Gaza's Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics of Israel's Siege
This article traces the extraordinary development of Gaza’s tunnel phenomenon over the past decade in response to Israel’s economic asphyxiation of the small coastal enclave. It focuses on the period since Hamas’s 2007 takeover of the Strip, which saw the industry’s transformation from a clandestine, makeshift operation into a major commercial enterprise, regulated, taxed, and bureaucratized. In addition to describing the particulars of the tunnel complex, the article explores its impact on Gaza’s socioeconomic hierarchy, strategic orientation, and Islamist rule. The larger geopolitical context, especially with regard to Israel, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Nile Valley, is also discussed. The author argues that contrary to the intentions of its architects, the siege precipitated the reconfiguration of Gaza’s economy and enabled its rulers to circumvent the worst effects of the blockade.
UPDATE: A correction has been issued for this article regarding the claim that 160 children have died in Hamas tunnels. The figure is inaccurate. The figure represents the total number of deaths in the tunnels recorded by Hamas authorities as of 2012. Read the Journal's A response to Netanyahu and a Correction from the Journal of Palestine Studies.
Nicolas Pelham is a writer on Arab affairs for The Economist and the New York Review of Books. He is the author of A New Muslim Order (London: I. B. Tauris, 2008) and coauthor of A History of the Middle East (London: Penguin, 2004), and has reported on Gaza extensively over the past six years.