For the first time in 15 years of Israeli blockade, this technician can finally repair the fiber hulls of fishing boats.

Since the seizure of local power in 2007 by the Islamists of Hamas, Israel has imposed a blockade on this Palestinian territory of 2.3 million inhabitants bordered by the Mediterranean, where fishing is one of the main commercial activities.

The blockade led to a reduction in fishing areas and prevented the arrival of new engines for the harbor tubs, and even fiberglass to repair the hulls of the boats.

Israel has established an exhaustive list of products that cannot enter Gaza for fear that they will be used for military purposes by armed factions there, such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad, or by smugglers.

But recently, the UN has favored an agreement allowing the entry of fiberglass and its use in a supervised workshop, located in the port of Gaza and monitored by a camera.

This measure allows local fishermen's boats to be reused, which can again go out at night in search of sardines, prawns, sea bream or red mullet (of the "Sultan Ibrahim" species).

A fishing boat repair workshop, November 29, 2022 in the port of Gaza © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

"I started working in the workshop two weeks ago. For the fishermen and for us technicians, this represents a work opportunity", declares Mohammed, who welcomes a "great success" for this territory in endemic unemployment (about 50%).

That day, the technician is busy repairing a boat, in the middle of a cloud of flies and smells of paint, with a sheet of fiberglass freshly imported into the enclave.

At his side, rows of rusty boats, with holes, unusable, accumulate on the sand, proof of the immensity of the task that awaits him.

According to Manal al-Najjar, in charge of this project at the UN, there are about 300 boats to be repaired.

After months of negotiations between the UN and the Israeli authorities, the agreement between the two parties allows the entry into Gaza of enough fiberglass to repair ten boats at a time.

Repair of a fishing boat with fiberglass, November 29, 2022 in the port of Gaza © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

"It can take between two weeks and a month to repair ten boats", explains Ms. Najjar, pointing out that the first refurbished boats have already been released in the Mediterranean to the delight of fishermen satisfied, according to her, "with the reasonable price (of the repairs) and the high quality of the materials used".

Waiting for the engines

One of the first fishermen chosen for this project, Saleem al-Assi, is delighted with an initiative that will allow him to increase his fleet and his turnover.

"I have boats that haven't been to sea for eight years and need a lot of fibreglass," he says, alongside his tangled nets in the harbour.

Repair of a fishing boat with fiberglass, November 29, 2022 in the port of Gaza © Mohammed ABED / AFP

"There are hundreds of fishermen who have submitted their file for the project, but there is no room to repair all the boats", laments the fisherman who has 50 relatives, active in fishing.

And despite the fact that he was selected for this project, the fisherman will not be able to relaunch his family's nine boats due to the lack of engines.

Manal al-Najjar is aware of this problem, saying that the UN is working on a strategy to bring in engines as part of this project to revive fishing in Gaza.

Observing the calm waters of the Mediterranean, Saleem al-Assi denounces a lack of equipment linked to Israeli restrictions "which are suffocating us".

Repair of a fishing boat with fiberglass, November 29, 2022 in the port of Gaza © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

"I don't know why Israel is blocking the entry of this material: will rockets be fired from the boats?".

© 2022 AFP