Gaza Strip smuggling tunnels
|Blockade of the
|Viva Palestina "Lifeline 3"|
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 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 was under Israeli military control until 2005. After Israel withdrew, 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. 
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.
In 2013-2014, Egypt's military has destroyed most of the 1,200 tunnels which are used for smuggling food, weapons and other goods to Gaza.
Rafah, a city split between Gaza Strip and Egypt, is where the tunnels are located. Tunneling are 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. 
By September, 2005, after withdrawing 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.
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. 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.
Though the tunnels are primarily used to smuggle weapons (e.g. rockets and mortars), they are also used to smuggle food, livestock, legal or illegal drugs, building material, and even zoo animals. People are known to be smuggled as well.
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.
An average-sized tunnel costs $90,000 to construct and run. The cost of smuggling a person from Egypt into the Gaza strip is equal to 1,000 American dollars. A Kalashnikov rifle in the Gaza Strip can cost up to $1,000 (American dollars) compared with 2,000 Egyptian pounds (320 American dollars). A single cartridge used to cost $3 in Gaza compared with $0.08 in Egypt, but since the Hamas (Islamist militant group) coup, and the subsequent capture of the Fatah (The Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine) weapons' storage, the prices have dropped.
The tunnels are used to import a wide range of goods, including livestock, zoo animals, food, legal and illegal drugs, clothes, car parts, building supplies and weapons. The tunnels were also used to smuggle in construction materials for the Gaza Mall and the Crazy Water Park. Palestinians view the tunnels as a lifeline, enabling them access to a wide range of commercial goods during the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
2010 estimates say that approximately 7,000 people work on over 1,000 tunnels. 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. The openings to many tunnels are found within buildings in or around Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah.
Firearms and explosive allegations
As of May 19, 2004, Strela 2 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, 9K11 Malyutka anti-tank missiles, and other long-range rockets were reported to be stored on the Egyptian side of the border waiting to be smuggled through tunnels into the Gaza Strip.It is also claimed that 40 tons of explosives have been smuggled. According to Israeli officials, more than 100 houses should be razed to enlarge the buffer zone of Philadelphi Road. U.N. relief workers said that more than 80 Palestinian homes in Rafah had been destroyed by Israeli troops the week before, leaving 1,100 people homeless, because, according to the army, they were used to hide smugglers' tunnels.  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. 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".
Measures taken against tunnel smuggling
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.
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.
Some additional 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.
In 2011, Egypt began sealing a series of smugglers’ tunnels between its border and the Gaza Strip. 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.
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".
- Blockade of the Gaza Strip
- Goods allowed/banned for import into Gaza
- Smuggling tunnel
- Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
- Yale Law School. The Avalon Project Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt - March 26, 1979.
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- Rockets, Cigarettes And A Lion: Just A few of the Things Smuggled Into Gaza. by Greg Myre. NPR, November 20, 2012
- Times Online: "In the tunnels of Gaza, smugglers risk death for weapons and profit"
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- This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "Jim Zanotti. Hamas: Background and Issues for Congress".
- Israel's top court approves razing Palestinian homes, Znet
- '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. Philly.com, May 19, 2004.
- Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch.
- Egyptian military begins closing smuggling tunnels near Gaza
- Egypt floods Gaza tunnels to cut Palestinian lifeline. Reuters, Feb 13, 2013.
- http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21582562-will-palestinian-rulers-gaza-strip-join-talks-their-enemies-not Hamas and the peace process: Not at the table
- Lichtenwald, Terrance G. and Perri, Frank S.(2013)."Terrorist Use of Smuggling Tunnels," International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, Volume 2,210-226.
- Lichtenwald, Terrance G. and Perri, Frank S.(2011). "Smuggling Tunnels: The Need for a Transnational Analysis," Inside Homeland Security Volume 9, Issue 1.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Smuggling tunnels in Gaza Strip.|
- Jerusalem Post, End of smuggling? Detecting tunnels with fiber optics.
- Profits drive smuggling in Rafah
- In pictures: Searching for Gaza's tunnels
- Razing Rafah Human Rights Watch report on use of tunnels as pretext for mass home demolitions
- Gaza tunnel smugglers trade in new cars
- Cars From Libya, Egypt Smuggled Into Gaza Through Tunnels
- The Bridge Transcript, Act Two: Bridge and Tunnel. This American Life. By Ira Glass. 7 May 2010.