Deputy Head of the British Consulate General in Jerusalem, Mr Benjamin Saoul, visited the Gaza strip today and met with Palestinian fishermen. The visit, led by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was to see first-hand the impact of movement and access restrictions on the livelihoods of Gazan fishermen and farmers, and to highlight the British government’s continuous support to the people of Gaza.
Last month, FCO Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt also met with Gazan farmers during his visit to an agricultural area north of Beit Lahia where he met with struggling Gazan farmers living in the buffer zone adjacent to the border with Israel. Minister Burt reiterated the urgency of easing these restrictions so that Gaza can fulfil its potential as a fundamental part of a future Palestinian state.
After his visit, Mr Benjamin Saoul said:
“There is a tragedy unfolding in Gaza: families who for years have made a living from fishing, today fear for their future.
“My visit to Gaza port sends a message: the fishermen of Gaza have not been forgotten. I told them in person of Britain’s desire to see them able to fish their waters in line with longstanding agreements with Israel. The uncertainty created by the current environment is deeply damaging for the local fishing industry and the 3000 families who depend on it.
“Britain will continue to make the case for the lifting of movement and access restrictions on Gaza’s legitimate economy. It is time to bring an end to the suffering of the people of Gaza, including their fishing community.
The current fishing limit imposed by Israel is set at 6 nautical miles well below the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo Accords in 1993. As a result of the limited fishing zone, Gaza’s fishermen are unable to access areas richer in fish stocks. The shallow waters are over-fished which has depleted the fish stocks and damaged the habitat of young fish.
DFID supports the Norwegian Refugee Council to provide legal aid to Gazan farmers and fishermen in order to allow them to defend their rights to housing, land and property in the Access Restricted Areas. The Department for International Development (DFID) funding to Gaza totals nearly $50 million a year and is set to increase.