Gaza Strip smuggling tunnels

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Smuggling tunnel in Rafah, 2009

The Gaza Strip smuggling tunnels are passages that have been dug under the Philadelphi Corridor, a narrow strip of land, 14 km (8.699 miles) in length, situated along the border between Gaza Strip and Egypt. After the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979[1] the town of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, was split by this Corridor. One half of the town belongs to Egypt, and the other half is located in the southern part of Gaza. After Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the Philadelphi Corridor was placed under the control of the Palestine Authority until 2007. When the Hamas seized power in 2007, Egypt and Israel closed borders with Gaza.[2] [3]

In 2009, Egypt began the construction of an underground barrier to block existing tunnels and make new ones harder to dig. In 2011, Egypt relaxed restrictions at its border with the Gaza Strip, allowing Palestinians to cross freely.[2]

In 2013-2014, Egypt's military has destroyed most of the 1,200 tunnels which are used for transport of goods into Gaza.[4]


Rafah, a city split between Gaza Strip and Egypt, is where the tunnels are located. Tunneling is said to have begun in the early 1980s when the border was reestablished after Israel withdrew from Sinai. Initially, the tunnels were used for moving consumer goods and drugs. During the First Intifada (December 1987 to 1993), they became conduits for weapons and militants. [5]

By September, 2005, after withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, Israel declared that Palestinians would not have the control of their side of the checkpoint, and the Rafah crossing should be closed. During the rest of the year Egypt opened and closed the crossing intermittently. In November 2005 two agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority permitted the reopening of the crossing with third-party European Union assistance. However the movement of people would be very restricted and goods should pass through another checkpoint (Kerem Shalom), under the supervision of Israelis and monitored by EU monitors. In 2006, the Rafah crossing was opened up to June. During the rest of the year it was open during 31 days at random.[5]

In mid-2007 Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip. Following the takeover, Egypt and Israel largely sealed their border crossings with Gaza, on the grounds that Fatah had fled and was no longer providing security on the Palestinian side.[6] So Karni and Rafah checkpoints were closed again, resulting in "severe personal and economic hardship for Gaza's 1,4 million population", according to UNOCHA. Thousands of travelers have been stranded on both sides of the border.[5]

The blockade of the Gaza Strip has caused a shortage of certain basic products, especially construction materials, fuel, some consumer articles, and medicines and medical supplies.[7][8] Import restrictions, including of basic building materials, have led to the proliferation of tunnels under the border with Egypt.[9][10] As Israel limits the Palestinian freedom of movement, for most Gazans the tunnels are the only way to move from and to Gaza.


The tunnels are normally dug by individual contractors from basements of houses or an olive grove under the border at depths of up to 15 meters (49 feet), and reaching up to 800 meters (2640 feet) in length. In many cases, the owners of the houses enter into a business arrangement with the tunnel builders. They may receive a portion of the profits from the smuggling or some other sort of financial compensation from those who contract the tunnel construction.[11] While many tunnels are of a generally high quality of engineering and construction - with some including electricity, ventilation, intercoms, and a rail system - they are still very dangerous and are prone to cave-ins.[12] The openings to many tunnels are found within buildings in or around Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah.[13]


The tunnels are used to import a wide range of goods, including livestock, zoo animals, food, medicines, clothes, car parts, building supplies, weapons and luxury items in general.[14] Some, more secret, tunnels are said to be used by militant groups to bring in arms and money.[15]

Import of construction materials[edit]

Due to Hamas's practice of launching rockets from built-up civilian areas, and retaliatory Israeli bombardments, including bombardments on houses, offices and civilian infrastructure, and the razing of homes with bulldozers and tanks, construction materials to restore the damage belong to the main goods imported through the tunnels.[10]

Import of fuel[edit]

The import of fuel through the tunnels has been essential for keeping running Gaza's only power plant. Electricity is inter alia needed for the desalination of drinking water. After Egypt demolished hundreds of tunnels in 2013 and Israel closed the Kerem Shalom Crossing, a shortage in fuel caused the shut down of the power plant.[16]

Increased fuel shortages and high prices, due to the intensified anti-tunnels measures by the Egyptian el-Sisi regime, halted the functioning of sewage treatment facilities in Gaza in 2014. Untreated waste water was pumped into the Gaza shore, causing serious environment pollution and swimming prohibition at the beaches.[17]

Transport of people[edit]

Facing the restriction of the Palestinian freedom of movement, an advanced system of human transport has been established, including the issue of tickets which serve as a travel permit. A travel ticket from and to Gaza may cost between $30 and $300 (2012), depending from the provided service. As of 2012, travelling by car was possible. Travelling through the tunnels was popular during Ramadan in 2012. As travelling through the Israeli crossings is only permitted by exception, and the Rafah Crossing is opened for limited periods, if opened at all, the tunnels have often become the only outlet for the strip’s residents[18]

Measures taken against smuggling tunnels[edit]

Measures taken by Israel[edit]

Israeli has destroyed hundreds of homes along the Gaza–Egypt border to enlarge buffer zone, asserting that they were used to hide smugglers' tunnels. [19][20] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) maintain that this was done in order to prevent smuggling tunnels and other threats (i.e. from snipers) to its soldiers who are patrolling the border. For example, following a rocket attack that apparently came from a row of buildings in Rafah and killed five Israeli soldiers, Israel demolished those buildings.[19] An IDF spokeswoman has stated that in destroying tunnels, the IDF exercises "the utmost care to pinpoint the tunnels and do as little damage as possible".[21]

Israel, Egypt, the United States, and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries have pledged to stop or slow smuggling to Gaza by land and sea.[13]

Israel Defense Forces - tunnel found near Egyptian border

Although Israeli air strikes rendered over 100 tunnels inoperative during the Gaza War(2012), many of them were restored within a few weeks because the main damage was sustained at the openings, not in the middle sections.[13]

Measures taken by Egypt[edit]

Some measures such as Egypt’s construction of an underground fence along its side of the Gaza-Egypt border have been taken. In late 2009 Egypt started construction of a subterranean barrier in an attempt to curb the use of smuggling tunnels. Nevertheless, anti smuggling capabilities remain limited and constrained.[13]

In 2010, the Egyptian Mubarak regime sprayed toxic gas into the tunnels, killing 4 Palestinians.[22]

In 2011, Egypt began sealing a series of smugglers’ tunnels between its border and the Gaza Strip.[23] The Egyptian army has increased its deployment along its border since August 5, 2012, when 16 Egyptian border police were killed in a terror attack. Since then there have been reports that the Egyptian army has been destroying smuggling tunnels by flooding them.[24]

In 2013, following the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état that ousted the pro-Hamas government, the Egyptian army has destroyed many of the tunnels, with the effect that "prices have soared, shelves are empty, utilities have suspended operations for lack of fuel and travel is restricted once again".[25]

In 2013, The Egyptian military started resorting to a pungent new tactic to shut down the smuggling tunnels connecting Sinai and Gaza: flooding them with sewage. To Block Gaza Tunnels, Egypt Lets Sewage Flow

Smuggling tunnels and the various methods different countries have used to address the types of threats tunnels pose to national security has been discussed in the literature.[26] [27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yale Law School. The Avalon Project Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt - March 26, 1979.
  2. ^ a b Egypt eases blockade at Gaza's Rafah border BBC News, 28 May 2011.
  3. ^ Isolation of Gaza Chokes Off Trade. Steven Erlanger. Herald Tribune, September 19, 2007.
  4. ^ Egypt bans Hamas activities in Egypt. Reuters. Mar 4, 2014
  5. ^ a b c Sullivan, Denis Joseph; Jones, Kimberly A. (ed.) Global Security Watch - Egypt: A Reference Handbook. "The Rafah Crossing - The Border with Gaza", p.116-118.
  6. ^ Dion Nissenbaum. "Olmert aide supports free Gaza". McClatchy Newspapers. 8 December 2008.
  7. ^ Gaza: Chronic Shortages of Drugs and Medical Supplies. Doctors Without Borders, 16November 2011
  8. ^ PCHR: Gaza leukemia patients without medicine for 11 months. Ma'an News Agency, 21 November 2013
  9. ^ Five years of blockade. OCHAoPt, June 2012
  10. ^ a b Ongoing updates: Rafah Crossing, tunnels, and the situation in Gaza. Gisha, 27 August 2013
  11. ^ Times Online: "In the tunnels of Gaza, smugglers risk death for weapons and profit"
  12. ^ Unusual Jobs Highlight Restricted Choices of Gaza Youth. BBC News, 11 December 2012.
  13. ^ a b c d  This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "Jim Zanotti. Hamas: Background and Issues for Congress".
  14. ^ Israel's Gaza Blockade Baffles Both Sides. CBS News, 28 May 2010.
  15. ^ Egypt 'destroys 1,370 Gaza smuggling tunnels,' says army. Ma'an News Agency, 13 March 2014
  16. ^ Gaza's only power plant shuts down over fuel shortage, official says. Haaretz, 27 December 2013
  17. ^ In Gaza, sewage stains beaches and piles of garbage mount on streets. Reuters, 30 June 2014
  18. ^ Gaza Tunnels: Heavy Traffic in Ramadan. Taghrid Atallah, Occupied Palestine, 23 July 2012 (translated from Arabic Edition)
  19. ^ a b Israel's top court approves razing Palestinian homes, Znet
  20. ^ 'Philadelphi Road' travels deadly Gaza terrain Israel is knocking down nearby houses that the army says are used to hide smugglers' tunnels. By Michael Matza., May 19, 2004.
  21. ^ Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch.
  22. ^ Four Killed, Nine Wounded, After Being Gassed In Tunnel By Egypt. IMEMC, 29 April 2010
  23. ^ Egyptian military begins closing smuggling tunnels near Gaza
  24. ^ Egypt floods Gaza tunnels to cut Palestinian lifeline. Reuters, Feb 13, 2013.
  25. ^ Hamas and the peace process: Not at the table
  26. ^ Lichtenwald, Terrance G. and Perri, Frank S.(2013)."Terrorist Use of Smuggling Tunnels," International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, Volume 2,210-226.
  27. ^ Lichtenwald, Terrance G. and Perri, Frank S.(2011). "Smuggling Tunnels: The Need for a Transnational Analysis," Inside Homeland Security Volume 9, Issue 1.

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