Palestinian girl makes waves as a fisherwoman in Gaza

For one Palestinian girl in Gaza, traditional gender roles matter less than feeding her family – made possible by becoming a fisherwoman.

Daniel Estrin
Madeline Kolab is Gaza’s only full-time fisherwoman.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Every morning as the sun casts its first rays across the Mediterranean waves, scores of Palestinian fishermen cast their lines and hunt for fish. So does one fisherwoman.

Sixteen-year-old Madeline Kolab, in modest garb with a head scarf, stands tall atop a flat blue raft and digs her long paddle into the rocky sea as she heads out to collect a net she set the day before. This is easier said than done in a place like Gaza, where Palestinian society abides by traditional gender roles and the governing Islamist group Hamas dictates how women should behave in public.

“Our traditions here say that fishing is only for men,” Madeline says. She says she invites her girlfriends to join her, but their families won’t let them. A fisherman nearby yells that he’d be ashamed if his daughter went fishing.

Madeline shrugs. “I don’t care about what people say. I only care about feeding my family,” she says. The fish and crabs she catches are too small to sell. Instead, her family eats whatever she catches. Her father, a veteran fisherman, became disabled, so she quit school after ninth grade to take over the job.

Fishing in Gaza is risky. The Israeli navy allows boats only a few miles offshore, to prevent weapons smuggling and attacks from the sea. A young fisherman on the shore grins when he says that Madeline can dive deeper in the sea than any of the men can. The old-timers on the beach may not like it, but Gaza’s only full-time fisherwoman is making waves.

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