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Workshop on: "Gaza’s Tunnel Economy: Dependence or Independence?”

Series of Workshops on: Political Economy of Dependence and Independence in Palestine

Fifth Workshop on:

"Gaza’s Tunnel Economy: Dependence or Independence?”

The Ibrahim Abu-Lughod Institute of International Studies (IALIIS) announces the holding of a workshop at Birzeit University entitled: "Gaza’s Tunnel Economy: Dependence or Independence?” The workshop is part of a series of workshops on Political Economy of Dependence and Independence in Palestine.

Where?  Development Studies Building,  First Floor, Room number  104. Map

When? Tuesday September 25th, 2012.


(Simultaneous translation is available)




Workshop Opening and Keynote Address

(15 Minutes)

Samia Halileh, Vice President for Community Affairs- Birzeit University: Words of Greeting.

Abdel Karim Al-Barghothi, Director, IALIIS: Words of Introduction.

(15 Minutes)

Documentary film: “Graveyard of the Living - Tunnels to Nowhere” by Miriam Abu Sharkh.




First Session: The Intertwined Relation between Gaza’s Tunnels and the Israeli Siege

(5  minutes)

Alaa Tartir, PhD Candidate and Researcher in International Development Studies, London School of Economics: Chairperson.

(15 minutes)

Nicholas Pelham, Correspondent for The Economist: Speaker
Abstract (English) (Arabic)

(5  minutes)

Fahd Abu Saymeh, Financial and administrative Director of Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ): Commentator.

(25 minutes)

Open Discussion




Second Session: Gaza’s Tunnels Economy:  Economic Growth or Crisis?

(5  minutes)

Ahmad Azem, Professor of International Relations at IALIIS; Chairperson.

(15 minutes)

Samir Abu-Midalala, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences at Al-Azhar University, Gaza: “Gaza’s Tunnel Economy: A National Necessity or an Economic and Social Crisis?”: Speaker.  Via Skype.

Draft (Arabic)

Abstract (English) (Arabic)

(5  minutes)

Riyad Mousa, Chairman of the department of Economics at Birzet University: Commentator.

(25 minutes)

Open Discussion




Third Session: Privatization of Tunnel Economy

(5  minutes)

Linda Tabar, Researcher in the Development Studies Center, Birzeit University: Chairperson.

(15 minutes)

Samir Abdullah, Director General of The Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS): “The impact of the Tunnel Economy on the Private Sector”: Speaker.

Abstract (English) (Arabic)

(5  minutes)

 Mohsen Abu Ramadan,  Chairman of The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organization Network( PNGO) in Gaza: Commentator. Via Skype.

(25 minutes)

Open Discussion


Mehrene Larudee, Associate Professor, Division Head, Social Science; and Chair, Economics & Finance Al Quds Bard Honors College, Abu Dis:  Concluding Remarks and Recommendations .





Gaza’s Tunnel Economy: Dependence or Independence?


A concept note for a workshop in the series on the Political Economy of Dependence and Independence organized by the Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute for International Studies


Dependency theorists have often used the words distorted or disarticulated or deformed to describe dependent economies. Today it is hard to find a more distorted or disarticulated economy than that of the Gaza Strip under the draconian blockade imposed by Israel and many aid organizations after 2006 when Hamas won the elections. One Palestinian businessman called Gaza a “graveyard of industries” because manufacturing almost completely shut down (ILO 2009:4); and by 2009 there was literally almost no construction activity except construction of tunnels. While there was some lifting of the blockade in 2010 and more recently, GDP is still extremely low and the unemployment rate higher than in most countries of the world.


In the face of this punishing blockade, hundreds of tunnels under the Rafah border with Egypt have been dug, enlarged, and fitted with an extraordinary range of equipment to facilitate movement of goods, including cars and other quite large items. Over the years, the tunnels have come to represent a major alternative source both of consumer goods and inputs into production processes, and a source of income for the Hamas government and for those who operate the tunnels. This workshop seeks to answer questions about the size, role, and implications of the tunnel economy for Gaza’s dependence or independence:


(1)   What are the economic facts about the tunnel economy? How large is it, and how fast has it grown? How large is the labor force, and of whom is it comprised? Is it training workers in useful skills? For example, what contribution has the tunnel economy made to developing skills in metalworking, welding, torch-cutting, and other craft activities? Or is the net effect negative in drawing them away from more useful opportunities to gain an education?

(2) How important are the revenues from the tunnel economy to the functioning of the Hamas government? How have the revenues affected public employment? To what extent have these revenues shifted the income distribution of the Gaza Strip? Who are the winners and who are the losers? Have the fortunes of high government officials been affected, and if they have, what are the political consequences of such a shift, either for attitudes of such officials, or for attitudes of the population toward these officials? More generally, to what extent has corruption increased?

(3) How has the tunnel economy affected the spatial and sectoral distribution of economic activity in the Gaza Strip? Are some governorates prospering while others are not? To what extent has the tunnel economy been able to supply inputs to revive some industrial enterprises?

(4) How has the tunnel economy affected social indicators such as school enrollment and child labor (are boys and young men being attracted to tunnel labor instead of getting an education?)?

(5) Has the tunnel economy facilitated exports as well as imports? If so, of what? How much?

(6) What new links and dependencies has the tunnel economy created with Egypt? Are Egyptians visiting Gaza? What role has the Arab Spring in Egypt played in facilitating closer Egyptian-Gazan ties? How might this affect the future of Gaza?

(7) Have traditional class relations been transformed, and if so how and to what extent, by the functioning of the tunnel economy?

Works Cited

International Labour Office. 2009. The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories. Appendix to Report of the Director-General. International Labour Conference, 99th session. Geneva.




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