Wednesday, October 22, 2008

“humanitarian crisis on the scale of Darfur”

Ha’aretz carries an interesting twist on the black market tunnel networks of the Egyptian Gazan border.
When the calves were hauled out of the tunnel from Egypt Tuesday they could hardly stand up. After a terrifying, one-kilometer underground trip into the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, what the young cattle wanted most was a long drink of cool water.

Underground livestock smuggling has increased dramatically ahead of Id Al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice, due December 10, when Muslims the world over slaughter animals and feed the poor to seek God's forgiveness.

"Even if we brought in animals every day we would not meet the demand for the Id," said a tunnel operator who identified himself as Abu Luqaib. Hundreds of Gaza merchants throng around the border area of Rafah every day to pick up merchandise coming to Gaza from Egypt via subterranean passages that have created a flourishing trade zone. "It's an industrial zone here," said the 23-year-old tunnel operator as his crew pulled a bawling calf up the deep shaft by a simple rope around its middle. No livestock harness was used.

Gaza has suffered galloping unemployment since Israel tightened its blockade on the territory in 2007 to try to weaken its Palestinian rulers, Hamas, an Islamist group sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state. Goods are scarce in Gaza markets because of Israeli restrictions on what Gaza may and may not import. The tunnel network handles all sorts of readily portable merchandise including fuel, automobile parts, computers and clothes.

The number of tunnels has mushroomed in the past year to around 800, according to Abu Luqaib. They employ between 20,000 to 25,000 workers in a gray economy struggling for survival. A standard 500-meter tunnel costs from 60,000 euro to 90,000 euro to build, he says. A 1,000-meter tunnel built with extra safety features can cost up to 150,000 euro.

The tunnels can be dangerous. Palestinian officials say at least 45 Gazans have died in cave-ins this year, some of which were blamed by Hamas on the security forces in Egypt, who are under pressure from Israel and the United States to clamp down. But such risks are clearly outweighed by potential profits. The calves that came through Tuesday cost 350 euro each plus 250 euro for the transport, a total of 600 euro per head.
Read the rest here but I find this article more troubling than compelling. In fact, the article raises far more questions than it answered. If the Gaza Strip is in the midst of a ‘humanitarian’ crisis and as unemployment has now risen to above 50% while 80% of all Gazans relie on food aid as all the NGO’s routinely claim - just how on earth does anyone have any money or means of making money in order to buy the black market goods coming into the Gaza Strip from the tunnels?

And what of Egypt’s role in the black market? These goods have to come from somewhere before they are taken into the Rafah tunnel crossings into the Gaza Strip. The only entrance to the Rafah tunnel network lies through the Sinai – sovereign Egyptian territory. In fact, since the Sinai is not the bastion of industrialization or a cornucopia of agriculture and almost all goods would have to be brought in from Egypt proper and cross the Suez Canal before entering into the Sinai.

Suddenly the merchants of the Sinai are able to supply any need of the Palestinians of Gaza without arousing the slightest curiosity of the Egyptian police. One would think this should be a fairly easy and routine enforcement for the Egyptian authorities to crack down on, and yet, it seems to be far above the pay-grade of the Egyptian security forces. Methinks, the ink on the Camp David Accord is mighty cold, and the accord is nothing more than a pretense for peace rather than a lasting peace agreement.

Lauren Booth, sister in law of Tony Blair, was snapped by Agence France-Presse photographer shopping at the ‘concentration camp supermarket’ of the Gaza Strip in mid-September. Who knew the modern Auschwitz had such well stocked and computerized supermarkets?

No one does victim or refugee like the Palestinians but more importantly what motivation is there for the Palestinian leadership to seek a true peace with Israel when playing the victim pays has such obvious financial advantages? The general wisdom for Arafat turning down Ehud Barak’s offer of 97% of the West Bank in 2000 was that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity but what if the sole motivation to turn down the deal was that the offer was not financially in their best interests to accept? If that is indeed the case, there will be no peace until such time as playing the refugee and card becomes a sum zero game for real.

In other news today, a kassam was launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. This makes the 28th kassam violation since the truce began on June 19th.

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