National Geographic : 2012 Dec
pocked by gun re and shrapnel from Israeli in- cursions and the bloodletting of local factions, children digging in the dirt with kitchen spoons, hand-cranked generators thrumming---yet an- other Gaza power outage---their diesel exhaust lling the air. "I was so scared," Samir said, referring to the day in 2008 when he joined Yussef to work in the tunnels. "I didn't want to, but I had no choice." in, dressed in sweatpants, a brown sweater, dark socks, and open-toe sandals, Samir was nervous and dgety. Like the others in the room, he was chain-smoking. "You can die at any mo- ment," he said. Some of the tunnels Yussef and Samir worked in were properly maintained--- well built, ventilated---but many more were not. Tunnel collapses are frequent, as are explosions, air strikes, and res. "We call it tariq al shahada ao tariq al mawt," Samir said---"a way to paradise or a way to death." Everybody, it seemed, had injuries or health problems. Yussef had developed a chronic respi- ratory illness. Khamis's leg had been broken in a collapse. eir co-worker Suhail pulled up his shirt to show me an inches-long scar along his spine, a permanent reminder of the low ceilings. "In Rafah," Samir said, "it felt like a bad omen was present all the time. We always expected something bad to happen." In the Gaza Strip today hero status is no lon- ger reserved for the likes of Yasser Arafat and Ahmed Yassin---the late leaders, respectively, A NEW TUNNEL OWNER, in white cap, watches his son descend into the well shaft to continue digging. Wealthy owners can afford mechanized winches, but this man, who saved for years to get a share of the tunnel trade, must rely on his family and a horse.