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Wanna Understand Gaza? Start with the Tunnels

(This is a cross-post from my Snip, Burn, Solder Blog)

Let's face it: You probably know next to nothing about Israel and Gaza right now. You hear a lot of highly partisan screaming, but it's all *so* polemical and contradictory that it's pretty obvious that no one is being straight with you. So, if you want to understand what the hell is going on with Gaza, I strongly urge you to get your head around the tunnels; they are a very informative microcosm of the region's politics.

You've probably heard of the "terror tunnels"--which have only really started to get the press they warrant in the last week or so. If you need a catch-up: Hamas has a tunnel-network of unknown size and complexity that allows soldiers to pop up on remote locations in Israel and launch attacks.

But that's the least of the tunnels--and the easiest to understand (after all, it's not that different from similar tunnel networks that were the nightmare-terrors of U.S. grunts in Vietnam).

It's the *other* tunnels that can tell us so much about politics in Gaza, and Gaza's relations with *all* its neighbors. These are trade tunnels that run into Egypt. Check out this 2012 paper by Nicolas Pelham (" a writer on Arab affairs for The Economist and the New York Review of Books. He is the author of A New Muslim Order ... and coauthor of A History of the Middle East ... , and has reported on Gaza extensively") for the Institute for Palestine Studies ("the oldest independent non-profit, public service, research institute in the Arab world."):

  • "Gaza's Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics of Israel's Siege"

    Simple fact: This is as close as I've seen to a non-partisan article about Israel and Gaza. I'm not offering you a tl;dr, because I urge you to read the whole thing and see what you see.

    In case you need it, here's an Archive.org link to same. Why would you need this? Because the Institute for Palestine Studies webpage has been going up and down a lot, since pro-Israel bloggers recently went nuts linking to this two-year old study, under headlines like Hamas Killed 160 Palestinian Children to Build Gaza Tunnels – Tablet Magazine. Funny thing is this: Most of these posts are focused exclusively on the following 100-word excerpt from the 8700 word article:

    A similarly cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities damaged the movement’s standing with human-rights groups, despite government assurances dating back to 2008 that it was considering curbs. During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, 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. At least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials. Safety controls on imports appear similarly lax, although the TAC insists that a sixteen-man contingent carries out sporadic spot-checks.

    The bloggers go on to make much about how Hamas has sacrificed 160 children in the name of facilitating their terrorist siege of Israel (or whatever), even though that claim cannot be supported by this source; I don't know if they're purposefully muddling the waters or simply didn't read the article, but Pelham is talking about the *trade* tunnels in that section, not the *terror* tunnels. Those children were sacrificed in the name of *commerce* not war or freedom or terror or Allah or whatever--which, to my mind, says a helluva lot more about our world, which is, after all, that's why I brought you this nugget to begin with. It's a two-year old econ article about trade taxation and border infrastructure from an obscure think tank--it's practically the *definition* of boring--but right now, today, it is fascinating and it is informative, and it will tell you something of use about the humans who live in a particular place under a particular set of constraints, and how they respond to those constraints.

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