Tunnel Politics


Nicolas Pelham shines some light on Palestine's vast tunnel complex and what it says about Gaza's political future:

The tunnels symbolize Hamas’s paradox: on the one hand, they have enabled Palestine’s main Islamist movement to thrive amid an external siege, and despite a Western boycott to take their place amongst the Islamist parties that have gained or strengthened their hold on power in many parts of the Middle East. Thanks to Gaza’s supply lines to Egypt, its GDP outpaced by a factor of five that of Hamas’s Western-funded rival, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. Further propelling Gaza’s economy, Arab governments across the region, like Qatar’s, have been shifting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money from the PA to Hamas, signaling what may be a historic shift in Palestinian politics.

Yet the tunnels are also a reminder of just how much of a clandestine underground authority Hamas still is, and how fragile the territory’s recovery may be. Gaza continues to rely on smuggling for even basic goods, and the underground trade can be turned on and off as easily as a tap. The current restrictions, if they continue, could have devastating effects not only on the economy, but on Hamas’s own longevity. “We can’t keep ourselves imprisoned much longer,” a Hamas commander tells me as he and his patrol slouch bootless on mattresses under a makeshift tent erected between the tunnel mouths.

(Photo: A Palestinian smuggler is seen at the entrance of a tunnel along the Gaza-Egypt border in Rafah, on October 4, 2012. The tunnels are a vital lifeline for supplies of food, clothes, building materials and fuel into the impoverished Palestinian territory subjected to an Israeli blockade since 2006. By Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images.)