Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Palestinian tunnel tycoons feeding demand for banned goods

Boom in illicit trade in motorbikes, dismantled in Egypt and smuggled into Gaza, brings deadly consequences

Harriet Sherwood in Rafah
The Guardian, Tuesday 15 December 2009

".....Khalil Shahin of the PCHR estimates that 40-50,000 Gazans are working in or around the tunnel economy, including transportation and warehousing. He adds that a small proportion – "not more than 5,000" – are children. "Tunnel workers need to be slim and agile. Children make good workers underground."

Since the Israeli blockade on nearly all goods in and out of Gaza, the tunnels have become "a lifeline, crucial to breaking the siege and ensuring basic life can continue", says Pelham.

But they are also having a political consequence in tying Gaza's economy more firmly to Egypt and further distancing it from the West Bank – a result that some Palestinian leaders say is a deliberate Israeli tactic to divide and weaken the Palestinians......

And what little remains of the above-board Palestinian economy is struggling to compete, making it harder for legitimate businesses to recover if the siege is ever lifted.

The tunnels have also created a wealthy elite among the 5,000 tunnel owners. "You see it in the new restaurants in Gaza City," said Pelham. "People are making money through the tunnel economy, there is a new moneyed class in Gaza who can afford to go out to eat."

Hamas has also benefited from the tunnels. It licenses them through the Rafah municipality at 10,000 shekels (£1,630) a time, and charges for electricity to light the shafts......"

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