Gaza Tunnels: Closing the Lifelines

The closure of smuggling tunnels has led to the increase of prices of goods and merchandise, most notably building materials. Petrol began disappearing from stations. (Photo: Shuaib Abu Jahal)

Gaza – For the past six days, more than one and a half million people in Gaza have been isolated from the outside world. They are prisoners inside the 360 square kilometers that make up the coastal Strip.

They are now under siege by land, sea, and air following the decision of the Egyptian government to close down the Rafah land border crossing, the only official gateway for Gazans to the outside world.

Tunnels used for smuggling along the borders have also been shut down. During six years of blockade, they had been a lifeline, supplying the people of Gaza with their needs.

As Egypt decided to close the crossing, the ruling Hamas movement in Gaza began shutting down the tunnels from its side. The procedure seemed to be an attempt by the movement to ward off suspicions.

It wanted to address the accusations about its direct or indirect responsibility for the bloody attack against the Egyptian army in Sinai last week on Sunday night that killed 16 soldiers and injured many others.

Hamas maintained a heavy security presence. It patrolled the border regions where there are many tunnels to prevent infiltration by any suspect characters.

Official sources told Al-Akhbar that Hamas’s government security agencies initiated an internal inquiry immediately following the attack. They are investigating the possibility that Gaza-based groups might have executed or participated in the attack.

The sources indicated that Hamas has already communicated with the Egyptian government, on both political and security levels. They said they were fully prepared to cooperate.

They promised to follow all the leads related to Gaza, and prosecute anyone suspected of participating in the attack. But the Gaza authority is yet to receive any information from the Egyptian side.

The same sources revealed that Hamas had suggested to the Egyptian government, before and after the latest attack, the creation of a joint Palestinian-Egyptian security force. Its mission would be to control the borders and prevent any incidents that could harm Egypt’s national security.

They said that Hamas believes that certain unnamed sides “will not hesitate to do anything, even committing crimes, to sabotage the relationship between Gaza and Egypt.” Bilateral relations were on the rights track following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the election of current president Mohammed Mursi [member of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Hamas is linked].The sources maintained that Hamas had called on the Egyptian government to close tunnels east of Rafah, in the area close to the border fence between Gaza and Israel. The Gazan authorities have been unable to control these areas, which are used to smuggle drugs and contraband.

Hamas fears that the bloody attack might upset the promise made by Mursi to break the blockade on Gaza. This came after an unprecedented media assault, leading to Egyptian mourners tearing up the Palestinian keffiyeh and flag during the funeral of one the victims.

The closure of smuggling tunnels has led to the increase of prices of goods and merchandise, most notably building materials. Petrol began disappearing from stations.

Fuel was also needed for electricity generators, at a time of a stifling electricity crisis in the Strip that began at the beginning of Ramadan.

Tunnel owners and witnesses on both sides of Rafah, in Palestine and in Egypt, saw large excavators and water pumping trucks, backed by Egyptian army armoured vehicles combing the border strip for the last several days, looking for more tunnels.

The observers maintained that tunnel owners had already fled the area and left their homes at the start of the security campaign. They feared arrest because the Egyptian government has lists of names of discovered tunnel owners and their employees.

Witnesses from the Egyptian section of Rafah said that the campaign did not reach the heavily populated western section of the city yet. But Egyptian forces have already discovered some tunnels in an empty area close to the border crossing at the Saladin Gate.

Trade through the tunnels is estimated at half a billion dollars yearly, according to economy expert Omar Shaaban.

He said that “Gaza became accustomed to the tunnels due to the long blockade. They seemed like permanent crossings. An all-out closure of the tunnels could have a destructive effect on several aspects of life.”

He gave the examples of the construction and fuel sectors. “If the tunnels are closed for more than one week, life in Gaza will stop because it depends on fuel smuggled from Egypt.”

“The lack of building materials will shut down the sites and force around 15 thousand workers out of their jobs and into the army of the unemployed,” said Shaaban.

In parallel with the Egyptian efforts to destroy the tunnels, head of the crossings and borders commission in the Hamas government, Maher Abu-Sabha, maintained that his government is willing to destroy the camps with its own hands if the blockade is completely lifted and the borders are opened for movement of people and goods.

“Gazans made the tunnels because they were trying to protect their livelihoods. If legitimate means are made available above ground, they would not have to go underground and risk their lives in search of a living,” explained Abu-Sabha.

Tunnel owners on both sides said they supported the closure of the tunnels, but on the condition that it is preceded by actions to solve the problem of the rampant unemployment in the north Sinai district and the complete lift of the siege on Gaza.

A tunnel contractor on the Egyptian side rejected the idea that tunnels were to blame for the lawlessness and terrorist attacks taking place in Sinai.

“If the tunnels were responsible for the assaults and murders, then we do not want them. But this is not true,” he told Al-Akhbarduring a phone interview.The contractor, who goes by the name of Abu Salem, wondered “why terrorist operations like this and large-scale attacks did not happen during the reign of [deposed president] Hosni Mubarak?”

“There are internal and external forces, led by Israel, who want to destabilize the security situation in Sinai to embarrass president Mursi and sabotage the relationship with Gaza and Hamas.”

Abu Salem defends the tunnels. He believes they served the people of Sinai as much as they helped the people of Gaza challenge the blockade. He pointed out that they alleviate unemployment and provided thousands of jobs for the citizens of the area, in the absence of the state and lack of development projects in Sinai.

In the same context, a Palestinian tunnel owner, who did not disclose his name, called for opening the Rafah crossing for people and goods and creating a free-trade zone on both sides of the border. It would allow Gazans to live and prosper.

He believes this should have happened before the tunnels that keep Gazans alive in spite of the unjust blockade were closed.

He warned that closing the Rafah crossing and the tunnels will not bring security to anyone. On the contrary, the situation will explode in everyone’s faces.

“Did those who are calling for the return of the blockade on Gaza and its expansion think of the fate of more than one and a half million Palestinians and their reactions?” he wondered. He remembered what happened at the beginning of 2008 when more than two thirds of Gaza’s population invaded the border with Egypt looking for a living.

Despite the closures and the Egyptian army destroying a number of them, tunnel owners and witnesses also told Al-Akhbar that the tunnels went back to work the night before yesterday, especially fuel lines.

Abu Ibrahim, a tunnel owner, said they were informed by the tunnel commission in the Hamas government that tunnels were already back to pumping fuel to Gaza, under the watchful eyes of security forces.

Abu Ahmad, another owner, said that most functioning tunnels are being used to pump fuel. He confirmed that Egyptian security forces did demolish a number of obvious smuggling tunnels.

Witnesses in Gaza said they saw “several fuel trucks arriving in the tunnels region to fill up with fuel.”

Business through the tunnel had actually decreased following Israel’s decision to ease the blockade to a certain extent in the beginning of July 2010. That was due to international pressure following the crime committed by Israeli naval forces against the “Freedom Flotilla” carrying aid to Gaza, killing nine Turkish humanitarian volunteers.

Before the action to close the tunnels, they were used for family visits by those without Palestinian papers who cannot go through the official Rafah crossing.

These are displaced Palestinians whose names were dropped from the records due to being dislocated in 1967 Arab-Israeli war and who could not return to renew their IDs.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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Israel is not looking for Peace



Martyred By Israeli Occupation Attacks

انّا للہ و انّا الیه راجعون

May Allah Subhana wa Ta’ ala grant the Shuhada Jannatul Firdaus, and ease it for their families, loved ones and anyone around them. Allahumma Ameen ya Rabbil Alameen. ‘ Inna Lillahi wa ‘ Inna ‘ Ilayhi Raji’un, Allahu Akbar


* The list of shuhada does not display, the numerous victims of the zionist occupation which are undocumented by media. Nor it displays the victims of the “silent onslaught” due to restrictions of movement, ability to go to hospitals for treatment or life saving surgery, due to lack of medication because of the blockades and so on. For example: The Slow Motion Genocide by the Siege on Gaza only, killed 600 patients since Gaza got under Israeli Siege.

For an overview of All Israeli Massacres Palestinians go here

Neither does this list, display the avoidable mortality. A clear and statistical factual evidence, about the number of deaths due to indecent ruling by occupation forces. For even an occupier has obligations under International Laws, Geneva Convention and the Hague regulations, which it is neglecting. These circumstances, together with deliberate policies of the occupier to neglect and even deny every basic human right, severes avoidable mortality which is totally silenced by media or reporting organisations. While in the Holocaust, 1 on 6 Jewish people directly died of deliberate neglect, so if we believe the facts over 1 million due to avoidable mortality, neither should these same circumstances be ignores which are ongoing in Palestine. For this report displays a avoidable morality of at least 0,5 million Palestinians.

How many more dead corpses of Palestinians does the international community need to see in order to act? How many more cruelties and violations of Human Rights, Regulations and International Law will be needed to intervene so this ongoing warcrime is being stopped once and for all.

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