From Sally FitzHarris
Sir, — Since Jesus allegedly counted fishermen among his close friends, and indeed was not averse to a meal of fresh fish, perhaps your columns are an appropriate place to describe something of the problems faced by Gaza fishermen today.
The fishing industry in Gaza has been virtually wiped out, according to a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. The sardine catch, the main source of revenue, has decreased by 90 per cent since 2008, and some 7000 fishermen have been forced to leave the industry, once one of the most flourishing sectors of the Gaza economy.
Since Operation Cast Lead, the assault on Gaza in 2008-09, Israel has imposed fishing restrictions of three miles from the shore. Adult sardines are found beyond that limit: the resultant over-fishing within a narrow zone depletes new generations of fish and threatens the future sustainability of stock.
Added to this, owing to the Israeli siege (power-supply interruptions, acute fuel shortages, lack of spare parts), between 50 and 80 million litres of untreated and partially treated sewage are pumped into the Mediterranean every day, contaminating fish.
Israeli policy does not just threaten livelihoods but lives also, as the recent report by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) points out. The Israeli navy monitors fishing activity with helicopters and gunboats. Fishermen are shot at, arrested, interrogated, and have their boats and fishing equipment confiscated and destroyed even within the three-mile zone.
Since 23 January 2011, there have been 72 reports of Israeli naval vessels’ opening fire on Palestinian fishermen. Four have been injured, and one lost at sea. Two fishermen were killed in 2010.
Seven fishermen within the past three weeks have been forced to strip and swim in freezing seas towards the Israeli gunboat, where they were hooded, bound, and taken to Ashdod for interrogation. They were within the three-mile zone.
It is hard to describe this wanton destruction of a food source, and deliberate attacks on those plying an innocent trade in an effort to feed their families and sustain a livelihood, as anything other than evil. Will the Christian Churches pass by on the other side?
Perhaps a pilgrimage to the Gazan shores this Easter, to ask the fishermen, as Jesus did, how the catch is going?
Secretary, Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine
87 Priory Grove, London SW8 2PD