The Tunnels


A Palestinian citizen getting a sheep through a tunnel (NPR, AFP/Getty Images)

A Palestinian citizen getting a sheep through a tunnel (NPR, AFP/Getty Images)

The Tunnels Between Gaza And Egypt

Many tunnels that are leading to the besieged Gaza Strip have been constructed under the ground of the Palestinian Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza. The existence of these tunnels has raised alarm among the Israelis, who in the last war on Gaza failed to destroy them despite delivering hundreds of bombs in the Rafah area.

Palestinians are forced to use these tunnels as the last resort to break the strict Israeli siege on Gaza. Tunnels are still able to provide Gaza with relief materials, livestock and the basic requirements of the inhabitants of Gaza, such as gas, rice, sugar and even goats and cows.

It is believed that there are about 1000 tunnels under the ground and only a few have been destroyed because of the Israeli heavy shelling between Gaza and Egypt. The deepest point of drilling under the ground is around 27m and the length of such tunnels is sometimes around 900-1000 under the earth’s surface.

We have to mention that Gaza is suffering from a rising unemployment since Israel tightened its blockade on the territory in 2007 trying to weaken the Palestinian rulers of the Hamas government. Goods are scarce in Gaza markets because of Israeli restrictions on Gaza and the strict control of what Palestinians can import and what they can’t. However, through the underground tunnels Palestinians can transfer all types of goods including fuel and spare parts for cars, computers and clothing.

Some of the owners of these tunnels told us that its number has increased to about 1000 tunnels and they are staffed by between 20 and 25 workers in the Palestinian gray economy struggling to continue. Some owners of these tunnels added that Hamas imposed taxes on the trade through tunnels.

The construction of tunnels is not cheap: the cost of digging a tunnel of around 500 meters long is between USD 60.000 – USD 90.000, while the cost of a tunnel of 1.000 meters of length with additional safety measures can be up to USD 150.000. The possibility of danger in these tunnels is evident. Palestinian officials say that only this year 45 workers died under the tunnels because of accidents.

Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, ending the control of the Fatah faction of President Mahmud Abbas, and adopted the sector of tunnels as a means of challenging the Israeli siege. It is known that Hamas blamed the Egyptian security forces, under Israeli and USA pressure, of the collapse of the tunnels.

Tunnels are by now the only way to break the siege on Gaza. They provide for the simplest human needs helping to overcome the crisis and allowing life to continue in the Strip.

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To know more about the tunnels, check this podcast from NPR broadcasted before Operation Cast Lead started:

Smugglers’ Tunnels In Gaza Strip Booming (NPR, 08-12-2008)

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