A worker emerges from one of hundreds of smuggling tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
A worker emerges from one of hundreds of smuggling tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

The Tunnels of Gaza

The tunnels of Gaza are a lifeline of the underground economy but also a death trap. For many Palestinians, they have come to symbolize ingenuity and the dream of mobility.

For as long as they worked in the smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip, Samir and his brother Yussef suspected they might one day die in them. When Yussef did die, on a cold night in 2011, his end came much as they’d imagined it might, under a crushing hail of earth.

It was about 9 p.m., and the brothers were on a night shift doing maintenance on the tunnel, which, like many of its kind—and there are hundreds stretching between Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula—was lethally shoddy in its construction. Nearly a hundred feet below Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, Samir was working close to the entrance, while Yussef and two co-workers, Kareem and Khamis, were near the middle of the tunnel. They were trying to wedge a piece of plywood into the wall to shore it up when it began collapsing. Kareem pulled Khamis out of the way, as Yussef leaped in the other direction. For a moment the surge of soil and rocks stopped, and seeing that his friends were safe, Yussef yelled out to them, “Alhamdulillah!—Thank Allah!”

Then the tunnel gave way again, and Yussef disappeared.

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