On Friday, on the southern border of Gaza, not far from the Mediterranean coast, young men are dumping wheelbarrows full of reddish-brown sand onto makeshift new dunes on the edges of what just happens to be the well-defined district of the famous smuggling tunnels.
We are on the Gaza side of Rafah,
The sand is coming up from deep underground, in sturdy bright blue-plastic containers lifted by pulleys. At one tunnel excavation site, two young men were at the surface, around the a rounded tunnel hole about a meter in diameter. There was absolutely no barrier, nothing, to prevent anyone from slipping and falling into the hole that went down farther than the eye could see. The two men at the surface said there were six men working underground, cleaning out a tunnel that had been damaged in an earlier Israeli airstrike. Three middle-aged men were seated in a tent structure where guns are visible inside, erected just next to the tunnel hole. They stood up and craned their necks to see who was visiting, then turned away and went back to whatever it is they were doing.
The scene is astounding. The tunnel district is compact, well-defined grid, with allocated plots on each of which are structures covered with plastic sheeting, like booths at a Christmas fair, or the campsite of the performers of a circus. There are no visitors other than us. A double tanker truck are being filled with gasoline, and one is waiting, while the smell of fuel is in the air. Two boys are selling red and white packs of Marlboro cigarettes from a basket. What do you want, they ask? Is there Coca Cola, we ask? Later, they answer. Live sheep came through the tunnels earlier in the day in another area nearby. An ice cream seller (the product is in a cooler covered with towels, and the sugar cones are stacked neatly beside) goes up and down the grid, between the rows of tunnel holes.
And, it is terrifying. At any moment, an Israeli airstrike could hit. There is no effort at all to hide this highly-dangerous activity, and the growing piles of sand around the perimeter of the tunnel district are a dead give-away.
Another nightmare scenario is that the ground could collapse right under our feet. There are so many tunnels being dug, so close together. The earth is not solid anymore, here.
UPDATE: In fact, I’ve just learned that YNet has reported that: “Israeli aircraft on Friday launched two separate strikes on smuggling tunnels situated along Gaza’s border with Egypt. The army said direct hits were identified. A Palestinian health official said one person was slightly injured in one of the strikes. The strikes came shortly after a Qassam rocket fired by Palestinians from north Gaza Thursday evening hit near a kibbutz in the Negev region, without causing injury or damage. A few hours prior to that attack IDF forces apprehended a number of Palestinians who allegedly approached the security fence in south Gaza … On Thursday Palestinian sources said two people were killed when a smuggling tunnel collapsed. Three other smugglers were reported missing”.
Ali Waked and Reuters contributed to the report, which was published here.