Egypt maintains tight border restrictions which hampers the stream of goods that should come in to meet the needs for Gaza’s population. In response, Gazans tried to extricate themselves from these deteriorating economic conditions by digging the tunnels which came to be known as the “sole remaining life artery” to reconnect the Gaza Strip with the world. However, two months ago, Egyptian authorities started a devastating process that aims to destroy these tunnels by flooding them with sea water, raising grave concerns among the local Rafah citizens in the southern Gaza Strip.
Ahmed, who does not want to reveal his full name, said that the Egyptian project endangers his family’s house which is very nearby to the tunnels. “The tunnels are constructed under our houses, and beside them, this is why it is going to be very perilous to the status of our homes, which we feel them shaken as a result of the destruction made by the Egyptian bulldozers on the Egyptian side of the borders”.
Palestinian officials also voiced their rejection to the recent Egyptian step calling it “destructive and unprecedented”.
Sobhi Redwan, Rafah’s mayor, confirmed that the project will have very sever implications on the environment in the Palestinian southern city. “It will definitely jeopardize the construction and aquatic future of Rafah, and it will decrease our water supplies”.
Environmental experts have warned that the long-term effect of flooding water on the Palestinian borders will hamper the work of underground water pipes. Moreover, it will contaminate the pure water stored in these pipes when the salty seawater pumped in by Egypt leaks into it.
Adding Insult to Injury
In recent years Gaza’s unemployment rate has recorded a very troubling increase as more university students graduate every year with bleak prospect for chances of landing a job.
Many of them have decided to work in the “tunnels industry” to support themselves and their families despite very dangerous work conditions, and more importantly, without any insurance. Some tunnel workers have lost their lives during digging and smuggling, but their families have not received any kind of compensation for the death of their sons.
The Gaza government estimates that more than 160 people have died in the tunnels between 2007-2012.
Adham Okbi used to work in the tunnels for years. “I found no other alternative but to work in the tunnels. I was able to pay for my university tuition, and provide a kind of financial support for my poor family which consists of nine,” Adham said.
The 24-year-old youth was very angry with the Egyptian decision to completely destroy the network of tunnels which provide some work opportunities for Palestinians, especially youth inside the besieged strip.
“They are waging a tireless war on our livelihoods. I wonder what harms them when the Palestinian citizen in Gaza is able to feed his family by what he earns in meager wages from the tunnels’ work,” Adham complained. “Is this an urgent matter of national security?”
Abu Mazen, 40, was able to recruit dozens of young people in the tunnels’ network. “I lost my job, and instead of earning money for my family, I spend my time gossiping with my neighbors at the doorstep of my home,” Abu Mazen said. The new situation has placed him and his family in serious financial peril. Two of his daughters are not able to get their higher education after graduating from the high school.
Grave Economic Impact
The Egyptian destruction of 80% of the tunnels has meant the Palestinian market is now running out of key supplies. As a result, the prices of basic commodities are soaring in Gaza and its people are bearing the brunt of these severe conditions caused by the worrying political transformations in neighboring Egypt.
Amjad Najjar runs a supermarket in Gaza. “It has become very difficult to get the basic groceries to provide them to my customers,” Najjar said. “If I was lucky to secure some goods to my shop, I buy them at a shockingly high price, so I should sell them at these prices that the Gazan citizens cannot afford under these difficult economic situations”.
Najjar said the tunnels were the only source for having commodities at appropriate prices for people in Gaza.
Iman Aqeel is a mother of five children who needs to buy them new clothes for the upcoming harsh winter. “I was planning to do some shopping, but I was shocked with the sky-high prices in the shops,” Aqeel said.
The 35-year old mother will find it difficult to buy proper clothes for her sons to warm them during the rainy season. “This has been very frustrating,” Aqeel concluded.
Raji Sourani, a head of Palestinian Center for Human Rights, found the latest Egyptian step as being a violation to the neighbor’s rights. “What it should be between neighbors is a longstanding relations, mutual respect, and care,” Sourani said to Mondoweiss.