Another Front In Mideast Conflict: Fishing Rights In The Mediterranean | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Another Front In Mideast Conflict: Fishing Rights In The Mediterranean

Play associated audio

Down at the Gaza city harbor, a little after dawn, merchants wait with horses and carts and scales to weigh the morning's catch of fish.

But when they come in, the fish are small and few. One man scoops his catch up by the handful, tiny fish slipping through his fingers. Even the cats look hungry.

One of the merchants, Mohammad Belah, tells me that a few years ago, it wasn't like this.

"A fisherman used to bring 100 or 200 boxes in the past, but now if he's lucky he brings 10 or 20 boxes," he says.

He adds that people like him are hardly able to earn a living, and that the problem is the limits Israel places on Gaza's fishermen.

The tiny strip of land lies along the Mediterranean Sea, but Israel's navy enforces a blockade on Gazan boats that over the years has gradually shrunk and now forbids sailing more than 3 nautical miles from shore.

Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms being shipped to Gaza, or attacks being launched on Israel by sea. Palestinian officials say the blockade is illegal.

Now, after a month of conflict in Gaza, Israelis and Palestinians are using a cease-fire to try to thrash out a peace deal in Cairo. One of the issues at stake is fishing rights in the Mediterranean.

Like most people in Gaza, Belah is watching the talks closely. He calls the militant group Hamas "the resistance."

"I support the resistance," he says, "because the resistance wants us to be free and to live like other nations, and I will be sad if they come back from Cairo talks without bringing any solution for us."

The U.N. says that in 2000, when the boats could go 12 miles out, there were 10,000 fishermen in Gaza. Last year, it counted a third of that number and reckons it's because there are far fewer fish to catch in the restricted zone.

I travel down to the harbor at Rafah in the south, and meet Rashad Farhat, head of the fisherman's syndicate there. In a storeroom surrounded by fishing nets, the thickly bearded 60-year-old says he's been part of this fishing community since he was 14 — but it has changed.

"Some quit, and some are now agricultural workers, but they don't make money; it's like 5 shekels [about $2] an hour," he says.

Farhat says the fishermen are so desperate that they fish during the summer months when they should let the small fish grow, and this overfishing is depleting stocks.

Some analysts, like Mouin Rabbani from the Institute for Palestine Studies, think there is a movement for the sea — and land — blockades of Gaza to end.

"There seems to be a growing realization internationally, including among Israel's key allies in the U.S. and in Europe, that the status quo of basically Gaza being sealed off from the outside world is untenable," he says.

But the talks in Cairo have been going on almost two weeks, and both sides speak of wide gaps in positions. In one month of conflict, Israel lost 64 soldiers, and says it must maintain security measures.

Down on the Rafah beach, Khalil Najjar, a fisherman, is mending his nets. He says at the moment, the Israeli military actually enforces a 500-meter boundary, and has fired warning shots near fishing boats. I ask: What if the peace talks end up with nothing for the fishermen?

"Then the war should continue," he says. "So what? I don't mind if another 2,000 or 3,000 people die. We need our rights."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Do Touch The Artwork At Prado's Exhibit For The Blind

The renowned Spanish museum has made 3-D copies of some of its most iconic works to allow blind people to feel them.
NPR

How Dangerous Is Powdered Alcohol?

Last month, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved a powdered alcohol product, making both parents and lawmakers nervous. Some states have already banned powdered alcohol. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with Brent Roth of Wired, who made his own powdered concoction and put it to the test.
NPR

With New Look And More Energy, Rick Perry Tries To Move Past 'Oops'

Do the glasses make the man? Four years ago, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential run was derailed by one word — oops. He admits now he wasn't healthy then, and he's trying to make up for it.
NPR

With Live Video Apps Like Periscope, Life Becomes Even Less Private

Video cameras are everywhere — from those in smartphones to security cams. And just when you thought it couldn't get harder to hide, live-streaming video apps are raising new questions about privacy.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.