Palestinian officials from the Gaza Strip have distributed a set of carefully-staged photographs they say are evidence that the smuggling tunnels running under the Gaza-Egypt border are for milk and other essential goods, not weapons.
The photographs show masked Palestinian militants lifting jugs of milk and sacks of baby food from the entrance to one of the tunnels on the Gaza side of the border.
Israel insists that the tunnels, of which intelligence estimates indicate there are hundreds, are used to import small arms and advanced weapons like heavy mortar shells, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missiles. The tunnels are also said to be the conduit via which the Palestinians receive the material used to build their Kassam rockets.
Hamas has acknowledged Israel's position by insisting during ceasefire negotiations last month that it would not agree to halt smuggling efforts as part of the truce.
"We cannot talk about stopping smuggling because it is something beyond our ability as a government and we did not give a commitment in this regard," Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told worshippers at a Gaza City mosque on June 25 as the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was being finalized.
Egypt, too, has never tried to claim the tunnels were for anything other than arms smuggling, and has even made a show of closing a handful of tunnels and confiscating the weapons found inside for public consumption.
Also backing up the Israeli assertion that the smuggling tunnels could only exist for nefarious purposes are weekly and sometimes daily summaries published by the Israeli government of the quantities of humanitarian aid entering the Hamas-controlled territory. The Palestinians, say Israel, have no need to smuggle essential goods into Gaza because there is no shortage.
Between 100 and 150 trucks carrying humanitarian aid from Israel and international aid organizations enter Gaza on a daily basis. Out of that number, the 50 or so daily shipments that enter via Gaza's central Sufa Crossing contain milk and baby food, according to the manifests.
The Palestinians, and in particular the Hamas regime in Gaza, have been accused of manufacturing a dire humanitarian crisis to elicit international criticism of Israel. So far it has worked, as mainstream international media outlets today routinely refer to the situation in Gaza as a disaster of epic proportions. Some have even gone so far as to parrot the Palestinian line that the situation in Gaza is a "holocaust."
Hamas and its supporters were briefly called out on their lie when in April they claimed that a shortage of industrial fuel had shut down Gaza's only electrical plant and plunged the area into darkness. Israeli officials immediately pointed out that Gaza receives the vast majority of its electricity from Israel.
Further betraying the Palestinian deception were a series of news photographs that showed Hamas leaders covering the windows of their offices with heavy curtains and lighting candles to give the impression of a blackout during press conferences.
Israel has imposed a limited embargo against Hamas-ruled Gaza, but has repeatedly stressed that the sanctions only limit the import of non-essential goods and some building materials that had previously been used to manufacture rockets. Exports from Gaza have also been curtailed to combat the terrorists' practice of hiding bombs in shipments of agricultural produce.