Photo Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
Gazan Arabs who can afford $10,000 per person leave to Egypt via the Rafah border crossing, February 6, 2024.

On May 6, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) captured the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, drawing condemnations from the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist group and Egypt.

The IDF said it had “intelligence that terrorists were using the border crossing for terror purposes.” A day earlier, Hamas terrorists fired rockets from near the Rafah terminal toward the Kerem Shalom area (near the Israel-Gaza border), killing four Israeli soldiers and wounding several others.

Advertisement




In response to the Israeli military operation, Hamas and Egypt were quick to issue statements denouncing the capture of the Rafah border crossing, claiming that the move would “threaten” the lives of the Palestinians and hinder the entry of humanitarian and relief aid into the Gaza Strip.

“Egypt condemns in the strongest terms the Israeli military operations in the Palestinian city of Rafah, and the resulting Israeli control over the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing,” read a statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“This dangerous escalation threatens the lives of more than a million Palestinians who depend primarily on this crossing as it is the main lifeline of the Gaza Strip, and the safe outlet for the wounded and sick to exit to receive treatment, and for the entry of humanitarian and relief aid to our Palestinian brothers in Gaza.”

Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip also expressed outrage over the Israeli move and said they would not accept the presence of any non-Palestinian party on the Palestinian side of their terminal.

“We will not accept from any party the imposition of any form of guardianship over the Rafah crossing,” the terrorist groups cautioned. They urged the Arab and Islamic states “to reject any plans and attempts that affect Palestinian-Egyptian sovereignty over the Rafah crossing.”

The Egyptians and Hamas have good reason to be angry with the presence of the IDF at the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing. For several years, Palestinians who wanted to exit the Gaza Strip via the terminal have alleged that they had to bribe Hamas and officials. Hamas and Egypt are now afraid of losing the Palestinian milk-cow.

In 2015, Egyptian journalist Ahmed Moussa revealed that Hamas received bribes worth $6,000 from Palestinians for passing through the Rafah border crossing.

A year later, Palestinian journalist Noha Abu Amr wrote on her Facebook page about the plight of her 50-year-old mother, who was unable to travel through the Rafah crossing, but she did not pay a bribe to Hamas officials. She said that her mother sat on the floor and kissed the hands and legs of the crossing officials in full view of the people and begged them to allow her to travel. “They treated her like animals,” Abu Amr recounted. “It is our right to travel without bribes and without corruption. We are living under a [Hamas] dictatorship.” Abu Amr was later arrested by Hamas security officers, who confiscated her mobile phone and ordered her to delete the Facebook post.

Arab and Western media outlets have reported that since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October 2023, Palestinians who want to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah terminal are being compelled to bribe Egyptian officials with thousands of dollars. The war erupted after Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and massacred, decapitated, raped and dismembered 1,200 Israelis on October 7. Additionally, more than 240 Israelis were abducted by the terrorists and taken to the Gaza Strip; 132 hostages, many of whom are believed to have been killed, are still being held there by the terrorist group.

“To leave Gaza, people are paying a $5,000 bribe to Egypt,” the Gaza-based Palestinian journalist Hind Khoudary wrote on X on November 23, 2023.

Palestinians who try to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing have to pay bribes to brokers of up to $10,000, the British newspaper The Guardian reported on January 8, 2024.

“Very few Palestinians have been able to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing but those trying to get their names on the list of people permitted to exit daily say they are being asked to pay large ‘coordination fees’ by a network of brokers and couriers with alleged links to the Egyptian intelligence services.”

It quoted a Palestinian man in the US as saying he paid $9,000 to get his wife and children on the list. On the day of travel, he was told his children’s names were not listed and he would have to pay an extra $3,000. He said the brokers were “trying to trade in the blood of Gazans”.

“It’s very frustrating and saddening,” he said. “They are trying to exploit people who are suffering, who are trying to get out of the hell in Gaza.”

According to The Guardian:

“A network of brokers, based in Cairo, helping Palestinians leave Gaza has operated around the Rafah border for years. But prices have surged since the start of the war, from $500 for each person.”

The Guardian interviewed a number of Palestinians who have been told they would have to pay between $5,000 and $10,000 each to leave the Gaza Strip, with some launching crowdfunding campaigns to raise the money.

A Palestinian living in the UK was quoted as saying:

“People are making money off the misery of others. They’re desperate to get out to save their lives and instead of helping they’re trying to make money. If there’s a way to get people out, then why not just help?”

A company owned by an influential Egyptian businessman and ally of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is making around $2 million a day from Palestinians fleeing the Gaza Strip, according to the Middle East Eye (MEE), a UK-based news website, on May 1, 2024

“Hala Consulting and Tourism Services, a firm owned by Sinai tribal leader and business tycoon Ibrahim al-Organi, has been charging Palestinians crossing from Gaza’s Rafah to Egypt at least $5,000 per adult and $2,500 for children under 16.

“It has a monopoly on providing transfer services at the Rafah crossing, the only Gaza exit not bordered with Israel and the single route out of the coastal enclave for Palestinians.”

In the past three months alone, the company is estimated to have made a minimum of $118 million from desperate Palestinians trying to leave the Gaza Strip, according to MEE.

“By the end of this year, if the April average continues, the company may earn well over half a billion dollars from the so-called VIP list of people Hala is transferring across the Gaza-Egypt border…

“Palestinian and Egyptian sources told MEE that several intermediaries were involved in coordinating the exit of Palestinians in a haphazard, decentralised way.

“Before February, Palestinians were charged up to $11,000 per adult to leave Gaza, until Hala monopolised the business and standardised fees.

“Prior to the war, Hala charged everyone exiting Gaza via the Rafah crossing $350 per person, but the price has increased 14-fold for Palestinians.”

According to the Palestinian ambassador in Cairo, Diab Allouh, an estimated 80,000-100,000 Palestinians have fled Gaza via Egypt since the war began.

Earlier this year, MEE reported that an international charity with extensive experience in providing emergency aid in wars, famines and earthquakes throughout the Middle East and in Afghanistan is also being forced to pay $5,000 per truck to a company linked to Egypt’s General Intelligence Service to get aid into the Gaza Strip.

“The charity, which does not want to be named to avoid obstruction to its relief efforts in Gaza, spoke to Middle East Eye in outrage at having to pay what it openly describes as a bribe to a state-linked agent.”

MEE quoted a spokesman for the charity as saying:

“We have worked around the world in times of war, earthquakes and other disasters, but we have never been treated like this by a state that is profiteering from the dispatch of humanitarian goods. It’s draining a lot of our resources and the bribe being paid is per truck.”

According to MEE:

“The charity’s statement to MEE is the first concrete evidence of Egypt or Egyptian government-linked parties demanding a cut from the humanitarian aid going into Gaza…”

MEE said it spoke to five Palestinian families who all confirmed that they had paid fees in the thousands, mostly in US dollars or euros, to mediators who then facilitated their exit from Gaza.

Nadia Atawy, an Egyptian woman trapped in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the war, said in a video that she is unable to pay a $650 bribe to return to her family in Egypt though the Rafah border crossing. “I don’t have the money to pay,” Atawy complained. “I have children with me and I can’t afford to pay [the bribe]. I don’t know what to do.”

The Palestinians actually owe Israel a huge debt of gratitude for finally driving Hamas out of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing. Since the terrorist organization took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, the crossing has been under its control. Hamas used the crossing to collect money for its corrupt officials and their families. In a similar vein, Palestinians are now being forced to pay thousands of dollars to Egyptians to escape the Gaza Strip.

One can understand why Egypt and Hamas strongly oppose having the IDF stationed at the border crossing: the millions of dollars they have been receiving may disappear. Egypt and Hamas are, it seems, indifferent to the pain endured by the Palestinians they are effectively imprisoning. All that matters to them is making more money off anyone desperate to leave the Gaza Strip.

{Reposted from Gatestone Institute}

Advertisement

SHARE
Previous articleIDF Eliminates Senior Hezbollah Field Commander following Killing of Civilian in Kibbutz Adamit
Next articleDeepening Our Understanding Of Sefiras Ha’Omer And Shavuos
Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East. This article originally appeared on the Gatestone Institute website (gatestoneinstitute.org).