Gaza’s great tunnel recession

RAFAH, Gaza—It’s a clear sign that an industry is well established when cafes spring up to cater to the workforce. In the best of times, Café Abou el Nour relied on just this business model, supplying a place to rest and talk for the busy workers in Gaza’s tunnel industry. The smuggling zone extends across ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

RAFAH, Gaza—It’s a clear sign that an industry is well established when cafes spring up to cater to the workforce. In the best of times, Café Abou el Nour relied on just this business model, supplying a place to rest and talk for the busy workers in Gaza’s tunnel industry. The smuggling zone extends across both sides of the border separating Egypt and Gaza, and is split down the middle by a low Egyptian border fence outfitted with manned guard towers several hundred meters apart.

Once, there were more than a thousand tunnels on this patch of land. These days, however, squeezed by the Egyptian and Israeli governments and the easing of the Gaza blockade, the tunnels have dwindled to as few as 200, according to tunnel workers. Café Abou el Nour also sits empty, save for a 10-year-old worker snoozing in the corner, a few stray cats looking for a handout, and the establishment’s preoccupied owner, Ahmed Abou el Nour. “There is no work these days,” he says, “because the tunnel business has been very bad.”

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<p> Theodore May is a freelance journalist who has written for GlobalPost, USA Today, and National Geographic. </p>

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