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“I risk my life when I go fishing, but what choice do I have?”

Mahmoud Mohammed Jarboa (52), a fisherman
from Beach Camp, Gaza City



Mahmoud Mohammed Jarboa (52) is a
fisherman from Beach Camp, Gaza City, and a father of ten children, seven sons
and three daughters. Mahmoud relies on the income he and his sons make from
fishing to support 21 dependents. For many years, Mahmoud has suffered from the
restrictions placed on access to the Palestinian territorial waters off the
coast of the Gaza Strip.


In the years since 1994, the area in which
Israel allows Palestinian fishermen to fish has been gradually reduced from the
20 nautical miles provided for under the Oslo Accords to 3 nautical miles in
2009 as part of a naval blockade imposed through the use of live fire,
harassment, and unlawful arrests and arbitrary detention.
The severely limited fishing area, combined with a
near total ban on exports, has brought Gaza’s fishing industry to the brink of
collapse, bringing the number of working fishermen from approximately 10,000 in 1999 to less than 3,200 today.


Under the November 2012 ceasefire between the Israeli
and Palestinian authorities, the fishing limit was supposedly extended to six
nautical miles. Fishermen began to sail further out to sea, resulting in
somewhat greater yields of fish. However, attacks against fishermen continued,
even within the previous three mile limit. Between 22 November 2012 and 28 February
2013, there have been 41 shooting incidents, resulting in 4 injuries. In
addition, 42 fishermen have been detained in 11 arrest incidents. Furthermore,
8 boats have been damaged, and 8 boats have been confiscated.


In an online statement on 25 February 2013 the Israeli
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) declared that
fishermen could now access the sea up to six nautical miles offshore, and that
farmers could now access lands in the border area up to 100m from the border
fence. However, both references have since been removed from the statement.[1]


On 21 February 2013, Mahmoud’s son, Abdel
Raziq (16), was fishing with four other men when Israeli forces attacked them
within 3 nautical miles of the Gaza Strip. Abdel Raziq describes the events of
that day: “I got up at 6 in the morning and we sailed out to sea at 7.30. Four
of my friends and relatives –Mustafa, Hanafi, Abdullah, and Mahmoud – were with
me. Just after we had breakfast at around 11 o’clock, two Israeli gunboats
surrounded our boat and began shooting straight away. They did not give any
warning before they started firing. Yelling at us in a mixture of Arabic and
Hebrew, they ordered us to strip off our clothes and jump into the water, but
we refused. We knew they wanted to arrest us and take us to Ashdod in Israel.
The soldiers kept firing in our direction. Some of the bullets struck the side
of the boat, and shrapnel hit me in my right shin. My cousin, Abdullah, was
also injured in his left ankle. We were both in a lot of pain.”


Abdel Raziq Mahmoud Mohammed Jarboa (16), who was
injured in an attack


The injured man’s brother, Mustafa, acted quickly, as
Abdel Raziq explains: “My brother, Mustafa, threw himself towards me and lifted
me up so that the Israeli soldiers could see the blood. He cried out to the
soldiers, “Look at him! He is bleeding!” One of the soldiers started shouting
at another, I think it was the captain. They began arguing, so we took the
chance to turn our boat around and sail away. We were afraid and we wanted to


When the fishermen reached the shore, they immediately
brought the two injured men to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. The doctor who
examined Abdel Raziq advised him that the piece of shrapnel was located between
two arteries in his shin. “He told me that there was a risk he would cut one of
the arteries if he tried to remove the shrapnel. He said it was better to leave
it there, and that it would come out by itself. It has been nearly four weeks,
and the shrapnel is still there. It does not hurt too much, but if there is any
pressure on it, it is painful.”


Abdel Raziq only began fishing with his family around
five months ago, and it was the first time that he was on a boat when it was
attacked by Israeli forces. “I had never experienced this before, but I was not
surprised. I was expecting it to happen someday. My father and brothers have
been attacked many times before. Sometimes, they were forced to jump naked into
the sea in the middle of winter, when it was cold and raining. They have
suffered a lot.”


Abdel Raziq’s older brother, Mohammed (22), was killed
in January 2009 after he was attacked at sea. On 17 January 2009, Israeli
gunboats fired at 3 Palestinian fishermen who were fishing off the coast of the
al-Sudaniya area. His father explains what happened: “Mohammed was 22 years old
when he was killed. He was fishing at sea when Israeli soldiers shot at him. He
was injured in his head and in both of his legs. He lay in hospital for eight
days, but he died on 25 January 2009. Two days before Mohammed died, my wife discovered
that she was pregnant. When the baby was born, we named him Mohammed, after his
older brother who had died. God gives and God takes away.”



Mahmoud with his youngest son, Mohammed, who will
celebrate his 4th birthday in April


Whether the limit is set at 3 or 6 nautical miles
makes little difference to Mahmoud. “It is the same. There is a lot of sand in
those shallow waters. We need to go to 15 or 16 miles at least, where there are
rocks. Many more types of fish live there and lay their eggs. This will benefit
all fishermen in Gaza. At the moment, we are not sure where we can go. The
Israeli soldiers do not apply the limit in a straight line, so you can easily
go beyond it without knowing. When we try to fish, the Israeli soldiers chase
us and shoot at us without warning. One of my sons has been killed and two
others injured. Sometimes we are arrested, detained, and our boats are taken
away for up to two years or more. I have no other source of income, and I have
21 people to feed. I know that I risk my life when I go fishing, but what other
choice do I have?”


Mahmoud believes that the only hope for his family’s
future is for the naval blockade to be lifted. “I need the Israelis to open the
sea so I can go fishing. I hope for my children and grandchildren to have the
life I used to have before the blockade. Then, everything was open – the
borders and the sea – and fishermen could make a good living. People even went
fishing for fun. We used to eat from the fish I had caught. Now, I catch barely
enough to sell for income. My four-month-old granddaughter is sick and needs to
see a doctor, but I cannot afford it. When I look at her, I feel helpless and I
start to cry. I can barely feed my family. I can stand going without food, but
the children cannot.”


Abdel Raziq has not returned to sea since the attack.
“For now, I just go to the port to look after our boat. It has many holes in it
since the shooting, and will cost 600-700 shekels to repair. We cannot afford
to fix it. I will start to fish again when I am fully recovered. I have no
other work, and I love fishing.” But his son’s return to fishing will be a
source of anxiety for Mahmoud. “The only thing we are looking for, besides a
good life, is security. I feel afraid when my sons go fishing. I am afraid
every minute of every day that they are away, I am afraid that I will not see
them again. My hope is for a secure life for every fisherman and for every


Israel’s attacks against Palestinian
fishermen in the Gaza Strip, who do not pose any threat to the security of the
Israeli naval forces, constitute a flagrant violation of international
humanitarian and human rights law.
The fishing exclusion zone, maintained through arbitrary arrests and
attacks, constitutes a measure of collective punishment, which is prohibited
under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The
right to work, including in just and favourable conditions, is provided for
under Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as under
Article 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights (ICESCR). Moreover, Article 11 of the ICESCR recognises "the right
of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family,
including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous
improvement of living conditions."

[1] Nonetheless, the
COGAT Monthly Report for November 2012 still states: “Following operation
"Pillar of Defense" (November 14-21), a ceasefire was agreed upon; as
a part of it and [sic] the fishing area in Gaza was increased from 3 miles to