30 July 2010 | ISM Gaza
“I call to the whole world to treat us like everybody else, to break the blockade of the sea and of the whole Gaza Strip, so that people will be able to make a living from the sea again”, states the happy winner of the first Gaza boat race, Jamal Baker.
On the 26th July 2010, the race took place near the port of Gaza city, with ten boats participating. The boats sped through three laps, always staying near the coastline from where a cheering crowd followed the action.
It was a symbolic sign of resistance against the siege, which has been imposed on Gaza since 2007. The livelihood of the fishermen especially has been deeply affected by the siege, since they are only allowed to fish within three mile range of the shore. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights this means that they are unable to catch enough fish to earn the income they need to nourish their families. It has also left the narrow area along the coastline heavily over-fished.
But the life of Gazan fishermen has not only become unbearably hard, but also very dangerous. Israeli gunboats shoot at fishermen on a regular basis while they are trying to do their daily work on the sea.
Beyond that, the naval blockade is affecting the quality of the life of all people in Gaza, who are already suffer immensely under the situation. Yet still, “people here love the life”, Mustafa Alkabarity, the organizer of the event, told us. “They want to go sailing, fishing, or surfing. But the problem here in Gaza is that we can’t import any equipment – even surfboards are a security problem for the Israeli side.” And it’s not only surfboards that apparently jeopardize Israel’s state security. Sewage pumps are also prevented from entering Gaza; this has led to serious pollution of the sea.
Nonetheless, the people of Gaza haven’t given up on their dreams, as they demonstrated by conducting this boat race against all the odds. Baker had spent five days training on the sea, and since his victory, his ambition to take the race on to bigger things is clear: “I hope that we are able to compete with other countries, and that also European countries would join the race. We have the ability for that”, he affirms.
The jubilation of the crowd as Baker and his first mate were hoisted on the shoulders of some ecstatic supporters exemplified the enthusiasm for maritime culture that exists here in Gaza. The know-how and talent of the sailors was self-evident, but in their case having the ability is not enough.
What the people of Gaza essentially need is the basic right of free access to their national waters, so that the next race can be even more than a symbolic act of defiance.