Gaza Tunnels: Heavy Traffic in Ramadan

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These tunnels, which have become the only outlet for the strip's residents, all lead to Egypt. (Photo: AP - Eyad Baba)

By: Taghrid Atallah

Published Monday, July 23, 2012

The number of passengers travelling through the tunnels of Gaza has been rapidly increasing during Ramadan. A travel ticket from and to Gaza can cost between $30 and $300.

The term "travel ticket" suggests transportation by plane, train, or ship.

But because the people of the besieged Gaza Strip are banned and deprived from such forms of transportation, the ticket actually grants you passage to be smuggled from and to Gaza through underground tunnels.

These tunnels, which have become the only outlet for the strip's residents, all lead to Egypt.

The "mother of the world," as Egypt is popularly known in the Arab world, represents freedom for Gazans, or at least a portal to other countries.

The term "ticket" is not quite accurate, according 23-year-old Hussein Madi, who recently took his mother for medical treatment in Egypt.

He tells Al-Akhbar that the "ticket is an A5 piece of paper with 'travel permit' written on the top."

The paper holds the name of the passenger, the reason for travel, passport number, and date of entry and exit, without identifying the exact destination.

"This is the legal permit for travel, issued by the special crossings and borders committee," Madi says. "The price of the permit is determined by the tunnel owner."

The owner of one of these tunnels, who goes by the name of Abu Ghassan, says that the price of the permit depends on several conditions and according to certain criteria.

"The most important criteria include the standard of safety, whether assistance is provided upon arrival on the other side, speed, and luxury," Abu Ghassan explains.

He adds that there are other criteria, "such as the degree of the tunnel's floor and mode of transport."

Abu Ghassan explains that "at the start of the era of tunnels, the only form of transport was the shayyata," a plastic pulley – or horizontal elevator – with "passenger" written on it.

"Today, it is possible to travel through the tunnels with cars, which is the most modern and expensive means of transport," says Abu Ghassan.

With this development the number of travelers through the tunnels increased, and the rate of female passengers went up 40 percent.

The number of passengers is expected to rise to 50 people per week during the holy month of Ramadan – a lucrative time for the tunnel owners.

Despite all the risks and difficulties, the collective perspective in Gaza sees the tunnels as a "humanitarian creation.”

This service, which exists solely for transporting Gaza's passengers, started because of the Israeli aggression in 2008-09, the subsequent siege, and the closing of the border crossings.

The people of Gaza found no solution to their isolation from the rest of the world except by adapting to the tunnels, which involve serious risks to the travelers.

The tunnels were initially used by people who absolutely needed to leave, such as students studying abroad and patients seeking medical treatment, and to import basic necessities. But today their services have expanded and developed.

The tunnels now offer a "comfortable" means of travel. In fact, a new Toyota model, which recently entered Gaza, can now reach the other side in only 10 minutes.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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