“I can only give false assurances to my children”

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights – Wednesday, 01 May 2013

      

Today, 1 May 2013, marks the International Labour Day, which commemorates peoples right to work, along with their protection of human rights in the work place. However, as the rest of the world celebrates this day, the situation of fishermen in the Gaza Strip continues to deteriorate.

Jamal Ismail Faris Baker (48) a fisherman from Gaza City with a family of 9, has been fishing for 35 years now and has witnessed the steady decline of the fishing industry in Gaza. Life spiralled out of control for Jamal a few days after the conclusion of Israel’s military operation Pillar Of Defence on the Gaza Strip in November 2012.

Under the November 2012 ceasefire between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, the fishing limit was supposedly extended from three nautical miles to six nautical miles. However, in March 2013, this fishing limit was reduced to the previous three nautical miles.

Jamal relished the opportunity of the extension of the fishing limit to six nautical miles in November 2012, “We were very happy to hear the news that the fishing limit had been increased. We thought this would improve our situation. I borrowed my friend Talal’s fishing boat, so that we could fish in deeper waters.”

However, on the morning of 28 November 2012, Jamal’s boat was attacked and destroyed by an Israeli gunboat, “That day my son Khader (19) and three other fishermen went fishing early in the morning. They went with a group of 4-5 other fishing boats. I was at the shores doing some work and waiting for them to return with the catch. Shortly after they set sail, my phone rang and my son told me that an Israeli gunboat was attacking our boat. I was shocked to hear that. I asked him what was happening there and he told me that they were just around 2 nautical miles from the shore and the Israeli forces were firing bullets at our boat. Khader told me that the motor of the boat was damaged in the firing. Suddenly the call disconnected. I thought that he had been injured in the attack.” Jamal continues to say, “I then called my nephew who was on another one of the fishing boats. He told me that Khader and the other three fishermen had to jump in the seawaters because our boat had been destroyed in the attack. He told me that some fishing boats went to rescue them but he couldn’t see what was happening exactly. I was not concerned about the boat, I was scared about what had happened to my son, as my nephew couldn’t see him. In some more time two fishing boats returned to the shore and they brought the three other fishermen with them. That time I got really worried, as I couldn’t find Khader. I called my nephew again and this time he told me that Khader had been arrested by the Israeli forces.”

Khader spent 4 hours on the Israeli gunboat. Jamal’s anxiousness about his son’s wellbeing knew no bounds during that time, as he explains, “I was so scared that I could not speak. My voice just did not come out of my mouth. During the incident some media persons and other people gathered around me and asked me about what was happening but I could not answer any of them. I was too worried to answer anyone’s questions. I just wanted Khader to come back safely. I thought they were going to take Khader to Ashdod, because that’s what they do to fishermen who get arrested. But after 4-5 hours I saw Khader coming back to the shores with the damaged boat. He was tired and scared because of the incident. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to see him. Luckily he was not injured in the attack.” Jamal wants to know why his boat was attacked, but has not found any satisfactory answers, “Khader and other with him were only fishing. They were not even outside the 3-mile limit. I don’t understand why they were attacked.”

Since that terrible day Jamal or Khader have not been able to fish again, “After Khader returned we inspected the boat. It was completely destroyed and could not be used again. Luckily Talal did not pressure me to pay him for the boat, and he simply asked if Khader and others were ok. But along with the boat I lost all my fishing equipment, including the fishing rods, which cost around 10,000 Jordanian Dinars (approximately USD 14,000). Also I had taken the fuel and bate on credit. That cost around 4,000 shekels (approximately USD 1200). After the attack the creditors demanded the money from me, but I had absolutely nothing to pay them back. I hardly earned NIS 10-15 every day before they attacked the boat. After that day I have not earned a single penny. How can I pay them back? My creditors filed a complaint with the Gaza authorities. Because of the complaint I cannot go fishing now.” The Gaza authorities have blacklisted Jamal and his family from fishing for not being able to pay their debts. Jamal expresses his frustration by saying, “what am I supposed to do now? Should I beg and steal to feed my family.”

After the incident Jamal had to borrow money from his brother to support his family, “I took around 6000 shekels from my brother, but that is not sufficient to feed and take care of 10 people for six months. Khader and I cannot fish anymore and that is the only skill we have, so we cannot work anywhere else too. None of my other children are employed, and 4 of them are still in school. Other than this  I have also taken debts from the markets as I just cant pay them. Today I owe around 10,000 shekels and I don’t know how I am going to pay anyone back.”

Jamal explains his family’s dire situation, I get very angry at my situation. My son Khader is 19 years old. He has friends who wear nice clothes, and eat good food at good places. When he sees this he feels very sad, but he doesn’t ask me for any money because he knows I cant provide anything. If I had something valuable I would have sold it to pay the debts. Also the roof of my house was cracked in the November attacks. When it rains the whole house gets filled with water. I cannot even get that repaired. My younger children ask me for fruits and sweets, but I cannot give them that. I can only give false assurances to my children.”

 

 

Jamal states his frustration for being abandoned by the Gaza authorities, “they do not help me. I get no aid, no food, no money from them. They will not let me work to repay my debts because of the money I owe”. He also goes on to say that, “many fishermen receive help, but to get it you must know someone in power”

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 recognizes "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." 

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