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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Saving Gazans or Saving Gaza’s Terrorist Tunnels?

Filed under: Egypt, Hamas, ISIS, Israel, Palestinians

Fourteen Gaza tunnel diggers were rescued on December 28, 2015 after their smuggling tunnel collapsed, purportedly because of Egyptian flooding of the extensive tunnel system in Gaza.

Four days earlier, a militant Palestinian advocacy group, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), published an article and photographs headlined, “Egypt’s seawater pumping project endangers Gazan’s lives.”1 

Gaza sink-hole near Rafah, along the Egyptian border (International Solidarity Movement)
Gaza sink-hole near Rafah, along the Egyptian border (ISM)

“A great number of international NGOs saw [the Egyptian] project as “a new threat for the food security and the access to drinking water for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,” ISM warned. “The Palestinian Government in Gaza [Hamas] demands that international agencies, such as the UN, take the required measures in order to stop and cancel this project that represents a clear violation of the international and humanitarian law and of the international conventions and principles regarding common cross-border water resources.”

Palestinian sources charged, “Besides the flooding, we are suffering from the contamination of the aquifers with sea water, the salinization of the croplands… And moreover, this project broke several pipelines that supplied drinking water and destroyed as well the sewage system in some areas near the border,”2 ISM reported.

Saving the Tunnels

Almost 2,500 smuggling tunnels passed under the Egyptian border after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007,3 and as many as 22,000 Palestinians were employed in the tunnel enterprise.  Smuggled consumer goods, such as cigarettes, food stuffs, farm animals, and even cars provided millions of dollars in revenues to the diggers and Hamas. For the Islamic group, however, the tunnels were a super-highway for weapons, rockets, explosives, and even cement – often supplied by Iran – for new terror tunnels under the border with Israel. 

In recent years, the smuggling tunnels have become two-way conduits for weapons, with Hamas providing weaponry to ISIS terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula. On July 15, 2015, an Egyptian coast guard patrol boat, sailing off the coast of Sinai, was hit by a Kornet anti-tank guided missile. The missile was allegedly provided by Hamas.

ISIS missile possibly supplied by Hamas heading for an Egyptian patrol boat. (ISIS’ Sinai branch)
ISIS missile possibly supplied by Hamas heading for an Egyptian patrol boat.
(ISIS’ Sinai branch)

The urgent appeal to stop Egypt’s anti-tunnel operation comes from anti-Israel organizations such as the International Solidarity Movement. The ISM is a violence-advocating Palestinian-created organization known for encouraging naïve westerners like Rachel Corrie to serve as human shields to protect terrorist operations against the Israel army.

A flooded Gaza tunnel (ISM)
A flooded Gaza tunnel (ISM)

The Real Gaza Water Problem

The severe shortage of fresh water in Gaza pre-dates the Egyptian campaign, the 2014 Gaza war, and even Israel’s capture of Gaza in 1967.  

“This severe shortage has steadily worsened over the past few years as a result of the increasing population [and not] seriously developing the water and sanitation sectors,” water expert Ahmed Hillis told Gaza reporter Mohammed Othman in May 2015.4 “[This] has caused another major problem: deterioration in the [water] quality, as seawater is entering the aquifers as a result of aquifers being overdrawn. The Gaza Strip has more than 6,000 wells, most of which are unlicensed…”

These unregistered wells have resulted in the decline of Gazan water quality and water tables.

The general director of the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, Munther Shiblak, told Othman that untreated sewage and the improper use of pesticides are also major causes of increased pollution.5

Seth Seigel is the author of a new book Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution For A Water-Starved World. He recently appeared on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show, and his comments were republished by CAMERA:6  “The water scarcity in Gaza was the result of ‘ideology’ and ‘government incompetence on the part of Hamas’ resulting in water being ‘woefully mismanaged,’ Siegel said.”

“Gaza’s water situation is the result of ‘poor governance,’ Seigel explained, ‘that allows illegal well drilling, unregulated agricultural, avoidable flooding and sewage-dumping. The solution is a partnership with Israel, and Israel has shown repeatedly a desire to do that, but ideology gets into the way…”

Today, Israel supplies Gaza and the West Bank with 28 percent of its fresh water.7 Gaza receives annually some 120 megawatts (of) electricity through Israel, according to Eylon Aslan-Levy, formerly of the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Aslan-Levy points out the amount is “four times as much as from Egypt, [while] Gaza’s own power plant produces some 60 MW a year.”8

Israel’s magnanimity is note-worthy considering that the Ashkelon power and desalinization plants 20 kilometers north of Gaza were frequent targets of Hamas rockets in 2014.


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2 Ibid



5 Ibid