Logistics: The Lucrative Tunnels Of Gaza


July 7, 2008: No one is sure how many smuggling tunnels there are under the Gaza-Egyptian border. During the last two decades, frequent outbreaks of Palestinian terrorism have led to the border being closed. A security fence between Gaza and Egypt made above-ground smuggling difficult, so the Palestinians began digging tunnels, and using them to smuggle people and goods into, or out of, Gaza.

The area is a desert, and if you dig down 6-20 meters, you'll find hard sand that can be excavated at the rate of 15 meters a day. Thus to build a tunnel you need cooperation from building owners on both sides of the border. They expect to get paid, usually a flat fee to start work, then monthly "rent", or even a percentage of revenue from people and goods going through the tunnel.

Tunnels tend to be 500-600 meters long. So including digging down on each end, it's going to take you 5-6 weeks to complete your tunnel. If you have a few experienced (and highly paid) people working with you, the whole project will cost you $5,000 or more. That's a lot of money in Gaza these days. But the potential profits are enormous. Currently, moving a person through a tunnel costs about $2,000. A sack full of goods, or a jerry can of fuel, costs about $300 to move through the tunnel.

The downside is that most tunnels are just wide enough (about a meter, and a little less tall) for a man to crawl. The air is foul and the risk of collapse is constant. Few tunnels are built with bracing, to prevent, or mitigate a collapse. It is believed that hundreds of Palestinians are dead and buried under the border, as a result of collapsed tunnels. When the Israelis ran the place (they left three years ago), they got pretty good at finding, and destroying, tunnels. The Egyptians, who now guard the border, are nowhere near as good, and they can be bribed. But even today, a tunnel rarely lasts more than a few months, and someone usually dies as it collapses and goes out of service. Thus the high fees for getting stuff through. The men who move goods through the tunnels are highly paid, but are poor life insurance risks.





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