The Gaza Strip’s smuggling tunnels are an illegal method which Hamas and the residents of Gaza use to break the Israeli siege on the enclave. The tunnels are employed for smuggling all kinds of material to and from Gaza. This not only harms Egypt’s national security and causes the spread of violence and terrorism in Sinai, but it has also led to the continuation of the Israeli siege of Gaza. The smuggling via the tunnels is one of the causes of repeated Israeli acts of aggression against Gaza.
The avarice and greed of the tunnel owners and the smugglers caused the inhuman aggression against Gaza which continued for 22 days, resulting in the death of 1,400 people and the injury of more than 5,000 others.Hassan Tahsin
The multimillion dollar smuggling trade through the tunnels has greatly damaged the banking sector in Gaza. It has also resulted in the residents of Gaza losing much of their savings and property.
In June 2008, Israel and Hamas reached a truce which was orchestrated by Egypt. An important article in the truce was that Israel would gradually open the commercial tunnels allowing Gaza to bring in goods and fuel. The article made it a condition on the Palestinians to stop the launching of missiles targeting Israeli villages close to the border, such as al-Majdal.
Hamas and the other Palestinian factions were committed to the agreement, albeit unwillingly. They made a solemn pledge to stop launching rockets against Israel, and waited for Israel to increase the amount of commodities entering Gaza, but nothing of the sort happened. Instead, the people of Gaza were surprised to see a resumption of the launching of rockets against Israel. The Palestinian factions denied that they were responsible stressing that they were committed to the truce. It eventually turned out that it was the traders and the owners of the tunnels who were responsible for the rocket attacks. They wanted the tunnels to be closed so that they could sell their smuggled goods at very high prices. If the tunnels remained open, goods would come to Gaza in large quantities and prices would automatically go down as the supply would be greater than the demand.
Smuggling an ‘economic activity’
Israel was looking for any pretext not to honor its commitment stipulated in the peace accord. Hamas was committed to the agreement, but it did not do much to stop the traders who launched missiles against Israel giving Israel an excuse to strike Gaza. This provided Israel with the justification for launching its savage attack on Gaza on 27 December 2008, the date on which the six-month truce expired. The truce was not renewed because Hamas made it a condition that Israel must reopen the tunnels first.
The avarice and greed of the tunnel owners and the smugglers caused the inhuman aggression against Gaza which continued for 22 days, resulting in the death of 1,400 people and the injury of more than 5,000 others.
If some people find it hard to believe that the owners of the tunnels and the smugglers launched missiles against Israel so that the tunnels would not be reopened, they should ask the non-governmental organizations operating in Gaza. The NGOs have confirmed this fact. The matter is actually very simple. Many of the traders, who obtain their goods from the smugglers, were well aware that they might be subject to huge losses if the smuggling tunnels were completely opened. In this case they would be forced to sell their accumulated stock of commodities at prices which were less than their real value.
Smuggling has become the most important economic activity in Gaza, and it has adversely affected banking activities. Many depositors have withdrawn their deposits from the banks and have given them to smugglers to invest at higher rates of interest. Some who dream of getting rich quick even sold their cars and houses to give the money to smugglers to double it for them by trading through the tunnels or even by digging new tunnels and renting them to smugglers and traders. Many of these "investors" were in for a shock when Israel retaliated by destroying a large number of tunnels.
Some crooks have taken advantage of the tunnel trade. They collected money from families and individuals promising to invest it in the smuggling trade, but in the end they left Gaza taking the funds with them.
The major responsibility for the miserable situation in Gaza lies with Israel and also with the former Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat who agreed to pull his forces out of Gaza and Sinai under the Camp David Accords.
Conducting trade through the smuggling tunnels became a way of life for the residents of the Gaza Strip. These tunnels were called the "tunnels of life" but are now known as the "tunnels of death."
The Palestinians in Gaza have started to feel the pressure of the Israeli siege and the destruction of the tunnels. When the tunnels are finally closed, the terrorists taking refuge in Sinai will have to come out of their hiding places.
This article was first published in The Saudi Gazette on July 25, 2013.
Hassan Tahsin is a veteran Egyptian writer and a regular contributor to pan-Arab newspapers, including the Saudi Gazette. His writing focuses on Middle East conflicts. Tahsin’s political analysis particularly centers on Arab-Israeli relations on a regional level, and Egypt’s domestic and foreign policies, including ties with the Western world. Tahsin can be reached at email@example.com.