KHUZAA, Gaza Strip — The attack tunnels Hamas has constructed running from Gaza into Israel have long sown deep fears in the communities on the Israeli side of the border fence, where residents talk of nightmares about Palestinian militants popping up into their dining rooms or kindergartens.
Now, the tunnels are keeping others up at night: the Palestinians who live on the Gaza side of the fence.
People living on the edges of Gaza border towns, like the Israelis a few miles away, complain of hearing surreptitious digging in the wee hours, and voice a parallel anxiety about the tunnels being rapidly rebuilt near their homes becoming targets for Israeli strikes. They are raising unusually harsh — albeit anonymous, for fear of reprisal — criticism of Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza, for putting people at risk. (They also sought anonymity to avoid their neighborhoods being targeted for Israeli strikes.)
“Dear God — we will be torn apart,” said a 42-year-old woman in Khuzaa, a village near the fence. She spoke on the condition she be identified only as Umm Nidal — Arabic for mother of Nidal, her eldest son — for fear of reprisal by Hamas.
Gesturing at the lumpy sand lot where she believes a tunnel entry point is hidden next to the shelter of tin, tarp and wood where her family has lived since their home was destroyed in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, she said, “I am sure, one million percent, that those with tunnels under their houses cannot sleep, or taste the joy of life.”
The fears of Umm Nidal and her neighbors only intensified over the past month as Israeli officials announced that they had located two tunnels about 100 feet underground — the first since the August 2014 cease-fire that ended 50 days of fighting in which more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed.
One, the Israelis said, was equipped with electricity, communications lines and a rail to help clear rubble. The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, also reported that a captured Hamas fighter had revealed the routes of tunnels in northern Gaza and said some included rooms for resting, showers and dining areas.