The smuggling industry in the Gaza Strip and its effects on the Palestinian society
The smuggling industry from Egypt into the Gaza Strip has represented for some years an extremely profitable practice for a small group of families, mainly in the Rafah area. Some estimate the amount of dollars exchanged by local smugglers to be in the millions. Local criminal elements as well as elements connected to various organizations within the Palestinian Authority are taking part in this industry. One Palestinian publicist even described the smugglers as a "mafia that takes no one into consideration but themselves."
The majority of smuggling occurs by way of underground tunnels dug between the Rafah area in the Gaza Strip and the adjacent area in Egypt. Some goods are also smuggled by way of sacks tossed across fences separating the border, while elsewhere, fences are tampered with and undermined by organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Resistance Committees (PRC).
The tunnels, however, are also used to smuggle armaments. For instance, a recent report has claimed Hamas activists smuggled advanced anti-tank missiles into the Gaza Strip. Other smuggled items include everyday goods such as cigarettes, while at time drugs and even prostitutes are smuggled from Egypt.
Such smuggling is viewed as extremely harmful to the social welfare of Palestinians by many local residents as well as numerous articles, which have been published against the practice in the local press. Smuggling goods, they say, hurts the local Palestinian economy since such goods are sold at below-market rates, forcing local merchants to lower their rates as well.
Moreover, the situation has only worsened since the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza Strip, as local merchants are no longer able to sell their goods in the Israeli market.
An additional issue which has infuriated many local residents has been the use by smugglers of minors for tunnel digging work. The risk involved in such work is considerable since oftentimes tunnels collapse leaving those digging without oxygen or means of escape. The lives of countless children are endangered by such work—all for the sake of personal profit of smugglers, residents claim.
In recent weeks, the suffering of Palestinian residents living adjacent to the Egyptian border, also known as the Philadelpi Route, as a result of Israeli military operations against the tunnels has intensified. Such operations began with aerial strikes against structures from which tunnels were dung and later focused on ground operations. At least 15 tunnels were discovered in the Rafah area recently as a result of the operations, according to Israeli reports.
Subsequently, local residents have expressed strong opposition to the continuation of smuggling practices as they are increasingly fearful of continued Israeli operations in the area and of the suffering they will face as a result. Some residents have even responded with force against those believed to have been involved in smuggling.
This is not the first time that the local population has acted against smugglers. As in the past, however, the smugglers continue their activity and have threatened those who oppose them in the local community. Such smugglers have been joined by supporters of groups such as Hamas in smuggling weapons in order to strengthen their groups as internal strife and violence grows in the Strip. Some residents, moreover, have not hesitated to criticize the management of the Hamas-led cabinet that has turned a blind eye to the suffering of the local population.
So too, many maintain that smuggling weakens the authority of the Palestinian Authority as it allows private organizations to establish and arm local militias, thereby diminishing the establishment of a viable national government.