October 8, 2013
The Rafah smuggling tunnels are passages that have been dug under the Philadelphi Corridor, a narrow strip of land, 14 km in length, situated along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
After the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979, the town of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, was split by this corridor. One half of the town belongs to Egypt and the other half was under Israeli military control until 2005. After Israel withdrew, the Philadelphi Corridor was placed under the control of Palestinian authorities until 2007. When Hamas seized power in 2007, Egypt and Israel closed borders with Gaza.
Though the tunnels are primarily used to smuggle weapons, they are also used to smuggle food, livestock, legal and illegal drugs, building materials and even zoo animals. It is not unknown for people to be smuggled as well.
It has been estimated that approximately 7,000 people work in over 1,000 tunnels. While many tunnels are of a generally high quality of engineering and construction – with some including electricity, ventilation, intercoms, and a rail system – they are still dangerous and prone to cave-ins. The openings to many tunnels are found within buildings in or around Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah.
In 2009, Egypt began construction of an underground barrier to block existing tunnels and make new ones harder to dig.
Since the summer of 2013, Egypt’s military has tried to close off most of the smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, a consequence of the heightened tensions between Cairo and the Hamas government in Gaza. By early September, with most tunnels closed, only a few tunnel workers reported for their jobs in maintenance work. Some mask their faces with shirts to avoid identification, in fear of repercussions, in the event that they need to travel to Egypt in the future.
Photo edit and sequencing by photo editor, James O’Hara