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A new artificial harbor and airport outside Gaza?

The people of Gaza are getting poorer and are struggling to survive. But the local fishermen have an idea that might help.


It is six o'clock in the morning when fisherman Abdullah al-Hissi tries to get the engine in his fiberglass boat to start today's trip outside the only port in Gaza. The 76 year-old fisherman still feels confident that he will have more luck with him than the iconic Santiago, the hero of Ernest Hemingway's short novel The old man and the sea. Santiago spent 80 days in his boat without catching a single fish.

Dreams of open waters. Gaza fishermen may be similar to Santiago, but while he had the entire Atlantic Ocean as his fishing ground, Abdullah and his friends can't go further than four nautical miles off the coast: This is closely watched by the Israeli Navy.

A few decades ago, fishermen in Gaza were able to go five times as far, hauling hundreds of kilos of bros and sea bass from the depths of the Mediterranean. Today, a typical day catch can be just a few kilos of small sardines.

But the sad conditions for Abdullah and his fishing colleagues could look quite different if there was a port approved by the Israeli government og allowed for fishermen from Gaza to use. "If we had that opportunity, we could have fish for tons of fish. Maybe we could even do export and import and earn far more than we do today, ”says Abdullah.

Israeli Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Yisrael Katz is seeking support for an unexpected proposal that could give Gaza long-awaited access to a proper port and which would still be under Israeli control. According to the proposal, which has an estimated cost limit of $ 534 billion, this potential port facility will cover XNUMX acres, and include power plants and desalination plants. It will all be built on an artificial island about five kilometers from the Gaza coast. The controversial port is thought to be linked to Gaza with a bridge, and is scheduled to be supplemented by a brand new airport at a later date.

There is no need for international forces in this situation – the only thing we want is fish.

“We want to be recognized as worthy people. We do our job, just like fishermen and workers in Jordanian and Egyptian ports. There is no need for international forces in this situation – the only thing we want is fish, ”says Abdullah, an avid supporter of the proposal. "We must find a way to deter Hamas while making life easier for the Palestinians. But this port will remain an airspace if Hamas prefers rockets and underground tunnel networks, ”says Yisrael Katz.

Photo: Ashraf Amra

Negotiations with Hamas. This proposed port is the result of a seven-week conflict that killed hundreds of people during the 2014 war. Hazem Qassem, Hamas spokesman, does not think they would find it appropriate to use such a port for smuggling – as long as the port serves humanitarian purposes. He states that they already have what it takes to provide weapons and other goods to the area.

"The Palestinian Authority (PA) has been secretly working to prevent Hamas from gaining Israeli acceptance of the plans since the talks in Cairo in 2014, because the PA is against any attempt to create a political victory for Hamas," Qassem told Ny. Time.

Egypt was the backer of the Cairo talks and played an important role in ensuring that Hamas did not achieve anything based on their association with the Muslim Brotherhood – which in Egypt is classified as a terrorist organization. The discussion of important demands from Hamas, such as the construction of both the port and the airport in Gaza, was postponed to a later phase of the negotiations. This phase would start a month after the ceasefire came into force. But the Cairo talks, which represented both Israel and Hamas, were not concluded until a short time ago.

Palestinian economist Omar Shaban believes that the idea of ​​a port can be realistic, but only if it includes some form of international oversight. Israel wants security, but this security must also be in the interests of the Palestinians and the entire region. It must replace ever-changing conflicts in the area, which usually occur every two or three years.

Fishermen can walk no more than four nautical miles from Gaza's beaches for the sake of the Israeli Navy.

"This port could help alleviate the siege situation that causes economic stagnation and push Gaza's people to fire missiles carrying the message: End the siege and let us live," says Shaban.

Unjust demands from Israel. On the other hand, political writer Tayseer Moheisen believes that Israel's conditions for discussing the port at all will be unreasonable. And should Hamas or any Palestinian group break these terms, Israel will end the negotiations immediately and the port will be destroyed – which happened to Gaza Airport when Israeli bulldozers leveled it with the ground in 2000.

Moheisen believes that the solution here should be humanitarian and not political, a solution aimed at curbing the current crisis in Gaza. This could at the same time reduce the scope of international criticism against Israel as a result of the humanitarian catastrophe to which Gaza is exposed.

Photo: Ashraf Amra

An uninhabitable region. More than two-thirds of the population of two million in the besieged and depleted Gaza is completely dependent on humanitarian aid.

In 2015, the UN warned that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 if the current economic trend continues. Others fear that the frustration in Gaza will lead to new outbreaks of violence. After Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the country has continued to control Gaza's coastline to Egypt, an area of ​​about 365 square kilometers. Tel Aviv and Cairo have also tightened the blockade of Gaza following the split between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

On August 26, 2014, Egypt-led negotiations led the Palestinians and Israel to enter into a long-term ceasefire. The ceasefire agreement finally included fighting actions, opening of border barriers for commercial operations into Gaza, prisoner exchanges, as well as construction of the port and airport.

After over 30 months of this fragile ceasefire, the people of Gaza are not experiencing any noticeable improvement in their living conditions. According to local statistics, poverty and unemployment now affect 75 and 65 percent of Gaza's population, respectively.

The UN warns that Gaza may become uninhabitable by 2010.

Uncertain progress. Israeli-born Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared in February that stability and economic growth in the West Bank were in Israel's interest, and that there was no reason for civilians in Gaza to continue to live in far worse conditions than people in the West Bank and in the Arab world.

However, Lieberman recently told Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that a new operation in Gaza "will be something quite different from what it has seen before, both in intensity and in our ability to strike at a much more advanced level. We need to get to a point where everyone who forces us to war will have to regret it. We can't hesitate. "

It is not in Israeli interest that full reconciliation be achieved between Gaza and the West Bank.

The UN Middle East envoy, Nikolaj Mladenov, responded to Lieberman's statement by saying that people in Gaza need jobs and hope more than they need ports and airports.

The Israeli parties supporting the construction of a new Gaza port believe it will serve Israel; that it will ensure calm and stable conditions on Israel's southern front. They also believe that it will reduce the chances of an end to the internal Palestinian divide, because Hamas will not push for reconciliation with Fatah when construction work is underway. It is not in Israel's interest that full reconciliation be achieved between Gaza and the West Bank, because a united Palestine would appear to be stronger against Israel.

Gaza girl Iman Saadallah tells Ny Tid that if the new port becomes a reality, she and her friends will "decorate it with painted stones to show Cypriot, Italian and Turkish sailors in the waters outside how colors and life shine from Gaza".

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