The Tunnels of Gaza: Smuggling And Survival

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Pablo Edronkin

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During the recent Israeli offensive on the Gaza strip as retaliation for the rocket attacks against cities in Israel perpetrated by the Hamas terrorist organisation, a surprising number of tunnels were destroyed and a series of agreements between Israel, Egypt and the United States were set in place to fight smuggling into the strip, one of the ways in which people inside the region under blockade get both goods and weapons; however, historic experience dictates that processes against smuggling can be only partially successful at best and the activity cannot be eradicated.

Hamas is a terrorist group that has vowed to destroy Israel since its inception; that intention is clearly expressed in its fundational documents; in that regard, it has worked hard to accomplish that goal but it has also met only limited success because nations cannot be exterminated. Their actions meant that the Gaza strip was set under blockade much like Libya was several years ago, provoking the reaction of people that consider that Gaza and the Warsaw ghetto are comparable. Facts, however, do not favour the validity of those statements: The analogy is not correct for several reasons but there are some common elements nevertheless which are common to any sort of blockade, including the one that was enforced on Iraq from 1991 and until the U.S. invasion under the auspices of the United Nations.

In fact, the blockade on Iraq, signed and accepted by many nations and officials that now blame the whole Gazan thing on Israel and evidently, Egypt, was even more lethal and destructive: The number of Iraquis that suffered and died under that blockade was far higher than any toll in Gaza, so if comparisons are valid, based on numbers what the UN did on Irak resembles more the archetypal ghetto than what is taking place now in the strip. Having established that, there are of course some common elements, as we said: The most frequently seen aspect of such blockades is the surge of the black market. Some tunnels have been used to mount terrorist attacks from Gaza into Israel but since the Israelis have reinforced their own borders and use sophisticated equipment to thwart such attempts, the construction of these tunnels has been concentrated in the Egyptian - Gazan border, mostly around the town of Rafah that is divided among Egypt and Gaza.

Such a comparison is fallacious for several reasons, starting by the fact that the Warsaw ghetto was created to explicitly annihilate Jews, while the Gaza is similar in nature to what the Libyans had to endure in the past until they renounced violence as a basic political method. In other words, despite the tabloid-like comparisons made by nave people or others that are more interested in diluting the historical effect of the Holocaust by establishing false analogies, the effect on the Palestinian population in Gaza has been devastating. Living standards in the strip were very bad before the January 2009 offensive, and despite victory claims made by Hamas' leaders, just looking at images of the aftermath show clearly what the real situation on the field is: The Palestinians of Gaza suffered a terrible ordeal and Hamas was overwhelmed by the Israeli armed forces. It is worth remembering that the blockade on Gaza was not imposed just by the Israelis but several other nations. Aside from political reasons for having such tunnels, this exercise in primitive engineering is the only way in which the civilians of Gaza, who are experiencing an authentic urban survival scenario in their lives, can get something else aside from what humanitarian aid provides.

Something that is only scarcely mentioned is the fact that these tunnels have owners: Not ever single one belongs to Hamas and the people and groups that have economic stakes at those tunnels do get some very interesting money in return as toll for passing goods thorough them. The blockade has been very lucrative for them so far and they are certainly among those that don't want it lifted because if that happens the black market would suffer a terrible blow. Those new agreements on border controls between the Egyptians and he Israelis will not guarantee that smuggling will stop, being that impossible as I have demonstrated in other texts, but they will certainly make things more difficult in Gaza both for getting food, goods and weapons. In other words, attempting to stop the whole smuggling business will not defeat Hamas itself, but it will make things more complicated for it because it will have to provide the basics for more than a million people with lesser means. Besides, Gaza inhabitants can now see after the terrible punishment inflicted by the Israelis, that far from being able to obliterate the Jews as it promised, Hamas is in no condition to actually stop an IDF attack and they will be left to pay the consequences. So many will start to ask themselves whether Hamas truly is able to represent their interests and the only way in which the organisation would be able to keep its grip on Gaza would be to provide solutions - something that indeed will become increasingly hard to achieve - or by using terror to keep the population at bay.

So, since Israel cannot stop the smuggling totally, its only real alternative is to play the discredit game and by a combination of punishing reactions when Hamas begins to attack Israel once rearmed, and by affecting its logistic and political capability inside the strip, convince Gazans that peaceful negotiations and not the violence promised by Hamas is the really sensible alternative to get what they abandoned in 1948, when they choose to fight against Israel instead of respecting the treaty that would have given birth to both nations at the same time. In this regard, perhaps Israel will grant independence to the now quieter West Bank first, leaving Gaza in a horrible waiting line until everyone becomes convinced that neither would annihilate each other and that they will have to live together in a rather confined space. Over time those tunnels that will not be completely neutralised, nor they will serve as the basis for the eradication of the Jewish state that still some people want, and now are being used for smuggling weaponry and goods will become part of the historic tradition of the future Palestinian state that the unfortunate people of Gaza deserve. Maybe even one day Israeli tourists will flood them taking pictures, buying souvenirs and leaving money for the prosperity and cultural growth of both nations.

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