The Gaza tunnels aren’t just for imports

on 7 Comments

Every time I or one of my relatives visit our Egyptian cousins in Egypt, they ask us to bring specific goods. Two items they almost ask for hair gel, and denim. It seems a good hair gel is hard to find in Egypt. I have never been a gel kinda of guy, but this is all now make sense to me as I am reading kinda of a odd story coming from Gaza.

Remember the tunnels in Gaza, the ones Palestinians smugglers used to bring in goods that Israel has deemed “contraband”. Many of those tunnels are now seeing slow traffic as there are a lot more goods allowed in Gaza. We have the courageous people who boarded the Turkish flotilla to alleviate the Israeli siege on Gaza. The more goods Israel allow into Gaza, the more out of luck those smugglers have as they cannot compete with above ground goods.

Get this, the tunnels are now bringing goods out of Gaza into Egypt, not the other way around. You read that right, Palestinians tunnel operators are now exporting goods to the Egyptian side.

It’s unclear to me who is ordering those goods, it could be the large number of Palestinians living on the Egyptian side who might be feeling nostalgic for Gaza foods. I know that the prices of apples in Egypt are at least 4 times the prices in Gaza and the same goes for a pair of jeans as the textile industry is heavily protected in Egypt. On the other hand fish from the Egyptian shores is cheaper and more abundant than available in Gaza. This makes me thinks this is simply an underground trade between two regions.  While there is little benefit from this trade to the Palestinians consumer in Gaza, the tunnel operators have built a lifestyle that requires such innovation.  

But as of now it seems the most popular item the Gazan export to Gaza scrap metal, aluminum and cooper. Thanks to the Israeli offensive of last year, there are hundreds of demolished in Gaza with that comes a great deal of scrap metal. They smuggle those metals to Egyptian Rafah and then those metals get sent to Egyptian factories in Hilwan and Aswan recycle those metals and bring them back to life.  

This not a really exporting in the sense as the Palestinians do not produce these things they are sending to Egypt but rather arbitrage and taking advantage of the higher tariff on imported apple in Egypt.  Another popular item is hide, animal hide is popular in Egypt and there are plenty of uses for it. Since Palestinians have little use for it, they do not mind send it to Egypt. The same goes for live ducks, a very popular commodity in the Egyptian diet where people of Gaza prefer chicken. the one bizarre item Egyptian demand is Israeli made yogurt. I am not sure why would Egyptian demand such good. Yes, Israeli made yogurt is really good, but it could be not poplar with Egyptians and rather demanded by the thousands of Palestinians living in Egypt. I mean in the US the homeland of the Coca Cola, they still import Mexican bottled coke for nostalgia value. 

Needless to say Palestinians tunnel smugglers still smuggle cement, tiles and tobacco. But as one tunnel operator said it, we are now not as busy as we were, we are doing a third of the business we used to do. But most popular smuggle items that people of Gaza bring in from Egypt are olive oil, gravel stones, goats and sheep just in time for the Eid.

Hani Almadhoun is originally from Beit Lahia in the Northern Gaza Strip, where he completed his secondary and part of his university studies. Hani moved to the United States in 2000 and continued his studies. Hani holds an MPA from Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business and currently lives in Washington D.C. where he works for a non-profit that helps promote Palestinian culture and the development of even greater Human rights within Palestine. When Hani is not working nor worrying about his loved ones back in Gaza, he blogs and when given a free opportunity, does standup comedy in D.C. area clubs.

7 Responses

  1. Citizen
    October 30, 2010, 10:22 am

    Maybe Mr Almadhoun would be happy for the small victory here, where Caterpillar has temporarily suspended its shipments of D9 armored bulldozers to the IDF during the Rachel Corrie trial in Israel: link to

    Jewish Voice For Peace has hot links so you can urge the Obama regime and Caterpillar itself to make this a continuing policy of Caterpillar’s. BDS!

  2. Siegfried al-Haq
    October 30, 2010, 11:29 am

    Is this the Hanitizer (of the excellent KabobFest blog) writing for MW? Welcome!

  3. Jim Haygood
    October 30, 2010, 12:36 pm

    Prices of apples in Egypt are at least 4 times the prices in Gaza and the same goes for a pair of jeans as the textile industry is heavily protected in Egypt. On the other hand fish from the Egyptian shores is cheaper and more abundant than available in Gaza. This makes me thinks this is simply an underground trade between two regions.

    This scenario is straight out of British-Jewish classical economist David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, in which he demonstrates the splendid efficacy of exchanging British cloth for Portuguese wine.

    link to

    Of course, as Hani Almahdoun points out, much of the bilateral trade incentive derives from the heavy distortions imposed by the Israeli blockade and Egypt’s Stalinist command economy — both shamefully subsidized by the United States.

    That Arab Egypt collaborates with Israel and U.S. in oppressing Gaza, thanks to the $2 billion U.S. subsidy it’s been receiving since Jimmy Carter’s peace deal thirty years ago, is scandalous.

    It would hard to find any two nations less worthy of U.S. aid than the Israeli occupiers and the Egyptian kleptocracy. Now that the crippled U.S. economy features PhDs working as janitors, cutting off these counterproductive subsidies would be a no-brainer way of keeping $5 billion a year at home, instead of subsidizing global instability and oppression.

  4. Keith
    October 30, 2010, 1:23 pm

    An initial impression is that it appears that a significant amount of aid going into Gaza is being sluiced into a black market run by tunnel smugglers. Terrific. Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do.

  5. Avi
    October 30, 2010, 5:35 pm

    It used to be that Egyptians stood in line for meat and chicken. Today, they stand in line for bread. Meanwhile, the government uses the foreign aid it receives from the US to subsidize natural gas sales to Israel. That’s right. Egypt sells the natural gas at a price that’s lower than the market price.

    Meanwhile, Dear Leader, Mubarak, continues to pamper his army generals with luxury apartments on the banks of the river Nile, all the while millions of homeless spend their days and nights in Cairo’s cemeteries.

  6. talknic
    October 30, 2010, 9:31 pm

    How unusual. People selling stuff they don’t want, to people who do… Sounds very much like free trade

    When they begin selling building materials and arms to Egypt, it might be newsworthy…

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