At approximately 11:00 am on Tuesday 19 February 2013, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights organized a meeting on “Ways to Enhance Protection and Safety Mechanisms for Tunnel Workers”, held at Al Mezan’s library in Rafah.
Approximately 40 people attended the meeting including mkhateer, peace committees, representatives of Palestinian factions and political parties, local society activists, and journalists.
Attendees included Captain Mohammed Al Mgheer, representative of Civil Defense Apparatus in Rafah; Captain Fat’hi Al Jirjawi, representative of Tunnels and Borders Committee; Mrs.
Mervat An-Nahhal, Coordinator of the Legal Assistance Unit at Al Mezan; and Mohammed Abdullah, Al Mezan’s field worker in Rafah.
Mohammed Abdullah opened the meeting by welcoming the participants.
He then talked about the reason behind holding the meeting: the tunnel death toll.
He said according to Al Mezan’s documentation, 236 persons were killed inside tunnels; 20 of whom were killed inside tunnels as a result of direct Israeli aerial attacks on tunnels.
12 of the 236 were children.
Since 2006, the number of injured persons who work inside tunnels is 599.
Captain Fat’hi Al Jirjawi talked about the creation of a safety and security committee consisting of representatives of civil defense, the tunnel and border committees, with the internal security apparatus as an observer.
He said that the committee was formed because of the continued deaths occurring in the tunnels.
He added that the aim of this committee is to gauge safety inside tunnels and to follow up with the required procedures to protect the lives of workers.
Moreover, he said that the committee has closed a number of tunnels that violate the safety procedures.
In addition, he talked about compensation procedures for those who die inside tunnels.
He said the family of a married worker who is killed usually takes 12,000 USD and the family of a non-married worker who is killed is usually 10,000 USD.
Captain Mohammed Al Mgheer talked about criteria imposed on the tunnel owners.
He said tunnels are classified into six types: tunnels for individuals, fuel, construction materials, iron and scarp, cocking gas, vehicles, and tunnels for spare parts.
He said the needed criteria for general safety are: the tunnel shaft should be covered by cement bricks.
The shaft itself must be 0.
8 meters above the ground, its diameter not less than two meters, and generators and electric boards should be in a separate room that is equipped with tunnel firefighting device, and is provided with tunnel earthling systems.
He asserted if the soil is not suitable, walls should be made of cement bricks and every four meters a cement column should be erected.
The tunnel should be roofed by cement or iron beams and covered with solid wood on top.
Walls may be made of woods but only after having consent from the public security and safety committee at the borders committee.
All electric cables should be gathered in a dielectric box.
At least one worker in each tunnel should receive first aid training.
Al Mgheer mentioned that in the cases of elevators being within the tunnel shafts, as is sometimes the case for individuals, the owner of the tunnel should provide a metal spiral spring to fit under the elevator.
The safety and security technician should gauge the ventilation systems, which should be provided inside tunnels.
A room equipped with a firefighting device, first aid bags, and battery torches should be placed every 150 meters inside the tunnel.
Each tunnel should have a mouth at the Egyptian side.
All cables should be kept in dielectric plastic tubes.
The electricity network should be examined at least once a month.
Going down inside the tunnel should be by elevator or ladder.
Mervat An-Nahhal said that the tight closure imposed by the Israeli occupying forces on the Gaza Strip, which prevents the free movement of commodities and humanitarian supplies, has driven the tunnel industry, which has prospered in response to the acute lack of essential goods in Gaza.
The tunnels are now fully operative, regardless of their illegality.
Since the government adopted the tunnels under the exceptional situation mounting from the closure, the government is obliged to protect the citizens’ levies and rights of workers.
An-Nahhal then talked about violations of workers’ rights such as the right to life and physical safety.
She then talked about Palestinian Labor Law and how it protects workers – particularly minors; the exceptional conditions for minors work and their allowed working hours.
In addition, she talked about the monitoring role of the civil defense under law No 3 of 1998 and the role of the public prosecution under article 218 of Palestinian Criminal Law to determine the criminal responsibility for unintended death.
An-Nahhal asserted the importance of working together to create real monitoring mechanisms for tunnel work.
Abdullah opened up the discussion for participants, some of whom criticized the government’s performance in dealing with tunnels.
At the end of the meeting, the participants concluded with the following recommendations: · Call on international community to exert pressure on Israel to end its siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, which is considered a collective punishment; · Create victims fund to ensure fair compensation for families of persons killed and injured, particularly who sustained permanent disability, during their work inside tunnels; · Implement safety criteria created by civil defense apparatus and monitor its implementation on the ground; · Monitor quality and price of goods entered to Gaza via tunnels; and · Tightening monitoring over prohibited items and medicine.