Only a few workers remain, and they are either napping on cots or taking endless smoke breaks. These are the Gaza smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border, once a bustling source of weapons and other goods, but today they stand largely empty.
Earlier this summer, the Egyptian military began a campaign to destroy most of the tunnels. Cairo feared the tunnels would be used by Hamas terrorists to support the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in its fight against the Egyptian military. This has brought about great tension between Hamas and the new Egyptian government.
For years the tunnels served as an illegal supply artery for the people of Gaza. After Hamas seized power in the coastal enclave and began firing missiles at southern Israel, the Jewish state imposed a blockade and the tunnels became particularly important.
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak partially joined that blockade before being ousted two years ago in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, which temporarily gave Hamas and its allies reason to hope the tunnels would no longer be necessary.
In fact, the tunnels themselves had become a major industry, employing a large number of local Palestinians and providing needed supplemental income to Hamas and Egyptian security officials who were bribed to look the other way.
Now that the Egyptian army has put an end to all this, local Gazans are angry.
“For us there is no alternative. We must work in these tunnels,” said laborer Hossam Rashwan. Another, Asaad Najar, charged, “Egypt is treating us like an enemy.”
Tellingly, the mainstream media and international organizations that made such a big deal over Israel’s blockade and attempts to deal with the smuggling tunnels have been all but silent in the face of Egypt’s handling of the situation.