By Mohammed Salem
Growing up in Gaza City, I used to go to the sea with my family in the summer time, escaping the heat of Sheikh Rudwan neighborhood where we lived.
The sea has always been our refuge from the difficult day-to-day life in the Gaza Strip. Like many youths in Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, I rarely left my town before I joined Reuters. A visit to the beach, a swim in the sea or a picnic with my friends was the best form of enjoyment we could have.
After I became a photographer I discovered many new faces to life next to the sea. I took notice of those whose lives were dependent on fishing and the limitations imposed by Israel that they needed to cope with. I have joined fishermen on their trips to the sea, and spent many hours with them. I saw their dismay when they lost a catch, and their disappointment when they faced an empty net after a long journey. I was also witness to their joy when they made good catches on lucky days. I recall one time I saw the most sincere smiles I have ever seen on the faces of some fishermen returning from a successful expedition.
I also recall some painful memories from the sea. Before Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 large areas along the beach were off limits because of the Jewish settlements. Several times I covered confrontations between the Palestinian residents of these areas and Israeli forces.
The joy of these residents after Israel pulled out was unforgettable. People have flocked in masses to the beaches as if to make up for years of restrictions.