What a Waste: Egypt Floods Gaza’s Tunnels

A Palestinian works inside a smuggling tunnel flooded by Egyptian forces, beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip 19 February 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

By: Sanaa Kamel

Published Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gaza – The Egyptian government has declared war on Gaza’s network of subterranean tunnels. The area where tunnels once connected Gaza to Egypt has been flooded with wastewater by Egyptian authorities.

The aim is to destroy the majority of the tunnels, but leave 50 that will be under the supervision of Hamas and only permit the passage of foodstuff and construction supplies.

An Egyptian source, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed the details. He said that the Egyptian-mediated agreements between Hamas and Israel following the November 2012 war on Gaza dictated the destruction of most tunnels.

The same source explained that closing the tunnels was one of the secret conditions of the truce sponsored by former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the Palestinian resistance.

He added, “Hamas is studying the political situation and will make decisions that will benefit it in the short and long term. Hamas needs a fresh strategy for a new crisis it might face with the Muslim Brotherhood’s declining power in Egypt and the Egyptian army’s disapproval of the current situation in the Sinai.”

The Egyptian source argued that “it is in Hamas’ interest if political developments lead to opening the border crossings and ending the siege...as long as Hamas appears as a victor.”

Palestinian political analyst Akram Atallah believes that Egypt could not have shut down the tunnels had it not garnered Israeli guarantees that the siege on Gaza would be eased.

He explained that “Hamas is trying hard to solidify its rule over Gaza irrespective of the people. It has never declared its inability to manage the Gaza Strip under the harshest of circumstances.”

No Tunnels, No Economy?

Though the goods constitute a considerable percentage of the Gaza Strip’s economy, the underground work is considered highly dangerous. Around 232 people have died in the tunnels since their inception as a way to circumvent the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

The people who own and run the tunnels were frustrated at news of their closure, as they would soon lose a lucrative source of income. The workers’ opinions, however, varied.

Ibrahim al-Shaer, 25, watched as a tunnel where he used to work was flooded with wastewater. “I feel happy. I saw the worst days of the my life in this tunnel. Every time I descended, I didn’t expected to make it back alive.”

Shaer hopes that the border crossings will open, allowing the necessary flow of goods into Gaza.

Abu-Mohammed Zaarab, 55, rushed over when he heard that one of his tunnels was being destroyed. He cursed the Egyptian government. “They want to deprive us of our only source of livelihood after we were begging in the streets. But this is politics. Hamas, Egypt, and Israel do not think about the people’s welfare.”

The tunnels helped boost trade, making them sources of profit for businesspeople and the government. At the same time, the tunnels were the reason why many factories in Gaza shut down; local products couldn’t compete with smuggled ones.

Mahdi Ibrahim, 27, works at a factory in Gaza and can’t wait for the tunnels to close. It means improved prospects for his employer’s factory whose productivity declined 50 percent once the tunnels were erected.

Economic analyst Mouin Rajab believes that closing the tunnels will make local products more marketable, even if there are very few factories in Gaza.

“When all the tunnels are destroyed, there has to be an alternative. Hamas is looking for an alternative that will make up for the losses. It could be trade with Egypt that would benefit both sides,” said Rajab.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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