By Maurice Ostroff
Hamas officials admit that already by December 2011, at least 160 children had been killed in the tunnels. Since then tunneling activity has increased exponentially and one can only guess at the actual number of child victims to date
The above information is buried in a 9,000 word paper, mainly expressing admiration for the tunnel economy, titled “Gaza’s Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics of Israel’s Siege”. (Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol 41, no. 4 – Summer 2012 – described as the oldest and most respected English language journal devoted exclusively to Palestinian affairs and the Arab-Israeli conflict).
We live in a strange world in which not even the feeblest protest is raised about this damming admission by Hamas of the dreadful abuse and killing of children. No blaring headlines, not a word by B’Tselem, the Presbyterian Church of Britain or even UNICEF, the organization dedicated to protecting children’s rights, survival, development and protection.
Each tunnel uses at least 500 tons of concrete and other materials to the tune of $30 million per tunnel. Multiplying that figure by the number of tunnels uncovered to data yields an enormous total cost. Quite apart from the tragic human cost in the deaths of an unknown number of child laborers and others, the enormous costs wasted in constructing these tunnels could and should have been used to turn Gaza into an enviable flourishing proud state, building on the industries and greenhouses left behind by Israel when the strip was evacuated. See http://blogs.jpost.com/content/why-gaza-blockaded
But the important question that must be asked by the generous donors to Gaza is how did Hamas mange to divert the donated funds to acquiring the costly cement, iron and infrastructure including electric cables and even air conditioning used in constructing these elaborate tunnels as well as wages? Much of it was smuggled in but the irony is that Israel too provided Gaza with those materials in the mistaken belief that the condition that they be used for civilian construction projects would be honored. More significantly an enquiry must be held as to how these tunnels were built under the eyes of UNRWA and foreign journalists. Surely they must have noticed the huge amounts of earth excavated during the tunneling process which could not be disposed of without being observed. Were they too afraid or too unconcerned to ask questions?
Nicolas Pelham revealed what he described as a cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities despite government assurances that it was considering curbs. During a police patrol that Pelham accompanied in December 2011, he observed that nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. He reported that Hamas officials admitted that at least 160 children had been killed in the tunnels by that date.
Pelham’s in depth study describes how when Hamas seized the Strip from Fatah in June 2007, its military wing appropriated the Fatah-run tunnels and formalized the smuggling economy by establishing the Tunnel Affairs Commission (TAC) to regulate commercial activities enabling Hamas to circumvent international financial restrictions. In 2009 alone the TAC raised $150–$200 million in revenues.
Pelham noted that the tunnel economy also tarnished Hamas’s reputation. A Salafi jihadi from Gaza’s Middle Areas expressed it thus:
“Before entering government, Hamas acolytes focused on religious sermons and memorizing Qur’an. Now they are most interested in money, tunnel business and fraud. Hamas used to talk about paradise, but now they think about buying land, cars and apartments. After the evening prayers, they would go to study, now the Imam looks at ways to make money. Before they prayed in the mosque, now they pray at home”.
By late 2010, large commercial tunnels were estimated to be shifting up to 170 tons of raw materials daily including livestock. In 2012 a tunnel owner said there were at least 1,500 tunnels bigger and better than ever before.
Ironically, Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011 could have led to the collapse of the tunnel economy as Gazans looked to Morsi to open the crossing to overland goods traffic. But initial euphoria dimmed as Egypt’s military council, consolidated its hold and Hamas was charged with hubris for wildly overestimating the early benefits expected accruing from the Arab awakening. And of course, with Morsi’s ouster, the situation has changed dramatically.
And since operation “Protective Edge” we have learned of the undercover terror aspect of the labrynth of sophisticated deep tunnels crossing the border into Israel with multiple exits designed to allow terrorists to emerge and attack population centers including kindergartens as well as to kidnap Israelis as occurred with Gilad Shalit who was held incommunicado for five years.
It has been reported, though not officially, that Hamas members who have surrendered have told interrogators that operation “Protective Edge” averted an elaborate plan to launch a mass attack via the tunnels during the forthcoming Jewish New Year, involving thousands of fighters camouflaged in Israeli uniforms emerging from tunnels. The sophistication and extent of the tunnels that have been uncovered crossing the Israel Gaza border support the credibility of this information
In addition to providing infiltration into Israel, the tunnels with entry points in private houses and hospitals serve as rocket-launcher sites and weapons stores. It is perplexing that when journalist and politicians express understandable outrage at reports of the tragic deaths and injury of persons near hospitals and schools, none have offered any constructive suggestions about how to deal with combatants who commit the double war crime of deliberatively aiming their rockets at civilian populations from civilian locations. Neither NATO nor the USA have been able to solve this problem and as former commander of British forces in Afghanistan Colonel Richard Kemp has said
Based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare
and in relation to the current operation “Preventive Edge” he said
Israel’s military makes more effort than any other army to prevent civilian casualties.