Spanish fishermen stage protests over artificial reef, latest move in an escalating diplomatic row over the territory.
Recently, two Gibraltarian fishing boats were out at sea catching and then tagging tuna for scientific research. The sun was shining. The water was blue. Everything was going swimmingly until a Guardia Civil (Spain’s paramilitary police force) speedboat repeatedly rammed one of the fishing boats while trying to board it.
One fisherman recorded the incident on camera, and it is clear from the video that the Spanish behaved recklessly and irresponsibly. Thankfully, nobody was hurt during this recent incident, but it is only a matter of time before someone gets killed or seriously injured from Spain’s cavalier behaviour.
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Spain has a long history of harassment against Gibraltarians, but the situation has gotten worse in the past few years. Fighting scandal after scandal the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has tried to distract his citizens from the government’s economic and political woes with unfounded claims to Gibraltar and weekly harassment of its people.
Gibraltar is not a colony
Gibraltar, commonly referred to simply as “the Rock”, is a rocky headland on the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula that covers just 7sq km. It is a British Overseas Territory and enjoys self-government in all areas but defence and foreign affairs, which is the responsibility of the UK.
Its 30,000 inhabitants, the overwhelming majority of whom are British citizens, enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world. They also have no wish to be part of Spain – as proven by two referendums in 1967 and 2002.
Gibraltar’s modern name owes itself to its original Arabic name Jabal Tariq, or mountain of Tariq, after Tariq Bin Ziyad. Tariq ibn Ziyad was the Syrian-born leader who led the first Umayyad Caliphate invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711. Spain later conquered Gibraltar from the Moors in 1462.
In 1704, as part of the War of the Spanish Succession, Gibraltar was captured by a combined British, Dutch, and Catalan force. The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which brought the war to a close, stipulated that Gibraltar is to be given to the British “to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right forever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever”.
Today, Spain lays claim to the Rock. The British government says it us up to the Gibraltarian people to decide how and by whom they wish to owe their allegiance.
Spain takes an anachronistic colonial position stating that Gibraltar belongs to Spain and that Madrid’s control over the Rock’s land and water is more important than the wishes of the people living there.
A campaign of harassment
The low point of Spain’s harassment of Gibraltar was during the time of Francisco Franco’s rule, when, from 1969 to 1982, he closed the land border and effectively blockaded the Rock.
... even with all the diversity, the 30,000 inhabitants have one thing in common: They are British, and they have chosen to remain British. As Spanish elections approach next month, expect more harassment and belligerence from the Rajoy government.
In recent years, especially under the scandal-stricken Rajoy government, things have gotten worse. The Guardia Civil regularly harasses Gibraltarian fishing boats and pleasure craft operating inside Gibraltar’s waters.
Spanish government vessels unlawfully entered Gibraltar’s waters several hundred times in recent years. In 2013, Spanish law enforcement authorities even fired gunshots at a Gibraltarian jet skier – thankfully, they were poor shots and missed.
These border queues might be a mere inconvenience for Gibraltarians and tourists, but they cause serious harm to the livelihoods of the 7,000 Spanish who work on the Rock each day because there are so few employment opportunities in the local countryside.
Both are sizable cities much larger than Gibraltar in both size and population. Both cities are located in North Africa in the same way Gibraltar is located on the Iberian Peninsula.
They are legally part of Spain, and Ceuta and Melilla are the only two EU cities located in mainland Africa. They are also part of the Schengen agreement and the eurozone.
In addition to Ceuta and Melilla, Spain also controls three smaller areas called the Plazas de Soberania (Places of Sovereignty) in, or just off the coast of, North Africa. Of course, Morocco has long contested Spain’s claims to these territories.
Today, Gibraltar is the melting pot of cultures, religions, and languages one would expect from one of the world’s most important shipping ports.
Catholic and Protestant churches, a synagogue, and a mosque are located within walking distance of each other.
Even though Gibraltar is predominately Catholic, the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world located in a non-Muslim country.
But even with all the diversity, the 30,000 inhabitants have one thing in common: They are British, and they have chosen to remain British. As Spanish elections approach next month, expect more harassment and belligerence from the Rajoy government.
Spain should let the Gibraltarians live in peace and stop its bullying before somebody pays the ultimate price for Rajoy’s jingoism.
Luke Coffey is a research fellow specialising in transatlantic and Eurasian security at a Washington DC-based think-tank. He previously served as a special adviser to the British defence secretary and was a commissioned officer in the United States Army.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.