Gaza’s only fisherwoman navigates dangerous waters

FEATURESMIDDLE EASTYESTERDAY

Madleen Kullab’s love for the sea has allowed her to overcome the physical and social challenges of her unusual job.

Although male colleagues initially belittled her, Kullab says she eventually proved herself through the amount of fish that she caught [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

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Gaza City – The world may not know her name, but anyone who has visited Gaza’s seaport will recognise Madleen Kullab.

The daughter of a fisherman, 22-year-old Kullab is the only female fisher in Gaza. It was not her choice to follow her father’s path: As a child, she dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, but the winds do not always blow as the vessels wish.

The first time Kullab took to the sea with her father, she was just six years old. After her father was diagnosed with acute myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord, he lost his ability to work. Kullab, then 13, made the unusual decision to pick up her father’s fishing gear.

“The first time I went fishing by myself, on a motor boat, was frightening … but I picked it up pretty quickly,” Kullab told Al Jazeera, while sitting on a cement step at the edge of Gaza City’s fishing harbour.

‘I’d love to see more women joining me in this career,’ Kullab says [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

As a 13-year-old girl, Kullab faced multiple challenges, including the physical strength needed for the job and the community’s scepticism towards her role in an industry dominated by men.

The best way to combat such criticism, she found, was to showcase her fishing prowess. She learned by heart all the different types of local fish, the best times to cast a line, what kinds of rods and hooks to use, and what types of fish are most affordable for Palestinian families in Gaza: “Sardines, definitely.”

At night, Kullab prepares her nets. In the morning, she pulls her boat out into the water. As the waves slap against its sides, she casts her net into the sea, hoping to make a sufficient catch to feed her six-member family and put some out for sale.

INTERACTIVE: 24 Hours in Gaza

Although male colleagues initially belittled her, Kullab says she eventually proved herself through the amount of fish that she caught: “Some of them said that I must have a supernatural power that helped me,” she said with a wide smile.

Her unique position as Gaza’s only fisherwoman has inspired many journalists, both local and foreign, to cover Kullab’s story. The attention made some of her male colleagues envious in the beginning, she said, but over time she earned their respect.

“They all treat me now as a sister or a daughter,” she said.

Like the rest of Gaza’s 4,000 fishermen, Kullab has struggled to make ends meet in the Israeli-defined six-nautical-mile fishing area to which they are limited [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

Kullab has viewed fishing first as something she was forced into, then as a passion, and now as a profession at which she excels. But amid Israeli-imposed limits on Gaza’s fishing areas, the job has become dangerous, and Kullab is pursuing a secretarial diploma to give herself another option in the territory’s limited job market. She tries her best to balance work and classes, although nothing beats her love for the sea: “I have become part of the sea.”

Like the rest of Gaza’s 4,000 fishermen, Kullab has struggled to make ends meet in the Israeli-defined six-nautical-mile fishing area to which they are limited – a limit that was raised just last year to nine nautical miles, then reduced back to six after less than three months. The result has been a decimation of the local fish population.

“We used to have 4,000 tonnes of fish of different types. They were sufficient for the needs of the Palestinians in Gaza, and we exported the rest to the West Bank,” noted Nizar Ayyash, the head of the Palestinian fishers’ syndicate. “We now have only 1,500 tonnes maximum of fish, and they are barely enough to meet the local market’s needs.”

[The Israelis] would not differentiate between a boat with a man on its deck or a woman. Whoever attempts to come closer will be shot at directly.

Madleen Kullab, fisherwoman

When they stray outside of this zone, fishermen have been fired upon with live ammunition, had their equipment seized or been arrested by Israeli forces. Kullab has experienced such harassment on multiple occasions, noting that her boat has been shot at directly, and she has been screamed at through a loudspeaker by the Israelis in broken Arabic: “Go from here, you girl!” Such incidents have forced her to flee back to shore, even when she was empty-handed.

“They would not differentiate between a boat with a man on its deck or a woman,” Kullab said. “Whoever attempts to come closer will be shot at directly.”

According to the human rights group BTselem, about 95 percent of fishers in Gaza live below the poverty line. Kullab herself earns just 500 shekels ($135) a month, although her income may fluctuate based on weather conditions, Israeli naval policies and the availability of fish.

“It is very disappointing [on the days when you] go home with zero fish,” Kullab said.

Kullab earns just 500 shekels ($135) a month, although her income may fluctuate based on weather conditions, Israeli naval policies and the availability of fish [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

Fuel to operate fishing boats is also quite expensive, and Israel has forbidden the entry of key boat maintenance materials and spare parts, including fibreglass, rendering one of Kullab’s favourite boats useless.

Apart from her work as a fisher, Kullab also offers her services as a tour guide, taking families on short sea tours, especially during the hot summer season.

And although she is looking for a way out of the industry, in the meantime, Kullab says she would love to see other women from Gaza follow in her footsteps as a fisherwoman.

“I’d love to see more women joining me in this career,” she said. “This would help to lift the burden [of social pressure and criticism] from my shoulders.”

Source: Al Jazeera


The innocent imprisoned. Movement restricted. Trade suffocated. Homes demolished. Human rights abuses are rife in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

We do not take a position on issues of statehood.

We stand with those demanding that all sides respect human rights, and that perpetrators of human rights abuses are brought to justice.


Gaza: Operation Protective Edge

 

It began just after four o’clock on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. Four young boys, all cousins from the same family, were playing football on a Gaza beach.

The shelling rained down – killing all four children.

The Israeli military offensive ‘Operation Protective Edge’ launched on 8 July 2014, killing and injuring scores of civilians.

This deadly seven-week battle wreaked further havoc, punishment and devastation on Gaza’s already blockaded population, with Gaza’s children caught in the crossfire.

The human toll of the violence

Operation Protective Edge saw more than 2,000 Palestinian deaths (including more than 500 children) and more than 10,000 people injured.

Thousands fled their homes, or what was left of them. Those that stayed still struggle to access basic services as Gaza’s infrastructure is left in tatters.

During the attacks, British deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, spoke out against Israel’s retaliatory shelling, dubbing it ‘deliberately disproportionate’ and amounting to ‘collective punishment’.

War crimes

During the conflict, family homes were among the targets for airstrikes. Our research shows there was a failure to take necessary precautions to avoid excessive harm to civilians, which is against international humanitarian law.

Several of the attacks directly and deliberately targeted civilians and landmark buildings. In many of the cases we investigated, no prior warning was given to residents to allow them to escape.

Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups also fired thousands of indiscriminate rockets and mortars into civilian areas of Israel, killing six people including one child.

Both sides in this conflict have committed serious human rights violations.

Stop the arms, stop the killing

In 2013, the UK sold £6.3 million-worth of arms to Israel. We know that some arms sold by the UK government have been used to commit human rights violations in Gaza in the past.

By supplying arms – even indirectly –the UK could have helped to facilitate war crimes.

Thank you

Almost 60,000 of you called on the UK government to suspend all arms transfers to Israel. Our action to the UK government was part of a campaign by Amnesty activists around the world to halt sales in their countries and call for a UN arms embargo.

We’re continuing to investigate and document serious human rights violations in this conflict, including unlawful killings and injuries to civilians, and the destruction of civilian property by Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups.

We’re calling on both parties to allow an independent and impartial investigation into these grave violations. Those who have committed war crimes must be held accountable.


  • The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. — Exodus 15:14
  • Mideast Israel Palestinians

    Jews……

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