How I became Gaza’s first and only fisherwoman
By Madeleen Kolab
My father was a fisherman and from a very young age I used to go out to sea with him every morning.
With every day that passed, I got more and more attached to the sea. I became my father’s helper and learnt how to run the boat on my own. This is how I learnt how to become a fisherwoman.
At thirteen, my life changed and my love for the sea was transformed from a hobby and a passion to a career full of responsibility. My father got sick and was not able to fish anymore. The sea was the only source of our livelihood. My dad’s fishing paddle boat was very small We couldn’t take it out further than 1 kilometer into the sea, so it was very hard to make a living from it.
I had to carry on fishing as I was the eldest daughter, and my brothers were very young.
I really struggled in the beginning as it was a huge responsibility to be totally in charge of the boat, but we needed money badly to survive and I had to endanger my life so that we could live!
All this forced me to conquer my fears and go to sea.
I faced many dangers when it was windy and when the sea was rough. It was tough being in that boat during the freezing cold winters and the burning hot summers. And because I was the first female in Gaza to fish and run a boat, I had a really hard time to be accepted by a society that thought I was different and untraditional. As a result of the Israeli blockade there was a shortage of lots of products and many other problems. I had to take on the responsibility of my family. I was very scared, but I could not admit this to anyone. My father could not help me nor could my young siblings. Without my help my family would have become hungry and homeless.
I continued studying at school to improve my knowledge and my expertise. Finally in 2011 I got a break. I received a grant from The Welfare Association which provided me with a brand-new boat with an engine.
It was the happiest moment of my life. I felt like a little child who had just received the biggest gift ever!
I went off to sea in my new boat but because of the Israeli blockade on fishing in Gaza, fishermen were not allowed to go further than 3 nautical miles from shore and that made our lives difficult.
I faced new challenges and dangers from Israeli patrol ships. They often directly attacked my boat. They stole my fishing nets more than once. the thing was that each time they attacked me, I would get a little stronger. I never gave up.
My journey as a fisherwoman continues to this day, Fish is scarce near the shore and 3 nautical miles where fishing is allowed is not enough for all Gaza fishermen to get enough fish for their families. Like them I wasn’t able to fulfil my family’s needs too on many days I
That’s why in 2013, I took out a loan from the Bank of Palestine for £15,000 so I could buy a tourist boat to supplement the family income. Unfortunately, two years later the economy was so bad that I couldn’t handle all my family’s expenditure as well as the repayments of the loan.
2016 was my worst year yet. That was the year the big Israeli ships illegally confiscated my fishing engine boat, and all my fishing gear that was kept on the boat. At that time, I felt really low. I didn’t know what to do. Buying a new fishing boat would cost a lot of money and I couldn’t afford that, especially now that I was already in debt to the bank. I felt so exhausted. Then I thought that if I was to give up, all the hard work of these past years would have been in vain and my family would certainly become homeless now.
I decided to rent a new motor to keep the tourist boat running and carried on working, but it was tough, and I didn’t make much money at all. It became very hard for me to keep up with my loan repayments, but I will not give up. I will keep fighting for a better and a happier life.
I did have happy moments. I married my childhood sweetheart, Khader, and now we have two beautiful daughters whom I hope will grow into two strong fisherwomen.
There were some sad times too. I lost my youngest brother who used to work with me. I lost him to a stray bullet from the gun of an Israeli soldier during the “Return Demonstrations” last year.
I will keep going. I will never give up.
I have now set up workshops for women who want to learn how to fish and how to make fishing nets. I have also set up a Women’s Fishing Club for those who work at sea and for the wives of the fishermen too. That way we could all gather our collective power and encourage each other in every possible way.
This is going to be the first Club of its kind for ladies at sea. it is so exciting, because women are sometimes forgotten and neglected within our society So, please, join us, support us, and be part of our nautical family in Gaza.