Monday, June 14, 2010

14-Jun-10: Humanitarian aid, tunnels and dogs

John Lyons of The Australian, based in Jerusalem, is visiting Gaza and has some insights, most of them uncomfortable to read no matter what your political viewpoint (unless you identify with the Hamas Islamist-Jihadists for whom misery is a blessing and a tool, whether your enemy's or your daughter's).

This edited excerpt - the whole piece is certainly worth your time - offers some comments about the Gazan Palestinian Arab tunnel operators that we have not seen anywhere else.

AS Israeli Air Force jets roar overhead, our fixer suggests we do our interviews quickly, as some of the owners of Gaza's tunnels are becoming agitated. They don't like questions about profit and insist they are developing this huge network of tunnels from Egypt into Gaza because of the blockade that has hermetically sealed this small strip of land. Israel and Egypt are concerned the tunnels are used not just for goods but to smuggle into Gaza weapons that are then used against Israel. Israel periodically bombs the tunnel system -- craters are clearly visible -- and while 100 or so are estimated to have been destroyed, hundreds of others continue or have been built as a response. Egypt has also begun building a wall near the tunnels -- about 10km long and up to 30m deep -- to try to cut off the system.
When I ask one owner about profits he begins shouting: "My children need food. Dogs in other parts of the world eat better than our children!"
The tunnel operators have a vested interest in maintaining the blockade; they stand to lose tens of millions of dollars should it end. A European official who knows Gaza as well as anyone tells me what he says is one of the great unwritten stories about Gaza: that it is the tunnel operators firing the rockets... There's a strong logic to the argument of the European that the tunnel operators, many of whom have their licences only because they have paid Hamas, would be the biggest losers should the embargo be lifted. And a pattern of behaviour certainly fits with the theory; almost every time Israel begins talking about a period of calm with Gaza or every time Israel comes under pressure to lift the blockade, rockets are fired.
As news emerged last week of the nine killed on the flotilla and international reaction called on Israel to lift the blockade, suddenly there were rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. Tunnel owner Abu Ali rejects the notion it could be the tunnel owners firing the rockets: "No one can fire rockets unless Hamas and the factions of Hamas approve," he says. But that's not really a no. The 1,000 or so tunnels are estimated to amount to a $100 million economy. Hamas approves, monitors and taxes each tunnel, which costs on average about $200,000 to build.
From where we sit, it's a tough call trying to figure who, from among the rocket firers, the tunnel-making entrepreneurs, the operators of the tunnels and their financiers, and the tunnel-taxers are the biggest dogs. We like dogs and certainly don't mean to disrespect them with the comparison.

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