By Geoffrey Paul
January 8, 2009
A lot of people are going to lose out financially if the Gaza tunnel business is closed down. Unlike the BBC, I have a friend on the other side of the Israel/Gaza border and he tells me that the whole economy of the region will suffer if Hamas can no longer collect $2,500 for building a tunnel, plus the “tax” extracted for the goods which pass through those tunnels on the way from Egypt to Gaza. The goods – they can be anything from rockets to nappies – are assessed by Hamas tax collectors on their way through the system, the going rate being more for cigarettes than, say, for fruit or vegetables (rockets, of course, are tax free). Then there is a fee due to those who own the land close to the Egyptian border who allow tunnels to be built under their properties . The highest payment is demanded for passing a human being through from one side to the other. I have not seen them and therefore cannot vouch for the claim that there could be – or could have been – as many as 600 tunnels running from the Egyptian side of the border to the Gazan exits. Certainly, some of the tunnels exposed by the IDF have been fitted with sophisticated electronic travelators (you know the moving belts you hop on to get to your departure gate at Heathrow). I am not a bit surprised by the assessment that the value of goods smuggled through the tunnels during the past two years have approximated $600 million a year. Who will compensate the Hamas “tax collectors” for their loss of revenue (not to mention their colleagues on the Egyptian side who have waved the contraband assignments on their way) ? Most delighted of all if the tunnels go will be the two or three Beduin families which used to have a monopoly on cross-border smuggling in the Egypt-Gaza area using the celebrated “ships of the desert”, known less poetically as camels.