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Friday, April 6, 2012

Gaza - Occupied Lives: No benzene, no livelihood

Gaza - Occupied Lives: No benzene, no livelihood

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)

Madelene Kollab on the beach of Gaza city

April 4, 2012

Despite Israel’s imposition of illegal restrictions which confine fishers to within 3 nautical miles of the shore, fishing remains one of the major pillars of the Gazan economy. At present there are approximately 8,000 fishers working in the entire Gaza Strip, including 3,500 who are registered by the authorities. Of them, Madelene Kollab, 18, is the only woman. She fishes sardine and squid with a small engined boat, a fishing rod and a net inherited by her father from her grand father, who were also fishers.
 Madelene started fishing when she was 13 years old after her father, Mohamed, suffered from paralysis. As she was the eldest of four children, Madelene was forced to continue her father’s work to ensure the family livelihood. "I used to fish with my father since I was 6 years old. Now, together with my brother Kayed [17], I continue fishing to guarantee my family’s subsistence. However, the difficult situation of the sea due to the Israeli blockade, does not allow us to earn enough to cover our needs. The richest area for fishing is located beyond 3 nautical miles, however the Israelis prohibit us from working there. As a result, we are forced to rely on support from the Ministry of Social Affairs. We [fishers] do not have anything to do with politics or terrorism we just want to make a living from the sea. I wish Israel would allows us to fish freely in our waters."
Madelene Koollab on the beach of Gaza city with her colleagues

Madelene wakes at 6 a.m. every morning to collect the fish caught in her fishing net overnight, then she returns to the sea at 4 p.m. where she fishes until 7 or 8 p.m. Madelene’s work is well-known amongst the other Gazan fishers. On Thursday, 5 April 2012, she will receive an award for the 'Best sea rescuer’ by the Sea Rescuers association. "I love my work," she says, "the sea is my life. It is my only source of income."
In January 2011, due to an unreliable supply and high costs, the authorities in the Gaza Strip stopped importing industrial fuel from Israel. Since then the Gaza Strip has relied on inherently unreliable smuggled fuel from Egypt. In mid February, following a shortage of fuel supplies in Egypt, the Egyptian government decided to halt distribution to the Gaza Strip, creating a fuel crisis, which has affected all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip, including the ability of fishers to work.
Before the fuel crisis started, Madelene used to take her boat everyday from the Northern part of Gaza city to the Port of Gaza. In normal conditions, she used to spend an average of 20-25 litres of benzene a day. When the crisis erupted she was forced to limit her daily travel distances, as the effect of the closure on the fishing activities restricted her ability to afford the prices of benzene. By suppressing the visits to the Port, she managed to reduce her benzene consumption to 10 litres a day. However, for the last 3 weeks she has been unable to afford benzene. "There is a huge shortage of benzene and when you find some, the cost is very high. In the last weeks, the prices have increased from 4 to 8 NIS per litre. Considering that even before the benzene crisis we could barely cover the costs of fishing, now we found ourselves in an extremely difficult situation." As a coping mechanism, Madelene operates her boat by rowing. "Through this system, we cannot go far from the shore where the fish population is minor affecting our fishing ability. For instance, while I use to catch between 3 to 4 kg a day, now I only get 1.5 kg."
The International Covenant of Economic Social and Cultural Rights recognises the right to work.  Palestinian governments in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank are severely endangering this, and other rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living, health and education, while they fail to find a solution to the fuel and benzene crisis. In addition to the obligations contained in the said covenant, Israel, as the Occupying Power is also under an obligation to ensure the maintenance of public order and civil life in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s continuing closure of the Gaza Strip is internationally recognised as a prohibited form of collective punishment.

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