The Palestine Entries: Fishing boats and bullet holes

// Entry #29

On the evening of 24 June 2011, I interviewed a fisherman about his experiences attempting to catch fish within the 3-kilometer zone enforced by the Israeli Navy. He detailed his daily routine and recounted the many ordeals he and his family have faced since the siege on Gaza began in 2006, including the times when his sons were shot and when his nephew’s ship capsized.

Two weeks later, I met with his family members at the Mina, Gaza’s main port, and spoke with them and other fishermen to learn about their experiences as well.

Upon reaching the Mina, I came across three fishermen carrying their catch to the fish market. Fishermen in Gaza set sail well before sunrise with the hopes of catching enough fish to sell at the market. In effect, they hold two jobs. First, the fishermen must catch the fish, then they must sell it in time for lunch.

This is a boat just like the one these young men use every morning. Note the simplicity of the boat: a wooden frame with plastic trim and a motor.

Next, I met Bakr, brother to the fisherman I spoke with weeks ago. He pulled out two small plastic bags. One was filled halfway with shrimp, the other filled with a pink fish. He pulled out a handful of shrimp and explained that today’s catch is small because it isn’t for sale. He only caught enough to feed his family for the day.

Bakr had much to say about the siege of Gaza, noting especially the detrimental impact it has on his ability to earn money for his family. There is too little fish to catch within the 3-kilometer zone he is allowed to sail in and his earnings most days aren’t enough to feed his family and purchase gasoline to power the motor on his boat. Asked what he attributes this siege to, he blames it on the misguided perception of Palestinians as terrorists and proponents of hatred towards Jews. Of course, he said, this is all wrong. He just wants to live a peaceful life.

Bakr directed me to one of his sons, Allam, age 12, whom I had previously written about. This was my first time meeting Allam and seeing the wounds he suffered when the Israeli Navy fired on his boat two months ago. His brothers and cousins lifted his shirt and showed me the bullet wound. His brother Yasser, age 18, was hit in roughly the same area of his gut. Both returned to their jobs as fishermen as soon as their injuries healed, ignoring the risk of injury and possibly even death.

The entourage of family members and fellow fishermen led me to a nearby boat that had also been shot at. According to every fishermen I’ve spoken to, the Israeli Navy regularly targets the motors of these small fishing boats. Destroying the motors leaves the fishermen unable to return to shore immediately, risking further attack and wasting time before a rescue boat arrives to transport them to shore. Motors cost at least $5,000 to replace and once one is destroyed, the owner fisherman is forced to borrow large sums of money to purchase a replacement.

Bakr’s sons emphasized that even metal can’t withstand the force of the bullet. Imagine a human body.

After inspecting and photographing the motor, we moved toward the front of the boat and peered into interior of the vessel. The white dots are all bullet entrance holes. This particular boat was pulled to shore before it could sink but because the holes in the hull of the boat that have yet to be patched, this boat cannot be used for work and its owners have been forced to share boats with others.

This is a view of the boat’s underbody. The damage to the boat’s body and frame is well below water level.

Together, we toured rows of similarly damaged fishing boats while Bakr’s sons and nephews shared stories of frightening experiences while out at sea. One son’s boat was captured by the Israeli Navy and all of its occupants were transferred to an Israeli prison miles from the Gaza Strip, also along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The boat was left floating in the open water until a relative’s crew helped pull it back to shore. As for the imprisoned fishermen, most of them under the age of 18, they were held for a night before being released at the border the following day.

Another story: one of Bakr’s nephews jumped from his boat when it came under attack by an Israeli gunship. The boat eventually capsized and the entire crew had to be rescued, consequently disrupting their work and the work of others.

These stories came in bunches, and as the group of young men shared their near-death experiences, we walked to a boat that had deliberately been set on fire while out at sea. It now sits among a collection of other unusable boats. This crew was rescued and taken to shore by a neighboring boat as well.

Even the little ones had stories of their own, stories that we would expect to hear only in war novels.

I wondered why children would even be allowed near the boats and Bakr gave me a straight answer. These children can’t be anywhere else. They can’t be in school because they need to help earn money for the family. There is a system: fathers grow old and bring their children on board. The sons do the fishing and any necessary manual labor, the father does the directing, and together they sell the fish. Eventually the sons also grow old, and they too must hire their own sons. There is no alternative occupation for these individuals and by the time the father requires an extra hand on board his fishing boat, his children have no time to complete or even begin schooling.

Interestingly enough, education is highly stressed in the Palestinian territories, and even though children like these oftentimes miss out on the chance to go to school, almost all of them are literate. As a matter of fact, the literacy rate in the Gaza Strip is quite high, topping at 94%.

My expedition through the Mina eventually came to a close and I had to bid farewell to the kind fishermen who let me inspect their boats and hear their stories. There is something very inspiring about the resiliency and bravery of these fishermen who desire nothing more than enough bread to sustain their families. The fact that such good-intentioned and nonthreatening human beings are targeted with rifles and water cannons is a crime that the world cannot overlook. There is something very wrong with this series of pictures and experiences.

Sami Kishawi

There are 3 comments

  1. Sean Morris

    What a lot of simplistic twaddle – designed to gain sympathy for one side of an argument that involves two people. Treat your readers with respect and don’t write such simplistic nonsense! Ask the fishermen whether there was ever any restriction on their activities before they started gun running !

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