Although the borders between Egypt and Gaza are closed, leaving the besieged Palestinian enclave is still possible ― but only if you have enough money.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have always been able to enter Egypt via the Rafah crossing if they had the right documents, connections and cash.

“For years, a network of Egypt and Gaza-based travel agents and fixers have offered fast-tracked passages through Rafah for a price, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars,” the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, or OCCRP, wrote in late January.

The cost of the exit process, colloquially known as “coordination,” used to be anywhere from $350 to $600 (about €320 to €550). But “the deeper the desperation to leave, the better the business,” the OCCRP, an international investigative reporting organization, noted.

As the Israeli military campaign in Gaza continues, alongside a blockade of power, water, food and medical aid, the business of getting people across the border is booming.

An Egyptian company called Hala Consulting and Tourism has been at the center of recent media reports. Researchers link the firm back to a local tycoon, Ibrahim a-Organi, and potentially the Egyptian military. In 2019, Hala started running what it called a $1,200 “VIP service” at the Rafah border crossing.

Since the current conflict started, prices for such a crossing have risen massively. According to the OCCRP and others, it now costs anywhere from $5,000 to more than $10,000 per adult.

In Gaza before the current conflict, the unemployment rate was around 50%, and the average daily wage was about $13, according to the US State Department. Therefore, crossing is almost impossible for many in Gaza to finance, so some are now turning to crowdfunding to raise the cash needed for an exit.

Many Gazans are looking for help on GofundmeImage: gofundme.com

How are Palestinians crowdfunding?

Since late January, increasing numbers of Gaza-related crowdfunding campaigns have sprung up. There are now likely thousands on sites like Just Giving and GoFundMe, some of the most popular for this kind of humanitarian campaign.

Almost all of the campaigns have the goal of raising enough money to pay for an evacuation and an analysis of different campaigns by the UK’s Sky News found that, on average, they were asking for around $38,000.

However, websites like GoFundMe cannot be used outside of 19 countries. Almost all are in Europe or North America, so the Palestinians using this system usually have a contact in one of those countries to set up the campaign and receive the money in their bank account.

Judging from their names and locations, donors include anyone who is touched by a campaign’s message. One crowdfunder, based out of Scotland, managed to raise 50,000 British pounds ($63,000, €58,000) in just 24 hours and currently has donations from more than 2,000 supporters. The top donation was 2,400 pounds, while the smallest was just five. 

Who is profiting?

Hala Consulting and Tourism, which isn’t talking to the press, is almost certainly making money. Around 250 people may cross the Rafah border daily, and by checking the lists of names of those crossing against the likely fees, Sky News investigators believe Hala might currently be making as much as a million dollars a day. 

Crowdfunding websites are also benefitting. A site like GoFundMe charges 2.9% of the total donation and another $0.30 per donation. The campaign that raised 50,000 British pounds with 2,000 donors would end up paying GoFundMe more than 2,000 pounds.

Some of the campaigns have been successful immediately, likely because of well-established networks of friends and potential donors or because of pre-existing popularity on social media. Often, the campaigns that go viral then move on to promote other Gaza fundraisers. 

The Toronto Star, a Canadian newspaper, reported that Palestinians were successfully reaching out to social media influencers and asking them for help publicizing their appeals. However, many other campaigns remain unfunded, even after being online for a long time.

Screenshot Gofundme Gaza Campaign
While some campaigns do well, others have not gathered as much fundingImage: gofundme.com

What are the problems with Gaza crowdfunding?

The crowdfunding websites may not be particularly well equipped to deal with campaigns that could be considered politically contentious. In late February, US technology website The Verge reported that Gaza fundraisers had been dealing with “heavy-handed moderation [that] has slowed down aid efforts, and inconsistent policies [that] have left organizers and donors confused.”

Experts told The Verge this might be for fear of fraud or that the company itself worried about being exposed to accusations of funding a terrorist group. The militant Hamas group is based in Gaza and is classified as a terrorist group by the US and the EU. Anonymous Israeli officials previously told news agency Bloomberg they believe the increase in donations might provide cover for anyone sending money to Hamas, although they did not explain how.

As Beirut-based newspaper L’Orient Le Jour reported this week, if a campaign gets the funds needed, the easiest way to facilitate an actual border crossing is to have somebody in Egypt hand over the cash and evacuees’ names personally at Hala’s Cairo headquarters.

For those who have paid, this often means an agonizing wait. Daily lists of evacuees are usually published on social media or via online messaging and because of the lack of power and internet in Gaza, some have missed their exit slot. Reports suggest they have to apply and pay all over again.

At the time of this article’s publication, Hala’s online reservation system is closed — until current lists have been worked through, the company writes. And, it added, “please do not gather in front of the company gate until registration opens again.”

As Gaza famine looms, air drops offer last-resort lifeline

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Edited by: Carla Bleiker



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