Because of a four year old Israeli-imposed blockade, Gazans depend on smuggled goods from Egypt. This includes fuel, consumer goods and other items of daily life. (This American Life has an excellent program on the economics of Gaza’s tunnel smuggling system.) Now, the Egyptian civil unrest has forced the closure of this smuggling network.
Israel’s blockade of the region means Gaza depends heavily on goods smuggled through tunnels from Egypt – particularly fuel, cooking gas and building materials – but the ongoing instability in Egypt has caused these tunnels to close, severing a vital supply line.
“The problem is getting fuel to the border inside Egypt. There are no military forces on the Egyptian side of the border, so smugglers are getting hijacked on the road from Cairo and all their stuff stolen. It’s very dangerous for them,” said taxi driver Farid Abdul El Rahman, who is running his car on the last of his Egyptian diesel.
“There is nothing coming through the tunnels now – I think the problem is only going to get worse,” he said. Petrol has now run out entirely and the only fuel available is the limited amount coming from Israel at treble the price.
A fuel shortage in Gaza would not only mean no cars, but also no electricity. The blockade and severe damage to power stations during the 2009 conflict resulted in a chronic power shortage with up to six hours of electricity cuts every day. Gaza’s homes and businesses rely on fuel-powered generator.
No fuel also means no electricity for hospitals and schools. And not only is the smuggling network shut down, but Gaza’s only international border–the Rafah Crossing–has also been shuttered amidst political crisis in Egypt. That too is creating a humanitarian crisis. From IPS:
Until Jan. 30, the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza had been open five days a week for foreigners and Palestinians going in and out for medical treatment, to visit family and to attend school. On average, 400 Gazans would leave and 200 would return every day. Now the terminal is empty. The passport police, intelligence officers and other employees all left.
When Dr. Ghaza Hamad, chief manager of Gaza’s Department of Borders and Crossing finally managed to make contact with a liaison, he was told the situation in Egypt was too dangerous for staff to work and for the border to be opened.
“There are thousands of people who can’t leave Gaza or get back in,” said Dr. Hamad. “Those needing to leave Gaza include those with cancer or other critical disease. And those who are stranded in Cairo and other parts of Egypt are frequently patients who’ve finished with their treatment and who can’t afford to stay in a hotel or to rent a house. There is a need to open the border at least partially.”
No one knows how a new or reformed Egyptian government will approach Israel or its border with Gaza. For now, the long suffering residents of Gaza are poised to endure even further hardship as this uncertainty looms.