On our last morning in Gaza we visited the tunnels in Rafeh, a 100 meters or so from the border. Driving along a dirt road there are mounds of earth on each side and makeshift tents, each with a small group of men.
We stop and get out to look. A F16 drones above. The tunnel hole is maybe 1.2 square meters wide, reinforced with wood and drops vertically maybe 20 feet. You can barely see the man standing at the bottom in the dark. A metal hoist sits in the middle.
There were a 1000 tunnels, but bombings have reduced that number to approximately 700, we are told. The recent bombing of an adjacent tunnel has left a small crater, as evidence. We are told the tunnel sizes vary, from crawling, to crouching to walking. Some are long and take 40 plus minutes and some are short and take much less time to get through. Payment is anywhere from $500.00 to $2000 per one way trip. Not cheap but desperate times cost. Almost anything goes thru the tunnels; washing machines, cows, machinery, car parts, wedding dresses, and of course, people. There is even an oil pipeline. The Israeli's allowed some gas to come in about a week ago, but there hasn't been much pick up, as the tunnel price is a better deal. Even hair conditioner (one of the items banned for import into Gaza) makes it through. Local folks cannot understand why hair conditioner and Pampers aren't allowed in "above ground".
The tunnels are dangerous; they can cave in, and of course face bombing. The sound of an F16 passing high above, a clear reminder of the dangers of this business.
Other members of our group are very interested in the tunnels themselves, but I am interested in who controls them. This is hard to find out, and info is very vague. Various individuals "own" them, and I wish I could find out more, but there is not enough time, as we ourselves, have to get back quickly to the "other" crossing and navigate the anticipated delays there. I remember one of the Palestinian business men warning - "when you come back, I may not be here. It will be the Mafioso sitting here, not me". He desperately wanted the tunnels gone and regular trade mechanisms set up.
So - we leave - a short but highly informative visit to Gaza and I feel that we have done what we set out to do......see the disaster first hand and help advocate for change.
Back at Rafeh we pass through the Gaza side quickly. But the Egypt side takes forever, again. It is airless, hot and dirty in the arrival hall and we wait and wait, as others do, (not because its busy, but because there are so many layers of clearance to go through), until finally our passports are stamped. Such limited access for people, into Gaza, mostly denied, is a huge issue and I'm glad we went through Rafeh to see it firsthand.
Now we begin the long drive back across the Sinai Peninsula and over the Suez Canal, back into Cairo, back to Amman, back to London, and finally to Halifax, where the NDP Convention is already underway. My brain is working hard to switch gears. Were times different, our alternative route could have been a drive of an hour or so to Tel Aviv, and a direct flight to Canada.
I would like to thank the good folks in the Canadian Mission Office in Ramallah, who provided our delegation with excellent support, information and assistance to our mission in the West Bank. They are great people! This past Canada Day, in lieu of their stat holiday, the staff in the office in Ramallah organized and worked on a big clean up and fix up of a local children's park in Ramallah. Now that is a fine example of true Canadian friendship and support.
I must also thank CODE PINK for their wonderful help in organizing this mission. Kim, Ehab, Jase, and Sara, are terrific travel companions. This was their second, and for some, 3rd time to Gaza. They did what DFAIT wouldn't do in Gaza, they supported our mission, made it work, got us in and out safely, and paid their own way and expected no thanks, other than a hope that this mission will draw attention and that we'll keep the pressure up. We will.