Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gaza's Tunnel Owners Vent Their Fury at Egyptian Crackdown


Irish Times, February 19, 2009 -
The tunnel owners sit around the fire, passing cups of sweet tea and talking bitterly about the siege.

But on this early February morning, they’re not talking about the Israeli jets and their occasional air strike on the hundreds of tunnels that worm their way from Egypt into Gaza, slipping in supplies and, some say, weapons.

Instead, their fury is directed at the Egyptian government, which following this winter’s Israeli offensive has cracked down on the Gaza tunnel trade, choking the flow of goods. “No matter what the Israelis do, we’re steadfast,” says one owner who identifies himself as Abu Ahmed, as he sits in an outdoor courtyard within sight of the border. “But this? This could slaughter our country and our economy."

Under pressure from the US and Israel, Egypt is imposing stronger checkpoints throughout the Sinai Peninsula to prevent merchandise from reaching the tunnel zone. Here on the border in Rafah, there is talk of police using informants to seek out hidden entrances and destroy dozens of tunnels with explosives or huge water hoses.

“They seem to be taking it seriously this time,” says Musab Shurrab, a police officer stationed within yards of the border wall....

See also: War of the Tunnels: Economic Aspects of Israel's War on Gaza (Alternative Information Center, January 9, 2009) - ....Israel's continued occupation of the Gaza Strip no longer follows the classic colonial framework. Palestinian labor and natural resources are no longer exploited by Israeli companies, but this doesn't mean that Israeli exploitation of the Palestinian population has ended.

Israel found a way to exploit the Palestinians by taking a toll from the humanitarian aid efforts to Gaza (also to the West Bank, but let's focus on the Gaza Strip right now). The Gaza population is the most aid-dependent area in the world. Without the ability to export, to import raw materials, without the needed infrastructure for local industry—the Gaza Strip is unable to generate sufficient local income to sustain its population, and must depend on aid. The Israeli siege thus creates the conditions for large amounts of aid to be sent to Gaza.

This aid must pass through Israeli ports and airports, with customs, storage fees and transport fees ending up in the coffers of Israeli companies. The limitations set by Israel on the number of trucks allowed to enter Gaza and the prolonged checks the goods must go through increase the transportation and storage costs dramatically. Much of the aid comes in the form of products—food, animal feed, petrol, cooking gas, medicine, etc.—procured from Israeli companies. These companies have thus been able to find a captive market in Gaza, get paid up-front (because checks from banks in the Gaza Strip aren't accepted in Israel) and increase their sales.

Most importantly, this aid is funded with foreign currency (primarily Euros), but the goods come from Israeli companies which must be paid in Israeli currency. The result is that massive amounts of foreign currency are converted at the Central Bank of Israel into Israeli shekels in order to fund aid, and the Central Bank of Israel gets to keep the foreign currency.

In effect, the Israeli siege of Gaza has transformed the aid industry into one of Israel's biggest exports—companies that would normally provide domestic services have become sources for foreign currency, which contributes to Israel's overall economic strength and has already eliminated Israel's trade deficit almost entirely....

*Israel is officially obligated to transfer customs levied from goods intended for the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the Palestinian Authority, but rarely transfers the full amounts.

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