Earlier this week I wrote about an American friend, Nitin Sawhney, currently working in Gaza.
His latest dispatch discusses a visit to the tunnels that bring in essential goods:
Yesterday I visited the Rafah refugee camp along the southern frontier to meet an UNRWA supported Woman’s center and learn about their programs with poor families and children living in the narrow alleys of the camp. As I heard from staff there, the biggest challenge in the community seems to be dealing with young boys working in the tunnels (or “Anfaq”) to sustain their families. Many of them are killed or imprisoned each year by regular bombings of the tunnels by Israeli F16s (a 14-year old died last week) and Egyptian raids on the other end. After visiting the center my taxi driver agreed to show me some of these tunnels along a dirt road facing imposing Egyptian security fences.
Walking along the muddy path in front of bombed-out homes from the war in January last year, I noticed an array of small tents each with a work crew living with minimal belongings there. I was able to gain entry into the first tent by a hospitable worker, but could not negotiate to use my video camera as they wished to keep their identities anonymous. I soon came upon an elaborate setup with an impressive shaft going over 50 meters deep into the muddy ground below, lined with wood paneling and two-way radios. Each tunnel often takes nearly two years to construct at an expense of over $100,000. The boy below signaled to prepare the next payload to lift up the shaft. The work crew insisted on having me use the pulley to lower myself in the tunnels for a brief visit. I declined their kind offer of underground transit into Egypt, though I may have to take them up if my crossing tomorrow at the border fails.
In the second tent, I was able to gesture to the busy crew with my camera turned on dangling from one hand, but I soon let them know I wished to film their massive undertaking. The lens could barely capture the breathtaking view from above as I tried to hold steady and not make an inadvertent free-fall dive into the shaft. The next payload of cooking oil in large green canisters quickly emerged up the pulley, as I pulled away to frame the shot. These tunnels as I later learned provide all the fuel for the Gaza strip, an unbelievable feat that relies on poor young boys risking their lives each day along a dangerous underground frontier. A new steel wall, 50 meters below ground, being built by Egypt along the frontier (with support from the US and Israel) may all but evaporate this thriving tunnel economy, tightening the continued blockade of Gaza. I can only imagine the ingenuity of these young boys, working around the new steel walls, by hoisting their green canisters on radar-evading hot-air balloons or shooting giant slingshots by moonlight…