Why Do Gazan Tunnel-Diggers Talk to Reporters?

INSERT DESCRIPTIONA Palestinian in a tunnel between Gaza and Egypt. (Photo: Moises Saman/The New York Times)

A pair of recent articles — one in The New York Times and the other, a McClatchy report, in The Seattle Times — describe in close-up detail how Palestinians living in Gaza have gotten back to work digging tunnels that lead into Egypt. These tunnels, through which weapons and all other sorts of goods are smuggled, were one of the main targets of the recent Israeli assault on Gaza.

I understand why the Gazan tunnel diggers have gotten back to work. What I can’t understand is why they so openly describe and show this work to reporters working for American newspapers.

What is the upside in admitting it? Why publicize a secret activity that your enemy has sworn to punish? If I had just gotten out of jail for a certain crime, I wouldn’t invite a reporter to accompany me on my rounds as I tried to re-establish my criminal enterprise.

So what are the Gazans thinking? What are they trying to accomplish? To whom are they trying to send their strong signal of resistance? And what will be the ramifications?


I think the tunnel diggers are trying to expose what they perceive to be an injustice. If Gazans cannot transport goods across their borders freely, then "illegal" smuggling becomes a necessary evil. So I'm not sure the "criminal enterprise" analogy is a good one, at least not to Palestinian ears.


the tunnel diggers are dependant on the media to let the world know how the Palestinians have been suffering under apartheid- literally driven underground for effective commerce- the Palestinians only hope of creating a functional state is for world opinion to force Israel to obey the rule of law- so the irony is that the only hope for a tunnel digger to escape his plight and become something better is if the whole system is exposed as suffering, and a more meaningful existence is allowed the Palestinians in the light of day- and don't get it twisted- digging a tunnel is not a "criminal enterprise"- bombing them is


A few suggestions:

1: If there are journalists in the tunnels there might be less risk of it being bombed. Killing journalists is not a good thing for israel.

2: The tunnels have been the only way to supply a majority of the goods to gaza for a long time. It's not as much a criminal enterprise as it's the major import route for everything from food to fuel to weapons to medicin in the area. The local people views the attacks on the tunnels more as an extend of the try to starve them to death than as a legitimate attack.

3: People do stupid things. They speak to journalists even when it's not in their best interest, simply as they want to tell their side of the story.


I would imagine the Gazans are just happy to get any sort of sympathetic coverage in American newspapers.


"'They can destroy as much as they want, but the tunnels will just come back,' Mr. Abu Adnan said. That spirit of defiance is at the center of the Gazan psyche."

It sends two important messages: that the Gazans won't let the Israelis break their spirit through embargo and military action, and that the invasion was more about punishing and killing the Gazans than it was about achieving any legitimate military objectives.

Jonathan Katz

Defiance and morale building, to show they were not defeated. Criminals swagger.


I have to agree with mike. The underground railroad might be a better example. It's a message of hope.


That would be like a gang leader letting a grad student follow him around. Insane!


These tunnels are present. The Israeli military knows about them, the American papers know about them, and they will continue to get made as long as the marginal profits made by them over their lifetime is cheaper than the opportunity cost of building them, and they will be operated as long as the profits made by operating one is greater than the opportunity cost of operating one.

I don't think talking to reporters changes any of these facts. I think they're simply trying to express to the world an aspect of their existence.

Ramifications? Maybe Israel tries to stop the tunnels rather than attacking Gaza above-ground (or in addition to attacking Gaza above-ground).

Richard Klibaner

Why do bank robbers boast to their buddies about the job they just pulled off? Why do mortgage brokers talk to radio reporters about how many deadbeats they managed to put into variable rate mortgages? First, they are proud of their accomplishments. Second, we are social animals and our default is to reply to the questions of anyone who appears interested in us. I think your question evinces an excessive faith in the economic/rational man model.


One thing confuses me about the so-called embargo. Why can't Gazans bring in their legal goods via their border with Egypt? Is Egypt part of the embargo?


Your comparison with going to jail is both fitting and infuriating. Fitting, because Gaza is an open-air prison. And infuriating because it seems to imply that Gazans are guilty; they are not. They live under a murderous apartheid and blockade. Israel fires on the few fishing boats trying to venture in the mediterranean sea to get *food*.

Weapons? Give me a break. Israel uses laser guided 1 ton bombs on civilians.


It is entirely possible that Hamas, like al-Qaeda, is trying to use the media as their propaganda outlet. By showing reporters that they are still digging they are trying to prove to the rest of the Muslim world (specifically those who are marginalized and most likely to join their cause) that Israel has not been able to stop them, and as Mike above said, that the "injustice" of Israel's actions should serve as a call to arms for new recruits to the Hamas cause.


The answer is that the Gazans are very, very stupid.

Almost as stupid as the commenters above making excuses for their barbaric behavior.


Or perhaps its propaganda: they want it to appear that they have more tunnels and numbers than they actually have.



The enemy is now busy looking for tunnels, while in reality the Gazans are building hot air balloons.


A couple possibilities:

1. They want public attention for their cause, and they view P.R. as strategically important enough to be worth the possible loss of secrecy of the specific tunnel(s) they're delving.

2. They're flattered that a reporter is talking to them and are willing to spill their guts, and just aren't thinking about whether or not it's a good idea for them to do so.

John Neff

It is just another way of saying "we will never be defeated".


Hey Frankenduf - Digging a tunnel to smuggle goods and weapons between the borders of two countries is a criminal activity, the last I checked.

John M.

The Palestinians wouldn't NEED tunnels if they would just stop their terrorism. The only reasons the borders are closed is to keep the suicide bombers out. And no, the suicide bombers are not just "responding to the occupation". Gaza is not occupied. These are not "sympathy bombings" in support of the West Bank.

Regarding the war, Israel has a right to defend itself. Targeting schoolchildren with Quassam rockets is not acceptable. We would not allow it if Canada rocketed Detroit, even if the casualties were few. Moreover, Israel takes INCREDIBLE measures to minimize civilian casualties, to the extent of PHONING people to evacuate a building before it's hit. But Hamas insists on using innocents as human shields.

The only POSSIBLE argument against any of this is if one claims Israel has no right to exist. Which is, no doubt, the view of many here.

"Criminals swagger" is right on.