The bravest fishermen

December 2013: I spent a night with the Gaza fishing fleet, trying to catch sardines under the guns of the Israeli navy… the words and Gianluca Panella’s stunning pictures were published in the Observer magazine.

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Sometimes the sea calms at sunset: and so it is here in the bottom corner of the eastern Mediterranean. The little fishing boat has been tugging on its anchor rope like an excited puppy. But now, as the waves ease, the deck steadies.

We’re going to catch sardines. It’s an all-night trip. So in the afternoon we’d loaded the boat with £190-worth of diesel, sweaters, lots of cigarettes, water, pitta bread and some nuts and dates. That’s it, I asked? No VHF radio? No safety equipment? No lifejackets?

The fishermen laughed. “Lifejacket? In Gaza, there’s no need for a lifejacket!” That’s the kind of joke that goes down well here. Skipper Abu Nayim, big, sun-dried, smiling, sniffed the wind. “It’s from the north. Good for sardines,” he said. “Yalla! Let’s go.”

Now we are waiting. The generator chatters, powering a string of arc lights hung around the boat. These will dazzle and seduce the fish; in six hours we’ll drop a net to gather them in from under the keel. The crew relax on salt-crusted rugs – eating dates, teasing each other, smoking. Two of the men step up to the foredeck to prostrate themselves and pray.

It’s nearly dark. A couple of Israeli F-16 jets make twin scratches across the glow in the southeast, above the Egyptian border. “They own all the world,” mutters old Abu Nayim. But, for now, this feels like the most peaceful place you could find on this crowded coast, where there live some of the most disputatious people in the planet. There’s not much to tell you that this is a very risky way to catch fish…

Read the rest of the story here

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