Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gaza's defiant tunnellers head deeper underground

They are threatened with drowning by the Egyptians and punitively taxed by Hamas. Our correspondent meets the Palestinian smugglers bringing oranges, car batteries and bottle tops to a territory under siege

By Robert Fisk

"They are the real resistance. They are the lung through which Gaza breathes....

But this is no laughing business. NGOs estimate that Hamas skims 15 per cent of the profits off the tunnellers' turnover, giving that august institution – excoriated by Israel, the US and Europe ever since they had the temerity to win the 2006 Palestinian elections – a quiet $350m (£225m) income per annum.

So while the world blockades Gaza and condemns the 1.5 million souls here to penury and – in some cases – near-starvation, Hamas supplies itself with all the concrete, building materials, iron and weapons that its plentiful supplies of money can buy.

While the EU gutlessly allows Israel to deprive Palestinian civilians of cement to rebuild their homes after last year's bloodbath in Gaza – because Hamas might use the cement to build bunkers – Hamas itself has more than enough cement to build a city of bunkers or a fleet of mosques, not to mention the buildings it has erected opposite Israeli troops at Erez.

In other words, the tunnels keep Hamas in pocket and Gaza alive. The Palestinian poor, of course, have to be fed by the United Nations. The tunnels thus represent not just a series of blood vessels between Gaza and Egypt, but a massive international hypocrisy......

Only 100 metres away, the yellow shaft of an Egyptian drilling machine stands against the horizon and the very beginning of a grey wall. Behind it, an Egyptian flag snaps above a watchtower where the soldiers of Arab Egypt ensure that their Arab Palestinian brothers stay besieged in the rubbish pit of Gaza."

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