The 1.6 million people who live in the Gaza Strip live in isolation. Both Israel and Egypt tightly control their border crossing: for instance, only 800 people a day can cross into Egypt and all men between 16 and 40 require special clearance. It’s not just the people who are restricted. All physical materials must be checked and approved before it enters Gaza.
These restrictions on movement of people and things has led to a thriving economy that is literally underground. Gazans and Egyptians have dug tunnels underneath the Gaza-Egypt border and use them to get materials into the Gaza without customs or approvals.
People smuggle in weapons and drugs, but also mundane essentials like clothes, cement and car parts. If you give people an opportunity for commerce they will take it.
The New York Times filed a delightful story about a Gazan tunnel operator smuggling in four-hour-old KFC to his customers. The fries will be soggy and the menu limited, but it’s an experience that briefly lets them break their isolation with each mouthful.
This phenomenon really tickles me. In the dramatic situation of closed border crossings and illegal and dangerous tunnelling, the Colonel’s face appears and promises that familiar salty and fatty mouthful. The tunnels make us ponder grand concepts like freedom, liberation, safety, transitions and desire. But even in these politically fraught tunnels, everyday life and dreams goes on.
In this most exotic of situations, amongst everything else, people still want fried chicken. We shouldn’t forget that life is experienced mouthful-by-mouthful.