Written by Emily Gian. Media and Advocacy Director, Zionist Federation of Australia.
“You have no idea how scary it is to realise we have no idea what is underneath us”.
So began a conversation with a friend who lives in one of the Kibbutzim on the border with Gaza.
You have probably already read a lot about the Hamas tunnels, but I feel I must add to it because their very existence provides an extra layer to this conflict that cannot be ignored despite the fact that many commentators on the current conflict seem to gloss over them. I was therefore pleased to see CNN’s Wolf Blitzer tour of one such tunnel and share his experience. (The video below is not the one linked)
What is obvious, is that these are not shoddily built tunnels done in haste. They have been planned and mapped out in a way that shows that terrorising Israel in this way was part of a long term strategy, particularly given the Iron Dome has been so successful in stopping rocket attacks on heavily populated areas. As one commentator put it:
“The preparations that Hamas undertook in the area of tunnelling, rocket production, smuggling military equipment, training forces and strengthening their endurance all point to one clear conclusion: this is not an army of barefoot hooligans. There is planning, command, technology and doctrine”.
Each tunnel has been estimated to cost at least $3 million to construct so with more than 30 tunnels already uncovered, the total spent on the tunnels that we know about is close to $100 million. That figure does not even address the cost of weaponry housed, hidden and transported through those tunnels.
To construct each tunnel, at least 350 truckloads of building material is needed. Much of the cement for this enterprise is actually transferred into Gaza from Israel and given to the Palestinians as part of the aid which the territory receives. Hamas could have built at least 86 homes, 7 mosques, 6 schools and 19 medical clinics for the benefit of the local population with such material but decided instead to use it for other purposes.
Hamas chose warfare ahead of welfare, ahead of improving the lot of their own people.
It decided to build tunnels in order to terrorise, kidnap and kill Israelis. The weapons and other items discovered (such as tranquiliser guns and IDF uniforms) in the tunnels by the IDF demonstrate that Hamas was planning a large-scale terror attack in Israel, whereby hundreds of terrorists could infiltrate Israel all at once through tunnels that would open up into Israel’s south and in many cases directly into civilian areas such as kibbutzim and farms. Hamas was planning to make schools, kindergartens and dining halls their new battlefield. In which civilised society would this be acceptable?
Perhaps one of the horrific facts about the tunnel is that Hamas used children to help in the construction of these tunnels, where their “nimble bodies” are seen as an asset. It is believed that 160 children have been killed while building these tunnels. But I am yet to see any condemnation of this in the most of the international media, nor protests in the street.
This double disservice to the Palestinian and Israeli people comes with a little dose of irony. With all of the money it could have spent on schools, mosques and social services, Hamas is using existing houses, mosques, schools and hospitals to launch rockets from and hide within. While the tunnels end up in Israeli areas, their origins include a mosque, a greenhouse, a medical clinic and of course, civilian homes.
I have a challenge for you, the leaders of Hamas. If you are in Gaza and not living a life of luxury in Qatar or anywhere else and safely away from your people, then you who are most likely hiding out in bunkers underneath hospitals while forcing your own people to suffer above. You have taken donations given to you in good faith by well-meaning nations around the world and used it to build your terrorist empire.
When this war is over, if you still exist and the aid starts pouring into the area from countries from around the world (Australia has already pledged $5 million), then instead of spending it on rockets or building tunnels to terrorise Israeli men, women and children and again force the state to defend their lives, why not invest that money into your people? Why not show them that they are worthy of so much more than becoming the human shields, the cannon fodder and the propaganda tools that you are making them?
When Israel uprooted 8,000 citizens in 2005, it left behind hothouses, synagogues and an entire civil infrastructure in beautiful farms and fields which could have been used as a basis to build a wonderful country.
I wonder Hamas, is it too late for you to take up the challenge?