My Unforgettable Journey in the Gaza Underground

Written by MER contributor, Abu Mosab & edited by Ariyana Love 
When I finished high school, I was faced with two choices. I could complete my studies or start working. Unfortunately, I chose the second.
I decided to work because attending university requires a lot of money in Gaza. My family could not afford the school fees, which is 400 USD per semester for an English Literature major.
After graduation, I began searching for work but like most youth in Gaza, I could not find anything because during that period there was a severe Israeli blockade on Gaza, same as there is today. The economic terrorism of the forbidden blockade has prevented business growth and forced many businesses to close entirely. 
After many attempts searching for employment, it become clear to me that there would be only one type of work available during that period. In the underground tunnels.
Gaza tunnels are used to smuggle much needed goods and supplies from Egypt into Gaza, for civilians daily use. They are built by my people for the purpose of helping our besieged population and they are not used for war as Israel claims.
After many hours of deliberation, I decided to visit the tunnels to seek work. I had heard about the tunnels on TV but I never saw them before. I heard they are very dangerous and every few days someone dies there. But the workers are paid good money and that’s what I was looking for.
I went there secretly, without telling any one in my family because I knew if I told them they would prevent me from going. That morning, I got up early and gathered every thing I needed. I went straight to the taxi station. After 30 minutes or more I arrived in Rafah, Gaza’s Southern boarder town. That’s where most of the tunnels are.
I began looking for work in the early morning. There were hundreds of tunnels along the border between Gaza and Egypt. They were spread out like a refugee camp. Each tunnel was beneath a tent, which shielded the workers from the sun. Some tunnels were long, while others were short.
I went from one tunnel to the next and was rejected at all of them. Finally, after about 6 hours of searching, I saw an old friend who was working there. When he saw me, he was surprised and he came to talk with me. I explained my situation and he decided to help. He took me to the tunnel where he was working. There were a lot of workers there, some of them were sleeping and some were sitting. The boss was sitting with some merchants and other workers. My friend approached him. I could see the hole to the tunnel. It was big and beside the hole were a lot of goods. I realized that the tunnel is a very long one.
My friend motioned me to join him. The boss looked directly into my eyes and asked, “have you worked in a tunnel before?” I told him that I had not. I could see there was no mercy in his heart. If he were a kind man, he would never accept me to risk my life in the tunnels. He could have given me a job outside the tunnel, around the land. Something that was safer. I was only 18 years old at the time and this was my first job. But he forced me into the hardest situation straight away. The man was inspired by greed and Hamas leadership does not set limits to the age of tunnel workers. 
Then the boss said, “tonight you will work inside the tunnel here and if you are a good worker, I will accept you. If not, you have to leave.” Then he added, “this work does not need fear” and he was gone. I realized that was a message for me and I have to be fearless. I was happy to have work, but at the same time I was extremely nervous. The tunnels are not a place for fun and games, its a very dangerous environment.
When it got dark, the boss gathered the workers, including me. We began walking towards the tunnel opening, a small hole in the ground. With every step my fear was growing. My heart began to beat so fast in my chest and my legs became weaker with every step.
We reached the tunnel opening and I took my first step inside.The tunnel was like a grave. It was cold and dark. Now my heart was exploding in fear. I kept my head down and continued walking.
The height of the walls were not the same. Some places were spacious and I could stand upright but some areas were so narrow that I had to crawl on my knees, with my head tucked down. There are no words to describe the feeling I had in those places. I was sure I would not make it back out and this would be my grave. There was no protection and the tunnel seemed to go on forever.
I was thinking of death the entire way, until we got to the end where we emerged on the Egyptian
side. The length of the tunnel was about 2 kilometres, mostly inside Egyptian land. The end of tunnel was wide and had many rooms. We passed through a large room that was used for putting the goods inside. 
After some minutes, the hole opened and the Egyptian workers began rapidly throwing material inside. From beneath them, we pulled the goods into the tunnel room. This required much strength and we were forced to work extremely fast to avoid being caught by the Egyptian army. If the Egyptian soldiers saw us, they would not hesitate to shoot to kill. 
We worked 3 hours, without rest that night. I was used to working on my fathers farm, but I had never worked so hard before in my life. 
f130708ark01-e1379377555659The Egyptian boarder to Gaza is blockaded with fences, guard posts and armed soldiers, in defiance of international law.

Face to face with death

During the 4 months I worked in the tunnels, I came face to face with death many times. I witnessed too many workers injured, while others died. I lost count of the times the tunnels suddenly collapsed. Sand fell on top of us and we had to quickly dig our way out so we would not suffocate and die. 
One time I was severely injured by a machine that pulls the heavy material through the tunnel. It was a motor that flew out of it’s place in the floor and slid along the ground. A metal piece had broken off and rammed right into my chest. To this day, I still have pain in my ribs.
The Egyptian army showed us no mercy. One day, I emerged from a tunnel into Egypt. I was surrounded by farms so I began to fix the tunnel opening. After some minutes, I heard noise in the sand dunes. I climbed one dune to see what was going on and I saw came face to face with Egyptian soldiers. They began shooting at me without hesitation. I ducked and ran back to the tunnel opening, calling to the other workers to “Leave now.. soldiers.. leave!” We returned to Gaza.
The Israeli occupation also showed us no mercy. They dropped bombs on us from war planes, every single day. The occupation claims the tunnels are used for smuggling rockets so they can justify bombing us. But they are lying, just as they always do.
One day, I watched an Israeli bomb drop very close to me. The explosion caused sand to fly four stories into the air. I ran back into the tunnel to avoid the spray of debris.The other workers could feel the strong vibration within the tunnel. Trembling, I explained to them through the walkie talkie that it was an explosion from an Israeli bomb. 
Four workers died in the four months I was there. One of them was my friend. He was killed by an Israeli bomb. The bomb has collapsed the tunnel. He had suffocated, trapped inside. We could not save him. He was good man. He was working so he could feed his wife and two children. He was one of many victims of Israeli war crimes in Gaza. 

Reality vs Israeli lies

The reality is not as Israel claims. During the four months I worked in the tunnels, I did not see a single Hamas rocket smuggled into Gaza. Not a single gun or weapon. The mass majority of supplies we carried into Gaza, was food for my people. Mostly sugar, chocolate for shops to sell, iron for blacksmiths, cheese, Coca Cola, wire cabals for electricity, car parts and then many other kinds of food.
I also saw flour for baking, cement for building homes, oil for cars and gas for cooking being brought through the other tunnels. I saw cows and other animals. I even saw cars going through one tunnel that was very large. But never did I see weapons.
Imagine if this dangerous work was the only option you had to feed your family. Or like me, it’s the only way you could attend a university and get a degree so you might have a future.
Why should we have to smuggle food? Because we are Palestinian? Because we live on the land that somebody else wants and they will stop at nothing to take it. All of it. This collective punishment is a violation of our basic human rights. It’s terrorism.

Israeli’s are the terrorists. Not the other way around.

Israeli’s break international law, they continue to murder us and steal our land. They want to kill us all. Every man, woman and child. And they do! They terrorize us in so many ways, right in front of the whole world. They call us terrorists but we are defending ourselves. They torture us and massacre our families. They tell lies about us and the world believes them. But they are the terrorists!
Many people are forced to do this dangerous work and it’s all because of Israel. Yes, because Israel keeps an illegal blockade on Gaza. I was a victim like many innocent people. I saw things nobody should have to see and I worked harder then the strongest man.
Yes, I had hard experiences, but it taught me many things. I  learned that there is no such thing as human rights. I learned that the world does not care about us. The world cares more about pets and animals then human rights. All the world see’s what is happening to us in Gaza, but they are silent. Even the Arabic countries turn their backs on us.

I learned that we are alone. 

But we are strong inside, stronger than most people. We resist to go on existing. We will fight for our freedom and for our right to live in peace. Our spirit can never be defeated. One day everyone will know what has been done to us.
Ariyana Love is a researcher/writer with The Liberty Beacon Project. She is Directing Middle East Rising & Occupy Palestine TV news channels. Ariyana is a human rights defender and Goodwill Ambassador to Palestine. She is also Chairman of an international foundation promoting humanitarian projects in the occupied Palestinian territory.

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