Throughout history, the sea was considered the primary outlet for the Gaza Strip. This small coastal enclave has acquired many habits from the sea and developed itself through this maritime resource. Today, even with Israel’s acts of aggression and occupation, the sea is still considered vital for Gazan life.
The fishing trade has always been an important aspect of the economy in Gaza. However, there was a dramatic decrease in production due Israeli-imposed restrictions because of the siege. According to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the number of fishermen has declined from about 10,000 in the year 2000, to only 3,500 in 2013—about 95% of whom receive international aid. Israel unilaterally enforces a three-nautical-mile fishing limit, preventing Palestinians from access to 85% of the maritime areas they are entitled to according to the 1994 Gaza Jericho Agreement. Fishermen are routinely shot at, arrested and have their boats confiscated when they approach that limit.
Besides fishing, the sea provides other jobs, such as making hooks and nets, building boats, and making ice for fish that has been caught to keep it fresh.
During summer, the city is empty because of the unbearable heat, unlike the shore which becomes a vital area for people in their daily life. It even becomes very hard to walk around on the beaches because of the crowds. Here in Gaza, the sea brings all people together. If you visit the beach of Gaza City any day in the summer, you will find all kinds of people there swimming, relaxing, making barbecue, kids riding bicycles, motorbikes racing on the street near the beach, people selling snacks and other businesses.
In winter, fishermen launch their boats and face the cold weather in addition to the Israeli warships. Despite the cold, many people still visit the shore, watching the strong waves colliding with the rocky shore.
I was born and raised in Gaza. For me the sea is so important because this the only place where I can feel free and just have fun. As every other person living here, I cannot get enough of it. Generations have passed on their love of the coast which has shaped the nautical character of the city and its people—especially when it comes to traditions and food. Gaza has many delicious and spicy seafood dishes that represent the taste of this city, such as: zibdiya (shrimps bowl), syadiya, sardine kofta, grilled and smoked fish, and spicy grilled crabs.
Gaza’s land borders, which include many green and open areas, are enforced by the Israeli military as “no-go” zones and remain very dangerous and inaccessible for Palestinians. As the Gaza Strip has few open areas where people can relax, Palestinians are constantly looking for a place where they can feel independent and happy. The shore is this special place. So imagine this city without a sea!
Photos & Text: Basel Yazouri
Editing: Keren Manor, Mareike Lauken
Text Editing: Ryan Rodrick Beiler