Gaza market in Arish closes after crackdown on tunnels

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An Israeli soldier sits in a neutralized Hamas tunnel on July 25. (Photo: AFP-Jack Guez)

By: Mohammed Salem

Published Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The crackdown on underground tunnels linking the Gaza Strip to Egypt closed the main gateway for smuggling Gazan goods into the Egyptian market, which were sold at cheaper prices and rivaled similar products.

Sinai – The narrow side street off July 23rd Road at the center of al-Arish continues to get narrower for about ten meters until it eventually leads to a number of other small streets that host tens of now closed shops.

Dozens of suitcases were scattered around, awaiting travelers to pick them up, almost blocking the gate of the location that now lacks a sign indicating that “the Gaza market” was once here.

Issam, the suitcase seller, asked me about my destination as I was trying to make my way through the bags. “Isn’t this Gaza market pathway?” I asked. “Yes indeed, the Gaza market was here but it closed down completely last January,” Issam replied.

He explained that the market was hit by the recession because products from Gaza were no longer being sent to Egypt following the shutdown of the tunnels.

The market was established in 2005 by a number of local merchants who believed that Palestinian goods entering Egypt through the Rafah crossing were more profitable than the goods coming from the Egyptian market. Palestinian goods were in high demand since they were of good quality and suitable prices.

A Sinai security official who wanted to remain anonymous said about 95 percent of tunnels which were used to smuggle goods between Egypt and Gaza are no longer operating due to the security campaign launched by the Egyptian army in the wake of toppling President Mohammed Mursi on July 3, 2013.

I returned to Issam, the suitcase seller, who explained that “after the political changes in Gaza, the tunnels were shut down and many constraints were imposed on the Rafah crossing which impacted commercial activity in the Gaza market.”

“The merchants tried to maintain this place by importing goods from the Egyptian market,” he said, but “the products were not popular among customers who preferred Gazan goods.”

Hajj Ismail al-Kashef, a man in his fifties, said “coverlets, leather, clothes, detergents, thyme, and coffee were among the most popular Palestinian products,” adding that “despite the Egyptian security crackdown on Gazan goods, during which many products were seized, some of these goods are still being sold at modest stands outside the Gaza market which closed down completely.”

Merchant Houssam Ibrahim, who owned a shop in the market, said all local residents are familiar with Gazan goods “because they filled the stores before the shutdown of the tunnels.”

“For many years, people grew accustomed to buying these goods which were brought by traders selling out of their own bags. The merchants frequented the Rafah crossing, with a larger number getting their goods from the tunnels” he said.

Another merchant revealed that Palestinian goods attracted traders from all over Egypt, “especially those in Cairo and Alexandria because our prices were much lower than the prices in the rest of Egypt.”

Following the June 30 events, Egyptian authorities banned selling Palestinian goods and shut down the tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt. The authorities intensified their campaign after the Gaza market closed down, with a few small merchants trying to sell some of their stored products at public markets scattered around June 23rd Road in Arish.

Accountant Fathi Abu Hamda, undersecretary at the Supply Ministry in northern Sinai said, “after the crackdown on supply products, a large quantity of Gazan goods were seized, especially shoes, sandals, and many kinds of coffee.”

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Abu Hamda said “the crackdown on these products has even reached cities inside northern Sinai, and about 426 violation tickets were issued against merchants selling goods that had reached Sinai through the tunnels.”

He added that the merchants, “stored away these products to deprive the market of them, then sold them for double the original price to customers who looked for these goods and preferred them.”

Egyptian merchants who had dealt with the secret tunnels in the past years said Egyptian goods smuggled into Gaza could not compete in the local Gazan market because they were deemed too expensive. Their prices were higher due to the risks of smuggling them into the Strip and the lack of enough tunnels used in smuggling business, in addition to the Egyptian security forces' crackdown on this commercial activity who arrested the people involved in it

The merchants said mutual trade between Egypt and Gaza receded remarkably in the wake of the June 30 events.

In the past few years, the trade through the tunnels brought great wealth to people in the Egyptian side of Rafah who worked in the smuggling business. The price of lands located near the border with Gaza skyrocketed as they were used to store smuggled goods.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


"Gazan products?" I had to think about this. Then I realized that these are products made in the Erez industrial zone. These are Israeli products made by Palestinian workers with Arabic labeling so that they can be better sold in Gaza and the Arab world, such as West Bank and Jordan.
The better quality they are talking about is Israeli, since that country has consumer protection laws and free markets that dictate higher quality.
NY Times did article on this years ago, about how Israeli made products are popular in Egypt but all say things like Made in Cyprus.

To the two Anonymouses who would like more Palestinians to die in futile wars with Israel:
If you think Israel lost, imagine what you want. But what did Gazans gain, but the joy of thinking about a single missile landing on Haifa?

Re Sisi, something tells me that he has learned from his predecessors very well.

Change the picture from this smiling terrorist scum. You cannot "neutralize" a tunnel. It is just a tunnel. Only the most pathetic "army" tries to claim that as a victory. Imagine if in WW1 the British claimed great victory by damaging one trench line as a great victory.

Take Sadat's path Sisi we know where it ends

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