So this is pretty gross. Egypt's long struggled with ways to block a series of tunnels that bring some 30 percent of all goods, including guns, into Gaza so they got creative. They're using raw sewage. Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Egyptian authorities had gone to new extremes to cut off the flow of illegal goods and "flooded" the tunnels that run under the border. It's since been revealed that this was not a flood of water, but rather human excrement — hundreds, thousands, even millions of gallons of raw sewage pumped into the same tunnels that, to quote Reuters' report, "has been a lifeline for some 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza." It's also been an increasingly popular way to smuggle arms across the border, a practice Egyptians say is on the rise since the Arab Spring.
It's hard to tell exactly what's going through those tunnels since there are about potentially hundreds of them. They are, however, an important part of the local economy. "Some 15,000 people worked in and around the tunnels at their peak," National Geographic reported in December, "and they provided ancillary work for tens of thousands more, from engineers and truck drivers to shopkeepers." The politics of the situation are more complicated than that, and they have been at least since the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979 split the city of Rafah in two, one half on the Egyptian side and one half on the Gaza side. Hamas seized control over the area six years ago and is now speaking out about Egypt's blocking the tunnels as a way of undermining the Palestinian cause. The AP describes the face-off as "a rare act of tension between the Hamas government and their ideological parent, the Muslim Brotherhood, which now dominates Egypt's government."
Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood's true motives are unclear. They say that they're trying to cut off the flow of guns and violence into their country. Egyptian authorities, for instance, believe that the attackers who killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai last August came through the tunnels. Egypt also insists that they've opened up the border so that smuggling peaceful goods through the tunnels is no longer necessary. Either way, flushing out perceived foreign invaders with raw sewage sends a nasty message. Quite bravely, the hundreds of Palestinian workers who maintain the tunnels aren't giving up. They're simply scooping up the excrement with buckets and going on with their lives. "Awful," one Palestinian told reporters from The New York Times. "I don't know why they did this.