By Hiyam Noir – Gaza
A Palestinian man receives goods from Egypt through a tunnel, which is digged 35 meters underneath the border in Rafah. The tunnels under Gaza’s border to the Egyptian side are used to bring in a range of items, from weapons to medicine, medical equipment, auto parts, electronic items, cement, cigarettes, shoes and clothing. The operators of the tunnels charge around $200 for a smuggled sack containing assorted items. Smuggling a person each way costs $2.000.
It takes a few days to construct a tunnel, some are connected to other tunnels leading from it, if one is shut down or is falling apart, the others remain operational. The average smuggling tunnel is approximately between three and twenty meters deep, sixty to seventy centimetres wide and 500 meters in length. Various estimations put the number of tunnels operating along the border at Rafah, to at least 100.
The walls of the tunnel is usually covered with wood-paneling, has electrical infra structure, communications gear, and rudimentary elevators transporting the goods. The costs to dig a tunnel is about $50.000.A large portion of the income in recent months are not from weaponry, but from medicine, medical equipment, auto parts, electronic items, cigarettes, shoes, clothing and toys.
After the international border under the 1979 Camp David treaty divided Rafah between Egypt and Gaza, smugglers began to dig in the soft sand to facilitate the transfer of a variety of goods. The excavation of smuggling tunnels in the Rafah area began in 1982, subsequent to the division of the city between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
The tunnels became an economic venture at the time, the value increased as the Israelis tightened its controls around the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian resistance to the occupation increased, the tunnels became a passage of arms and ammunition.
The tunnels can also be frightful and dangerous, walls can fall apart, there are sometimes encounters with venomous snakes and scorpions. One week ago 5 people were killed when a wall fell down in a southern Gaza tunnel.
Since 2007 Gaza has been virtually sealed off from the world. With Gaza strip forced under siege, the Hamas authorities have openly levied a tax on tunnel operators and those who order smuggled goods
The reason for the tunnels is the occupation, the siege and the closed border crossings. Gaza residents cannot travel. Gaza strip residents are cornered in, trapped, there are no work to find in Gaza, the Gaza economy is devastated, over 3.000 factories, shops and public services have been forced to close. The tunnels are the life-nerve, which provide necessarily resources to Gaza strip, without resources there is no chance to survive.
– Hiyam Noir contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.