The article published by the New York Times On 7 October 2015, with the title “As Egypt Floods Gaza Tunnels, Smugglers Fear an End to Their Trade” ironically criticises the Egyptian government for seeking to limit illegal smuggling across its borders. The opening paragraphs of the article are audaciously intended to make the reader sympathise with the smugglers, stating the following “On a humid night in Rafah recently, six Palestinian smugglers sat around a backyard table, ticking off the damage that Egypt has done to their tunnels over the past two years… the smugglers fear that Egypt has settled on a strategy that could spell doom for their trade… ‘This is the end for us,’ said Abu Jazar, a 42-year-old smuggler”. By falsely referring to this phenomenon as “trade”, rather than illicit smuggling across an international border, which is what this really is, the NYT is trying to obfuscate reality, giving a veneer of legitimacy to what is essentially an illegal practice condemned by international and domestic law.
Could the NYT possibly not know that it is every State’s sovereign prerogative, indeed international duty, to defend and secure its borders against all kinds of illegal smuggling? What if that smuggling was taking place through clandestine, hidden, underground tunnels that can neither be monitored nor controlled? Would that not make the issue all the more urgent?
Illicit smuggling across borders, with the Egypt-Gaza border being no exception, is indeed a lucrative business. This is why the smugglers will always lament and try to circumvent attempts to regulate or eliminate their source of prosperity.
The article understates the concentration of profits in the hands of illegal tunnel operators, businessmen and investors, who will go to great lengths to maintain their steady flow of cash. For instance, they have been known to employ “nimble-bodied” children to dig the tunnels, who have often died in the process. In fact, the NYT’s attempt to lay the blame on Egypt for the contraction of Gaza’s economy, the rise of unemployment, poverty and constant power cuts is nothing short of absurd. In case the authors’ memories are failing them, Gaza’s serious economic woes are, in fact, a result of the persistent Israeli blockade, and Israel ignoring its responsibilities as an Occupying Power that is in control of four border crossings with the Gaza Strip. Easing restrictions on entry and exit through these four crossings is what is essential to rebuild Palestine’s economy.
In fact, Egypt has done its utmost to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people through hosting the 2014 Conference on Palestine, under the slogan “Reconstructing Palestine”. Advocating the persistence of an underground, illicit economy is not the way forward for Palestine and does not provide the Palestinian people with the long-term, sustainable, productive economic activity that they need.
Over and above, the NYT’s report is deliberately oblivious to the fact that the smuggling tunnels pose a significant threat to Egypt’s national security, fuelling and supplying terrorists in the Sinai. After all, if commodities can be smuggled undetected across a border, what is to stop weapons, human beings and historical and cultural artefacts from being smuggled in the same way? There is plenty of evidence that narcotics and human traffickers have repeatedly exploited the tunnels. Convicted criminals are known to have escaped through them. Weapons and firearms are constantly being smuggled across them. Antiquities are being trafficked in a way that threatens Egypt’s cultural heritage and promotes the illicit financing of terrorism. Is this the kind of lawlessness the NYT is advocating?
Paradoxically, when the borders and tunnels are not well secured, Egypt is criticised for acquiescing to smuggling and threatening Israel’s security. This leads to a Catch-22 scenario in which we are essentially “damned if we do, damned if we don’t”.
This article proves, once again, that the NYT’s biased reporting is intent on discrediting Egypt’s image in any possible way, for any possible reason. It is far from the standard of responsible and objective reporting expected from a media outlet of that reach. Beyond misleading and deceiving its wide readership, which is a feature of all NYT reporting on Egypt, this time the paper has gone a step further, advocating what would amount to a situation of lawlessness and chaos.
* Counsellor Ahmed Abu Zeid is the Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt