Accords it was agreed that fishermen could go up to 20 nautical miles (NM) off the coast. However, since the Israeli blockade was imposed in 2007 they have been restricted to just six miles or less, and face being shot or arrested by the Israeli navy even within that zone. In the first half of 2014, there were at least 177 incidents of naval fire against fishermen - nearly as many as in all of 2013.

With most of the fish at least nine NM out at sea, fishermen have already been struggling to make a living and now 90 percent of them need international aid. Oxfam is working to support fishermen with equipment and technical advice.

"Before this military operation started, the situation was already very bad," says Sabri. "My old boat and fishing nets were confiscated by the Israeli navy in 2012. So I had to borrow money from others to buy new ones. Six nautical miles is not enough at all to have fair quantities of fish. All of this has had a great impact on our economic situation."

In early July, the government of Israel announced the fishing zone will be further restricted to just three NM from the shore. "It is like a bad joke," says Sabri. "What would you get within three miles? Nothing."

"Before I was still able to get 20 to 40 shekels ($6-12) from fishing every day. Now my boat is gone I have nothing at all. I really do not know what will I do now, or how I will even provide food to my children."

Oxfam condemns violence affecting civilians in both Gaza and southern Israel. To bring real peace and genuine security for all, we need a long-term solution to the problem. As well as an immediate ceasefire, we also want to see an end to the blockade and restrictions that prevent civilians like Sabri from providing for his family.

Image: Damaged fishing boats in Gaza. Fishermen in Gaza are finding it harder than ever to earn a living.

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Blog post written by Arwa Mhanna

Oxfam Communications Officer in Gaza

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