The Gaza tunnels - Gaza’s lifeline
After the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the Gaza Strip was left under Egyptian military rule until Israel occupied it during the June 1967 "Six-Day War". When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel in 1979, the border city of Rafah was divided; part went to the Gaza Strip and the rest stayed with Egypt. With a border zone patrolled by the Israeli army, Palestinian families began digging tunnels under their homes in order to keep in touch with friends and relatives on the Egyptian side.
After the Oslo Accords, Israel constructed a high barrier around Gaza and monitored those entering the strip through the various border crossings. These crossings were closed with the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. Israel also bombed Gaza's only airport and sea port, effectively driving the Palestinians to find alternative ways and means to communicate with the outside world.
• The tunnels were used to import necessary goods to compensate for the shortages created by Israel's siege.
• After the election of Hamas in 2006, Israel and Egypt designated Gaza to be “hostile territory” and cooperated in tougher and stricter security measures along their borders.
• Israel imposed an economic blockade and closed all crossings for transporting goods.
• The border crossing with Egypt – Rafah crossing – became largely closed after 2007.
• The tunnels became a LIFE-LINE for the people of Gaza, to break the Israeli-led siege by connecting divided families and smuggle goods into the Gaza Strip.
• The elected government of Hamas expressed numerously its willingness to close the tunnels should the Egyptian authorities accept to open the Rafah crossing.
• Israel realised the threat posed by the tunnels to its blockade on Gaza, so its aircraft periodically bomb the tunnels in an attempt to hinder their operation.
• Since 2008, the US has supplied the Egyptian army with tunnel detection equipment worth $23 million, including sensors, remote control cars, drilling machines and infrared cameras. The anti-tunnel programme, supervised by the US, lasted from 2008 to 2010 and was resumed following the military coup in 2013.
• During its campaign to destroy the tunnels, the Egyptian army raided homes in Rafah. Upon finding a tunnel in a house, they used dynamite to destroy it.
• Egypt's post-coup military regime demolished hundreds of tunnels, reportedly used to “smuggle weapons” into Gaza, with the intention of establishing a “security buffer-zone”.
• Since most of these tunnels were used to smuggle humanitarian goods and medicines, this threatened a "humanitarian catastrophe for 1.8 million people in the Strip if the buffer zone, which aims to suffocate and intensify the blockade on Gaza, is established."
• Israel used the excuse of the tunnels for its latest onslaught against Gaza in July 2014, in which over 2000 Palestinians were killed and over 11,000 injured.
• With the destruction of Gaza’s life-line, extreme poverty persists in Gaza now with 100 per cent of the residents relying on aid according to UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).