The tunnels that move goods into the Gaza Strip from Egypt have been linchpins of the economy, employing 12,000 to 15,000 and supplying as much as 75 percent of the products sold in the markets, according to Sameer Abumdallala, head of the economics department at Al Azhar University in Gaza.

Pictured, Emad Shaaer has owned seven tunnels over two decades of smuggling.

Photograph by Eyad Al Baba for Bloomberg Businessweek

The tunnels that move goods into the Gaza Strip from Egypt have been linchpins of the economy, employing 12,000 to 15,000 and supplying as much as 75 percent of the products sold in the markets, according to Sameer Abumdallala, head of the economics department at Al Azhar University in Gaza.

Pictured, Emad Shaaer has owned seven tunnels over two decades of smuggling.

Photograph by Eyad Al Baba for Bloomberg Businessweek

Smugglers' Tunnels Fuel Gaza's Economy

The tunnels that move goods into the Gaza Strip from Egypt have been linchpins of the economy, employing 12,000 to 15,000 and supplying as much as 75 percent of the products sold in the markets, according to Sameer Abumdallala, head of the economics department at Al Azhar University in Gaza.

Pictured, Emad Shaaer has owned seven tunnels over two decades of smuggling.

Photograph by Eyad Al Baba for Bloomberg Businessweek

A general view of the tunnels used for smuggling goods, including food, fuel, and building materials, along the Gaza-Egypt border in Rafah on Dec. 27, 2012.

Smugglers say their importance is waning: Access to Israeli goods is improving, and the Gazan government has begun regulating the tunnels, sapping profits.

Photograph by Eyad Al Baba/APA Images/CORBIS

A Palestinian smuggler is seen in a tunnel linking Egypt and the Gaza Strip in Rafah on Oct. 22, 2008.

Photograph by Wissam Nasser/HFP/ZUMA Press

When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, the Israeli-led blockade closed the border, halting imports of everyday goods. In response, tunnel owners began to bring in everything from medicine to cars and appliances such as refrigerators, shown here.

Photograph by Eyad Al Baba/AP Photo

A Palestinian smuggler moves boxes of fish through a tunnel from Egypt to the Gaza Strip under the border in Rafah.

Photograph by Eyad Al Baba/AP Photo

Palestinian smugglers haul a calf out of a tunnel beneath the Gaza-Egypt border in Rafah on Dec. 4, 2008.

Photograph by Suhaib Salem/ REUTERS

Rebuilding tunnels destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in November 2012.

Photograph by Adel Hana/AP Photo

“When I get money, I buy land, I build a house, I buy cars, ” Shaaer says of his investments. “So I have millions [in assets], but I don't have a million dollars in cash.”

“You have money, you have a good style of life, but you can’t use your money, you can’t travel outside and enjoy your life. Gaza is a special prison.”

Photograph by Eyad Al Baba for Bloomberg Businessweek