GAZA, Palestinian Territories — In response to economic blockades and shortage of resources the people of Gaza developed a unique tunnel economy. This alternate economy has long been a lifeline for the people of Gaza.
Approximately 60 percent of Gazan residents are food insecure, 95 percent of local water is not safe to consume and unemployment continues to rise above 30 percent.
Although Gaza’s tunnel economy is not new – the Rafah underground has been in existence since 1982 – most of the tunnel systems arose after economic blockades by Israel in 2007.
Israel responded with these blockades after Hamas was elected to government. Hamas is a terrorist organization, and the Egyptian High Courts declared their terrorist status in March 2014.
The blockades were intended to reduce terrorist activity and successfully limited the flow of military resources and financial support for Hamas.
According to the Middle East Monitor, “Israel maintains that the blockade is necessary to prevent rocket attacks on its cities, as the blockade prevents Hamas from obtaining weaponry.”
Some of the tunnels that have resulted from this blockade have been used to store Hamas’s missiles and other weapons, and The Israeli Defense Force refers to these tunnels as ‘lower Gaza.’
The economic blockade included, among many other items, basic essentials such as food, clothing, fuel and motor vehicles.
The land and sea blockade led to the construction of tunnels to import medicines, food, building materials and miscellaneous consumer goods. These tunnels, of which there are hundreds, travel from Gaza into Egypt and are clustered around the town of Rafah.
According to What’s News, the voice of the orthodox Jewish community, “In some of those tunnels, Gaza militants received weapons and cash from their patrons abroad, particularly Iran.”
Spring of 2011 reportedly had the lowest amount of imports since the blockade was introduced.
Following the introduction of the blockade in 2007, smuggling tunnels provided approximately 15,000 Gazans with jobs at their peak employment and offered tens of thousands more people with employment connected to the operation of the tunnels, such as truck drivers and engineers. Many people’s needs were also met by supplying the construction materials necessary to build the tunnels.
Tunnel operators reportedly make enough money to maintain their tunnels and support their family. Tunnel workers consist of people from various backgrounds, including students working to make tuition payments.
It is reported that presently, Hamas leaders are in business with tunnel owners by offering protection from various forms of prosecution, which might result from the dangerous work conditions.
Abu Jamil is known by the community for being the first to open a full-time tunnel.
Jamil said he smuggles in everything, from soda, cleaning supplies, cows and even a cobra.
Another operator reported smuggling a lion in for the Gaza zoo through the tunnels. The lion awoke while still in the tunnel and ended up killing one worker.
One journalist reported seeing 300 dripping Styrofoam boxes of fish packed with ice at one tunnel. The common smuggling of livestock is attributed to the lack of agriculture in Gaza, which used to be a heavy farming area. Some tunnels have even been fitted with inclines for this expressed purpose.
The tunnels have been credited with providing Hamas 750 million dollars per year in total revenue, which is one reason why many have been destroyed. Hamas has also reportedly used these tunnels to smuggle in money from exiled leaders and citizens, from countries such as Iran, Syria and Qatar.
According to reports by Egypt, 1,370 tunnels were destroyed this past March. Hundreds were also destroyed following Egypt’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The southern border of Gaza and Egypt reportedly now sees only “a trickle of imports” since destruction of the tunnels by Egypt began.
This past July, Israel reported uncovering 66 entrances to 24 additional tunnels. The destruction of tunnels, which contain weapons, reduced the revenue for Hamas.
Despite the destruction of these tunnels, this alternate economy reportedly accounts for two-thirds of all consumer goods in Gaza. However, economic conditions are still poor.
Shortages of building materials have also stopped several construction projects in Gaza, and as shortages of resources increase prices continue to rise as well. The cost of bread has risen by 11 percent, cooking gas by 20 percent and rice by 33 percent.
”We hope the border will open and we can bring what we want legally, but now there are no lights in the street and there is no hope,” said Masrool Ramadan of Abu Musa Electronics.
– Christopher Kolezynski