March 28, 2008
Gaza Tunnels
Watch the program: Part 1 | Part 2

I first met Saïd and Hamdam in Rafah, two years ago, during the shooting of my first documentary about the Gaza Strip. It was just after the Israelis pulled out. I wanted to see how the situation would change for the town and its inhabitants. Rafah has always been the center for arms smuggling between Egypt and the Gaza Strip: A city cut in two by the border between the two territories. Since the end of the second Intifada, a good many tunnels have been dug in order to reach Egypt, and to bring back weapons.

The first time I saw Saïd and Hamdam, they were 12 years old. They were fooling around, digging a small tunnel. The tunnel entrance looked pretty realistic. It was quite an amusing scene, and I filmed them and did an interview. Hamdam told me they were training, so that one day they'd be able to dig a real tunnel. I never thought they'd actually do it so soon.

In July 2007, Hamas had just taken control of the territory. All the border posts with Israel and Egypt had been closed down as a reprisal for the Islamists' coup. The tunnels now played a vital role in providing supplies for the Gaza Strip. It was at that moment that Saïd and Hamdam became professional tunnel-diggers.

They insisted on showing me their first tunnel. I could only be impressed by these 14-year-old kids who were committed to such dangerous work. As I talked with them, I came to understand that they did not at all take part in the actual trafficking. Since the Gaza Strip blockade was imposed, the traffickers were no longer digging their own tunnels. They asked kids like Saïd and Hamdam to do the work for them. Once the tunnel was dug, they were paid off and asked to leave.

I wanted to both tell this story, and to film the two teenagers, for whom I felt a genuine affection.
I wanted to show these kids’ daily lives, and how they are obliged to spend many long nights digging a rat hole in order to make a living.
I spent the whole of December and part of January alongside them. I was interested in their lives as teenagers in the Gaza Strip territory as much as in their work in the tunnels. For them, and for myself, there was never a question of hiding their faces. They are not wealthy traffickers, but simply two kids with no alternative, if they want to put food on the table.

During the night of January 22-23, Hamas men had just blown up the wall marking the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The next day, I met my young diggers. In just a few minutes, they were able to cross the border on foot, whereas they had spent months digging a tunnel to cover the same distance. They were gutted. They were out of a job ...

Over the next two weeks, when the border remained open, I stayed with them. When the border was once again closed down, I went back to the tunnels with them. Just like before. And as long as the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt stays closed, they will continue to dig.

-- From reporter Stephane Marchetti
World’s Untold Stories showcases courageous correspondents telling intimate stories of society's most vulnerable people. Often gritty, always powerful tales that open our eyes to a world that is at times disturbing and captivating. Storytelling that is raw and unyielding in its impact. World’s Untold Stories will bring the viewer tales from all corners of the world, and shine light on activities almost never exposed.

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