Palestinians find respite from siege at Gaza’s ancient port

By Rasha Abou Jalal

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s ancient port is a haven for locals wishing to escape the problems of their everyday lives and a suitable venue for some fun and entertainment. However, some people also consider it a good place to earn their living, as poverty and unemployment in Palestinian society have taken a toll.

Gaza Port 1-Wissam Nassar

The port of Gaza is historically one of the most important ports of Palestine, and it has been mentioned in several ancient historical texts. This port had a central location for commercial caravan routes in the ancient world, and today it serves as a form of respite for Palestinians suffering under siege and an economic crisis.

The new port of Gaza was established over the ruins of the old port. According to the director of Gaza’s Syndicate of Fishing, Nizar Ayash, the renewal and expansion of the port started in 1996 upon a decision issued by the late President Yasser Arafat, to promote the fishing profession and fish production.

Gaza Port 2-Wissam Nassar

Ayash told Al-Monitor that the port has been reserved for fishermen since its establishment. However, the government took advantage of the wide spaces around the quay and turned them into a public park.

Since there is no entrance fee and strollers are allowed in the port, dozens of families frequent the area. Samaher, a 37-year-old mother of four boys, said the place is a haven for the poor of Gaza, who cannot afford to pay for fun.

“We have been living under the continuous Israeli occupation for many years, and it has had disastrous effects on our social and economic lives. Despite this, we are people who love life,” she told Al-Monitor.

Playing with her children on the port’s sandy beach, Samaher said, “These kids have the right to live a happy childhood. What have they done to deserve the setbacks of the war and Israeli blockade?”

Nearby, a large family of around 20 men, women and children were sitting facing the fishermen’s boats. The women sat in a circle deep in conversation.

Gaza Port 3-Wissam Nassar

Mohammad Sukar, 42, said that he takes his parents, brothers and their families to the Gaza port periodically to escape the congestion in Al-Shati Camp, in western Gaza, where the family lives.

“The constant power cuts in our homes, which last for more than eight hours a day, push us to spend time here. Our houses have become unlivable due to their extreme closeness to one another and to the suffocating summer heat,” he told Al-Monitor.

A different Mohammad and Mariam, a newly engaged couple, sat on wooden chairs trying to enjoy their engagement by visiting recreational places in Gaza.

Mohammad told Al-Monitor, “This is the seventh time we have visited Gaza port. There aren’t many entertaining places we can go, so we come here to watch the sea and the boats. Sometimes we rent out a boat and sail away, and other times, we sit on the cape to watch the skilled anglers who gather there.”

Mariam interrupted him, and while holding his hand and smiling, she said, “Perhaps I do not care much about new things because I got used to the boredom in Gaza, but I just want Mohammad and me to be together, wherever that may be.”

Gaza Port 4-Wissam Nassar

Assem Mahmoud, 23, who was busy preparing his fishing rod, said, “Because it is very hard to find a job, I had to search for something to fill the void in my life.”

Mahmoud, who graduated from university about a year ago, said his love for fishing comes from his father and uncles who were fishermen.

But they have recently decided to leave the business because of repeated Israeli aggression against them. According to Ayash, the Gaza port basin contains about 400 small fishing boats, as well as 80 large boats used for lighting the port and for trawling.

He said that the fishermen here were exposed to severe and continuous Israeli violations under the pretext of surpassing the limit of 3 nautical miles. Beyond the 3-mile limit, they get shot at by Israeli gunboats.

Under the Oslo Accord signed between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Palestinian fishermen are allowed to fish out to a distance of 12 nautical miles, but Israel has forcefully restricted that limit to between 3 and 6 miles, crippling Gaza’s fishing industry.

Ayash said, “During the last three days, Israeli forces have arrested 11 fishermen on the grounds that they were going beyond the set limit. They took them, with their boats, to an interrogation center. The fishermen were subsequently released, without their boats.”

So many people come to the port to relax that dozens of vendors have set up, selling cookies, nuts, corn and grilled potatoes. Abu Nabil, 58, comes to the port with his son to sell grilled corn. He cooks and salts the corn and then his 7-year-old son puts the corn in a metal pot and tries to sell it to visitors, amid fierce competition with other vendors. “The lack of financial resources makes me come to this place from sunrise to sunset to try to make a little money and provide for my family," Abu Nabil said. His son Saeed, who still has the innocence of childhood despite his difficult job, expressed his displeasure about his work. He told Al-Monitor, “I wish I could join the rest of the children and play with yellow sand, but my dad would definitely tell me off if I did.”

Gaza Port 5-Wissam Nassar

Beggars are also present in the port to try to get some money from passersby. Fatina, 16, whose face is mostly covered by a black veil, said that she goes regularly to the port to beg for money “although the people here do not have much, but the large numbers of people here give me hope of getting some money.”

The Gaza port is full of relics and symbols of past events. On one side of the port’s beach, there are two ships covered with rust, which grabs the attention of visitors who take pictures beside them.

Ayash explained that the first ship was the tourist boat Dolphin, which was built in 2000 and sailed a few summers before it was abandoned. The Israeli navy opened fire at sea on multiple occasions and hit it more than once, according to Ayash. The second ship, Ayash said, is the Jandal, and it belonged to Arafat. This ship was bombed and irreparably damaged by the occupation’s navy.

A monument built by the Gaza government three years ago stands in the middle of the port, in memory of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla assault carried out by the Israeli navy against the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010. The assault killed 10 Turkish activists. Every year on this date, citizens go to the port to throw roses in the water to express their thanks and gratitude to those who died to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

On May 30, the port of Gaza saw the gathering of thousands of Palestinians who came to watch the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup game between the national team and the Philippines in the Maldives. The game was broadcast on large screens, and it was followed by major celebrations when the Palestinian team won 1-0, qualifying for the Asian Cup in Australia in January.

Rasha Abou Jalal is a writer and freelance journalist from Gaza specializing in political news and humanitarian and social issues linked to current events.

All photos taken at the port in Gaza City, May 29, 2014, by Wissam Nassar

Source: Al Monitor

Tiny URL for this post: