July 15, 2013

Amidst Uptick In Political Turmoil, The Egyptian Military Destroys Gaza Tunnels

Brief comment: The tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt have been destroyed under all Egyptian administrations: Mubarak, Morsi, and the new interim government. These tunnels provide Palestinians with an economic lifeline, but they are also used to transfer weapons and fighters. The Egyptian army says they pose a national security threat to Egypt. Soldiers have been repeatedly attacked by Salafist terrorist groups who have targeted the army with more determination because of recent events.

With the increase of turmoil in the Sinai Peninsula in the wake of Morsi's removal, the Egyptian military has flexed its muscles even more freely than before, destroying 80% of the tunnels according to official army statements. But this is not a solution.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza has created this situation. The need for goods and supplies, both essential and non-essential, cannot be suppressed. There is another avenue other than tunnels that can connect Gaza to Egypt: a "joint free trade area on the borders between Gaza Strip and Egypt," (Source). Last year, Yousef Farhat, a top Hamas figure in Rafah, said, "If you (referring to Egypt) want to destroy it, please open a free trade area between Gaza and Egypt. Keep the tunnels operating until all of us agree on establishing the free trade area."


An excerpt from an interview with Abdullah Al-Arian, an assistant professor at Wayne State University in Michigan, by Paul Gottinger (CounterPunch, July 12):
PG: The Egyptian Military has destroyed many of the underground tunnels into Gaza nearly stopping the transfer of goods. Given the Israeli siege, these tunnels are essential for the Gaza economy and for the population to have access to essential food and basic goods. What effect do you think the military coup will have on the people of Gaza?

AA: This is a very important question considering once again that this military coup received so much support from liberal/progressive and revolutionary/leftist forces in Egypt and even beyond Egypt. I think some of that misguided support is the inability to see the immediate effects. This is just one area where we can see the immediate consequences of what this coup actually means. Here we’re talking about a humanitarian situation, in which the people of Gaza have been sieged for nearly a decade now and have needed all kinds of humanitarian support. The Mubarak regime was a chief partner in the siege of Gaza and once the revolution happened one of the bright spots was that the people of Gaza would have a little bit easier access to food, medical attention, goods, as well as an ease in the movement of people in and out of what is essentially an open air prison for 1.7 million people. But let’s not idealize the situation. Even under the Morsi presidency there were still an enormous degree of restrictions on the Palestinians in Gaza.

But I think we see that situation ratcheted up tremendously the moment that the military took charge—essentially resuming the siege situation. We’re now reading reports that not only has the military destroyed the tunnels used to deliver goods, but they’ve even closed the overland boarder, which allows the movement of people in and out of Gaza. On top of that the Egyptian government has said that any Palestinian traveling into Cairo on any airline will be turned back and will not be allowed to continue on. The only route to get into Gaza is to fly into Cairo and take the overland route crossing from Egypt. A lot of these signs are deeply troubling. I think it points to a certain brazen behavior on the part of the Egyptian military, which extends beyond the Egyptian people to include the treatment of the Palestinians as well.
An excerpt from "Egypt steps up Gaza tunnel crackdown, dismaying Palestinians" (Reuters, June 24):
Egypt's military, struggling to fill a security vacuum in the Sinai since autocrat Hosni Mubarak was swept from power in 2011, has pledged to shut all tunnels under the Gaza border, saying they are used by militants on both sides to smuggle activists and weapons.

The moves against the tunnels have dashed the hopes of many Palestinians that Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Hamas was born, would significantly ease Egyptian border restrictions on Gaza, which is also subjected to blockade by Israel.

"Business is clinically dead," said Abu Bassam, who employs 40 workers in a Palestinian tunnel network in Rafah, a town on the border. "Tunnels are almost shut down completely."

Only 50 to 70 tunnels, out of hundreds that have provided a commercial lifeline for the Gaza Strip, are still open and in partial operation, owners said. Other tunnels are used to smuggle in weapons for militants from Hamas and other groups.

The Egyptian army has sternly warned residents in Sinai not to approach the fence with Gaza and to stop trading through tunnels or face punishment, according to Palestinian tunnel owners who learned about the order from Egyptian counterparts.
An excerpt from "Official: Hamas willing to close down tunnels" (Ma'an News Agency, May 23):
“We do not want the tunnels in the first place,” said Ghazi Hamad. “They burden citizens and cause hundreds of fatalities, but they are essential because there is no alternative.”

“The tunnels issue can be resolved by finding a solution that balances the security needs of Egypt and the humanitarian needs of the Gaza Strip through lawful commercial transactions monitored by both,” he added in a statement.

The tunnel industry thrived under Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, providing a lifeline by smuggling goods into the besieged enclave. Egypt has cracked down on the network, flooding tunnels with sewage over fears that they are being used to smuggle weapons and fighters into the restive Sinai Peninsula.