In defiance of the Oslo Accord, Israel has consistently repressed Gaza’s fishing industry by restricting access to the sea. On August 16th 2020, the Israeli navy declared that the Gaza Sea would be a closed military zone. As such, it is currently illegal for Gazans to fish off their shores, effectively starving Palestinians living in the already food insecure Gaza Strip. After the August closure, a group of fishermen from Gaza decided a few days later that they would take the chance and go fishing about three miles off the Gaza shore. The Israeli navy began blasting bullets as soon as the group of fishermen had cast their nets. One of the fishermen, Fathi, explained that he, his wife, and children live off fishing so this incident was detrimental.
In 2000, Gaza had a much stronger fishing industry with over 10,000 registered fishermen but that number has since declined to approximately 3000 due to the increased restrictions imposed by Israel. Those remaining fishermen, a majority who live far below the poverty level, find themselves in a tight situation attempting to provide for their own families. Fishing in restricted areas can have serious if not fatal consequences. Boats have been targeted, shot at and sunk, often without warning by Israeli naval forces, despite this being a violation of international law. The Israeli Navy has also seizing Palestinians’ boats and motors.
In late September 2020, the bodies of two brothers were returned to Gaza territory after being murdered at sea by Egyptian naval forces. A third brother who survived the shooting went home empty handed with nothing to sell and nothing to put on the table. Many incidents like this have happened. Oftentimes, fishermen are unaware of the fishing boundaries and only become aware after they are targeted. In 2017, a man by the name of Khadar was sent to jail several times for fishing outside a specified range. The last time the Navy caught him, he was viciously shot in the head. This abusive behavior has been a repetitive story in Gaza for the past 13 years. The residents of Gaza are under the control of the Israeli military. In a report for Mint Press News, author Kathryn Shihadah states, “The very presence of the Israeli military, controlling Palestinians, amounts to de facto occupation.”
Israeli restrictions on Gaza’s fisheries are part of broader limits imposed by Israel. The Karem Abu Salem Crossing from Egypt allows for a limited, inadequate amount of supplies to reach Gaza. The crossing is often closed by Israeli military order.
In 1993 the Oslo Accord was signed. According to Shihadah, “Like the rest of Oslo’s broken promises, the fishing agreement was never honored.” False commitments that the Gaza fishing zone would be expanded up to 20 miles never happened, instead they were allowed to fish within 12 miles. In 2007, the range was reduced to six miles and later to three miles. For Palestinian fishermen who live on as little as $4.60 a day, Israeli reductions in acceptable fishing ranges have left Palestinians without means of survival.
Ramzy Baroud, “‘Dying to Fish’: How Israeli Piracy Destroyed Gaza’s Once Thriving Fishing Industry,” Antiwar.com, September 2, 2020, https://original.antiwar.com/ramzy-baroud/2020/09/01/dying-to-fish-how-israeli-piracy-destroyed-gazas-once-thriving-fishing-industry/; republished by CounterPunch, September 3, 2020, https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/09/03/dying-to-fish-how-israeli-piracy-destroyed-gazas-once-thriving-fishing-industry/.
Kathryn Shihadah, “Israeli Human Rights Group Highlights How Israel Makes Fishing in Gaza Deadly,” Mint Press News, September 14, 2020, https://www.mintpressnews.com/btselem-report-israel-fishing-gaza-deadly/271115/.
Student Researchers: Silvia Morales and Gabbi Cozzolino (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluators: Susan Rahman and Debora Paterniti (Sonoma State University)