Abdullah al-Najjar is the last boat maker in Gaza.
Fully aware that he plies a vanishing trade, Abdullah, 61, is nonetheless trying to keep it alive in a time-honored way. He is training his son Jamil, 25, so that his skills can be handed on to the next generation.
Abdullah himself began learning how to build boats when he was in his early teens. He was taught how to do so by an uncle.
“Boat making is almost nonexistent in Gaza today,” said Abdullah. “That is because of the high costs involved, the fact that raw materials are scarce and the restrictions placed on fishers.”
Gaza’s maritime traditions have deep roots.
In ancient times, a Greek port known as Antidon was established near present-day Gaza City. Fishing – particularly for tuna, sardines, shrimp and squid – has long been a key source of livelihood for Palestinians living along the coast.
Despite surviving for so long, the traditions are now at grave risk because of Israel’s policies.
The Oslo accords – signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization during the 1990s – allowed Gaza’s fishers to work in a zone that stretched for 20 nautical miles. In reality, Israel has never allowed fishers to venture beyond 15 miles of the coast.
Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000 Israel has reduced the size of the zone repeatedly. The effect has been a sharp fall in the number of Gaza’s fishers – from approximately 10,000 in 2000 to just 3,500 in 2013.
Today Gaza has about 3,700 fishers, only 2,000 of whom go out to sea on a daily basis.
The size of the zone in which fishing is permitted has continued to fluctuate. Israel introduced 20 changes to its demarcation in 2019 alone.
Earlier this month, the Israeli military announced that it was once again reducing the size of the zone. No fishers are allowed to go beyond 10 nautical miles of the coast; in areas south of Gaza’s port, the zone is only six nautical miles.
Israel stated that the reduction was imposed because rockets were being fired and incendiary balloons were being flown from Gaza. Yet Israel did not produce any evidence linking fishers to such actions.
The restrictions on fishers constitute collective punishment, which is illegal under international law.
Fishers have also been repeatedly attacked. The UN monitoring group OCHA has reported that during a two-week period in December, Israel opened fire on fishers off Gaza’s coast at least seven times, sinking one boat.