The Children of Gaza develop narcotic addiction to withstand the pain while working 12 hours a day in the tunnels
Written by Iqbal Tamimi
The Jewish children of the state of Israel that attacked the children of Gaza last January with their phosphorus bombs and missiles, and placed under siege their city from air, sea, and land are enjoying plenty of food, schooling, health care, transportation facilities, entertainment, water to bathe and swim, but what about the starving thirsty children of Gaza?
Those who know about the Israeli siege of Gaza might know the effect of the siege regarding the shortages of urgently needed food, medicines, building materials and other consumer goods, but what not many know is that this siege forced the children of Gaza, the victims of the siege in the first place, to suffer a new form of oppression and mental and physical pains.
The children of Gaza are forced to work inside the dangerous tunnels stretching underground between Gaza and Egypt where some food and other goods are being smuggled. They do other chores besides smuggling goods: they work in digging the tunnels, choosing the appropriate passages, connecting lighting systems, and laying pipelines to withdraw the smuggled fuel from the Egyptian side.
In March 2009, and for the third time in 2 months, the Egyptian police in Sinai arrested a group of Children who crawled through the tunnels from the besieged Gaza Strip. The eldest was only 12: Orabi Mohamed Abu- Saud (12), Mohamed Zaidan AlFaramawy (12), Eyad Hasan Zanoub (11), and Nabeel Ibrahim Abu-Toyour (11). They all sneaked to the other side of the border to buy sweets and food to sell them on Gaza streets.
The Field Research Unit in the National Assembly for Democracy and Law has published a report about the widespread phenomenon of child labor in the tunnels and calling for the international community’s help and support to end the children’s misery.
The ever rising poverty in Gaza as a consequence of the Israeli siege and the last military aggression is forcing the children to work 12 hours a day inside extremely dangerous tunnels. The boys transport commercial goods inside narrow tunnels stretching between Gaza and Egypt’s border for more than 700 meters long, at a depth of 12 meters under the ground. All they are guided by is a modest source of light they can glimpse once every 10 meters. The children work from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm and there is a changing weekly Rota for the night shift too.
The children take one hour break only during the 12 hours’ shift; leading as expected to severe exhaustion and fatigue for their strained tired little bodies. This in its turn lead many children to take a stimulant drug known locally as ‘Tramal’ which is said to help the children forget about the pain and revitalize their bodies and keep them working further without complaints. But at the same time this drug abuse involves serious health complications and side effects.
The children have to transfer commercial goods through the tunnels of all kinds such as: foodstuffs, electrical appliances, medicines, baby milk, textiles, footwear, and livestock. But the most dangerous of all is having to bring dangerous materials like “thinners” and solvents that are added to certain types of paints. Those solvents are extremely dangerous since their fumes are very pungent and poisonous should they be inhaled, and if the container happens to be punctured inside the tunnel during the trip of hell, it would mean a disastrous effect for the children crawling in the dark on their knees bringing other dangerous materials such as crude cleaning chemicals, caustic soda, and the fuel. They have to handle all these chemicals in a closed space where there are no ventilations or safety exits.
Because of the ever rising percentage of poverty after the siege, many of the children stopped going to school. A small number only managed to coordinate their times and work while studying. The majority of the children started working almost 1-2 years ago.
The majority of those children seemed not to be frightened of working in such dangerous conditions since they went through the worst of any child’s fears of bombing their homes by the IDF, losing family members who were killed under the rubble, and collecting the pieces of flesh of their peers who were killed during the Israeli attacks. It seems that they already have witnessed all kinds of horrors that immunized them against fear, or worse still it has stripped them from the will to want to stay alive.
Although many of them experienced technical problems such as electricity blackouts, gas leaks, collapsing tunnels, besides their problems in terms of low wages, and the fact that many of the tunnels they are working in were subjected to direct bombing attacks by the Israeli forces, they still have no other choice but to work facing death every time they crawl inside those death traps.
In one incident 20 Palestinian young men were killed by suffocating to death after the Egyptian Authorities discovered some tunnels and poured poisonous materials inside them and closed them. Fourteen others escaped death when they were rescued.
In the last 3 years since the start of building those tunnels, the total number of victims who were killed by the collapse of the tunnels only by direct Israeli bombings or the destruction of the tunnels by the Egyptian authorities had reached 117 people. And according to statistics from Abu Yusuf Annajar Hospital and the European Hospital 32 of the victims were children.
The interviewed children said that they were chosen to work in the tunnels because they have little bodies, and it is easier for them to maneuver inside, besides the fact that they are offered dire wages much less than the wages paid for adults. The wages of a child is between £8-32 per day but the majority earn £16 per day. They left school to eat and put some bread on the family table. Most families are against the idea of their children working but they can do nothing about that, since it is common sense to have at least one member of the family working when the adults find nothing to do after the destruction of their city and businesses in January, and the siege that prevent them from reestablishing any kind of business.
The strange thing is, those same working boys advise other boys not to abandon school for whatever reason. Because of the hardships they went through, many of them have even brought their disputes with their employers to the police and the elders of the city. They have complained against the owners of the tunnels.
What is happening here is a crime against childhood, abuse, and discrimination against youngsters. The owners of the tunnels are taking advantage of those young boys who can’t confront the strong adults or defend themselves against the owners of the tunnels.
There is negligence by the parents who know how dangerous it is to work inside such tunnels, some parents encouraged their children to work even though they knew the risks.
There is a clear failure by the authorities regarding preventing such phenomenon, which is criminalized under the Palestinian Basic Law.
There is a failure by human rights organizations in dealing with the spread of this phenomenon.
The siege should be lifted immediately; we call upon the international community to intervene to lift the siege enforced on the Gaza Strip and open all crossings to allow all goods to go through, for this is the only action that will lead to the immediate closure of the tunnels.
The children are not supposed to be crawling in deep dark tunnels on their knees; they are supposed to be sitting at their desks in schools studying, and they are supposed to be playing and exercising. Those children need to be rehabilitated since many of them have developed behavioral and psychological problems, and some have become addicted to some types of narcotic drugs.
Save the children of Gaza, bring them out to the light before they grow up full of anger and resentment, and we all then have to face the consequences of their oppression.
Iqbal Tamimi is an exiled Palestinian journalist, living in the UK. She has worked in news TV production, broadcasting and print journalism for almost 17 years and is the creator and organizer of the Palestinian Mothers’ network for human rights.