Gazans are paying tens of thousands of dollars to an Egyptian company to escape

Gazans are paying tens of thousands of dollars to an Egyptian company to escape
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welcom to America today with a new article about Gazans are paying tens of thousands of dollars to an Egyptian company to escape

Some are turning to GoFundMe to raise the money to get out of Gaza. In some cases, Americans are pitching in.

Some Gazans who have lost everything are trying to raise tens of thousands of dollars to pay a company with reported ties to Egypt’s security state to help them evacuate their families across the border from Rafah.

One of them is Ahmed Jamal, 35, an English teacher whose two small children wake up screaming and crying most nights, wet their beds, hide and won’t come out because they are scared they are going to die.

“Our situation is getting worse each day,” Jamal said in a phone interview Saturday from his sister’s bombed out home in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza. “I can’t express to you how we are living: hardly any food, no water, not enough gas, no power. People like me don’t feel there is anything left to do but leave Gaza.”

Jamal and his sister Amal Nassar, whose challenges being pregnant in Gaza during the war were chronicled by USA TODAY, are hoping that once they have sufficient funds, Hala Consulting and Tourism Services, a travel agency in Cairo connected to Egypt’s military and intelligence agencies, will help their families cross the border.

The situation has become especially acute as fears grow Israel may soon invade Rafah as part of its war aim of rooting out Hamas and securing hostages held since the Oct. 7. attacks. If the invasion goes ahead, it is not immediately clear how the Rafah border crossing will be impacted. More than 2 million people remain trapped in Gaza, about half of them in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

Gazans are paying tens of thousands of dollars to an Egyptian company to escape
Gazans are paying tens of thousands of dollars to an Egyptian company to escape

Escape from Gaza

For Palestinians, leaving Gaza for Egypt or anywhere else has never been easy because of a years-long sea, land and air blockade by Israel, which Israel says it needed to ensure its security and protect from threats of terrorism. Before the war, the Erez crossing in north Gaza, controlled by Israel, allowed some Gazans to cross over to Israel for work. For a few hundred dollars, travel companies like Hala helped people journey to Egypt for short stays. But the Erez crossing has been closed since Oct. 7, shuttered by Israel for its military campaign and as a buffer from terrorism threats. And today, Hala is asking Gazans to pay around $5,000 for an adult and $2,500 for a child to help them leave the enclave.

Other Gazans have reported paying even higher fees. Finding that kind of money is far beyond the means of most Gazans at a time when few are able to work or get basic food and supplies. Many, like Jamal and his sister, are turning to platforms such as GoFundMe, with their money-raising campaigns run by friends, relatives and even well-wishing strangers in the U.S. and Europe.

“I just refuse to rest until families like theirs are safe,” said Megan Bayra, a Californian who is helping to coordinate the fund-raising for several Gazan families on GoFundMe, including Jamal’s and Nassar’s.

Bayra has offered to host Nassar and her three kids in a guest house on her property if they manage first to get to Egypt and then secure a visa or asylum seeker status to travel to the U.S., which is not easy.

Ahmed Jamal, at left, and his son, Jamal, and daughter Teya, center, are pictured with other children in Gaza on April 27, 2024.
Exactly how Hala arranges the crossings from Gaza into Egypt is not fully transparent. The company did not respond to a comment request. What’s clear, according to multiple Palestinians who are either in the middle of using its services to arrange to leave or have already left Gaza for Egypt, is that the service can only currently be accessed by having someone in Egypt physically go into its office in Cairo to register and make the payments in cash.

Requiring payment in U.S. dollar

The payment must be in U.S. dollars. A receipt is issued but there is no apparent way to communicate with Hala directly. Instead, those who are registered are asked to monitor lists of names that Hala publishes on its Facebook and Telegram accounts each day that detail who will be allowed to cross into Egypt, and when. Once the payment is made, approval to cross appears, for many, to take at least two weeks.

The payment to Hala includes transportation by bus and an entry permit to Egypt that lasts for at least a year. There can also be extra fees added to the headline price to accelerate the process.

How many Gazans in Egypt not clear

Even before the war, the process by which Gazans have used Egyptian travel services to cross into Gaza spurred allegations the system is susceptible to abuse including bribes, corruption and fake payments, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a global network of investigative journalists.

For more than a decade, the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing has been overseen by Hamas’ interior ministry while Egypt’s security forces, including its General Intelligence Service, have controlled the other side. Israel has long monitored the crossing from a nearby military base in coordination with a civilian agency named COGAT. Earlier this year, Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt’s state Information Service, denied what he described as the “unfounded allegations” that Gazans were being charged additional fees to cross the border during the war.

GoFundMe’s website does not allow Gazans to start their own campaign pages if they are located inside the territory. It must be done by someone outside Gaza in the U.S. or Europe. The company did not return a request for comment on what security processes it has in place to make sure that third parties who raise money on behalf of Gazans are vetted.

Its website is full of Gazans trying to raise money to pay for Hala’s services.

Haisam Hassanein, an Egyptian-American expert on the Middle East at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington foreign policy and national security think tank, said that it is not easy to calculate how many Gazans may have been able escape Gaza for Egypt since the start of the war.

Gazan cafes and restaurants opening near Cairo

However, he said that one indication that many are has been the proliferation of Gazans opening up small businesses such as cafes and restaurants in Cairo and other parts of Egypt. Some are paying social media influencers to market their services. Hassanein said that Hala’s service is “an exclusive one for those who have the money. Egypt is interested only in Gazans who have the cash and are going to benefit its economy.”

Jamal said that he is doing everything he can to get his family out of Gaza and that virtually everyone he knows in his circle of friends and family are doing the same. He said that he is besides himself with fear for the safety of his wife Anhar, 32, his son Jamal, 4, and daughter Teya, 2. On top of that fear, he feels deep shame, he said, over having to ask strangers to help him raise the money that could be his family’s only hope of survival.

“What else can I do? What else?” he said Saturday, increasingly agitated.

He also said that while his family waits to see if they will be able to leave Gaza, he spends his days trying to distract his children with games of one kind or another. One of their favorite things to do is jump on a trampoline. They have a small one onf the roof of his sister’s building in Deir Al-Balah. It is partly broken.

“I just want them to forgot everything around them,” he said.

Escaping Gaza: The High Cost of Freedom

Levy begins by describing the tunnels, which stretch about 750 meters between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip. He portrays them as long, deep, cold, and terrifying, admitting that he himself cannot spend more than an hour inside due to these conditions. It is likely that his experiences with the tunnels inspired him to write this article and conduct interviews with those who have used them. Obtaining this information was not easy, as it required building a significant amount of trust with the individuals involved. Levy believes that these are courageous stories that must be shared, and to protect the identities of the escapees, he uses pseudonyms, although it is ultimately difficult to trace them once they have used the tunnels.

“Escaping Gaza: The High Risks of Freedom” is an essay by Gideon Levy, an editorial columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. In this article, Levy explores the experiences of Palestinians who have attempted to escape the Gaza Strip and the significant costs they have paid. The essay includes stories and interviews with escapees and the families of those who have lost their lives in the process. Throughout the essay, Levy emphasizes the dangerous nature of using the tunnels, which were originally built for smuggling weapons and supplies between Gaza and Egypt. He highlights the desperation that drives people to take such risks and repeatedly poses the question: “How can it be that people are willing to pay such an enormous price for a chance to live or start life anew?” This question holds great importance for Levy.

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