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?


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  1. Michael Mitchell II says:

    If the enemy has sworn to punish the action, doesn’t it become something of a sunk cost? And if it is in fact a sunk cost, then aren’t rational players supposed to ignore them?

    It’s actually something of a game theory problem in which both Israel and occupants of the Gaza strip find themselves with two options. Israel has the choice of either going public with their threat of punishing smugglers, or to not publicly threaten smugglers. The smugglers, likewise, can choose to go public with their smuggling, or keep it quiet. If one party were to go public while the other stayed quiet, the quiet party would suffer humiliation at the hands of the other publicly. If both go public, both save face to their own people and to the U.S.

    Now the real question is, wouldn’t they both benefit if they both kept quiet?

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  2. PVLB says:

    Funny how a question that actually has nothing to do with the recent war is again hijacked by the pro-Israel, pro-Palestine “think-tanks”.

    The tunnel diggers incentives, and thus the question that was posed has nothing to do with the politics of the region and is solely the consequence of very basic incentives.

    As with all things, I first thought of monetary motivations (or supplies since food and medicine are probably far more valuable in a place where there are limited necessities). However, like in the rest of the world, the blood and sweat that produce the means of providing products and services are rarely shed by those who actually profit from it (beyond the initial wages of actually building the infrastructure required).

    After all, when the work is done on a building, I doubt the common construction worker who helped build it would get a share of the rent money.

    So there’s really only one proper incentive: personal social credit.

    I doubt these diggers really see themselves as the savior of their people nor do they think the tunnels will annoy the Israelis enough to stop the blockade. But the sheer fact that their face is shown trying to justify a victimless act (at least in their own POV) which allows the people of Gaza access to supplies ASIDE from weapons grants them great satisfaction while actually doing the interview which is then encouraged further when his neighbors congratulate him for risking severe punishment to bring to light the “perseverance of the people of Gaza against the atrocious crimes perpetrated by the Israelis”.

    I’m certain other tunnel diggers would witness this kind of “reward” being dispensed from time to time which would lead THEM to think “hey, I risked my neck building those tunnels too, why shouldn’t I get some praise as well?”

    After all, building a tunnel and doing an interview is probably far less dangerous than strapping a bomb on your chest or launching primitive rockets.

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  3. Toby Edison says:

    The motive behind what the the Gazans are doing is simple game theory. The are trying to convince the Israelis that the tunneling effort is wide spread and therefore the Israelis must devote resources to countering the tunneling efforts. Just like the US and Russia built up their nuclear arsenals and then tried to keep the real capabilities secret. Both sides had to build expensive surveillence equipment to keep tabs on the other. These investments in spying distracted each side from other military activities. Thus for the price of the labor of diggers and some carefully publicized tunnels the Gazans force the Israelis to dedicated millions and perhaps billions of dollars in detection efforts. Its fairly sophisticated arms race.

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  4. Jonathan Katz says:

    The only secret is the location of specific tunnels. They’re not disclosing that, and if a reporter were found to be carrying GPS to a tunnel used for weapons they’d probably kill him.

    According to press reports, there are tunnels used for weapons and different tunnels used for consumer goods. The Israelis only target the weapons tunnels (one wonders how they know which is which, but apparently they do). It is advantageous for the builders of consumer goods tunnels to publicize them.

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