Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza

Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 21 February 2024 11:14
The European Union Border Assistance Mission for the Rafah Crossing Point (EUBAM Rafah) cannot be deployed due to security reasons (Photo: Free Gaza movement)

Despite the high risk of dying from war, starvation or disease, Gazans are still not allowed to enter Egypt — except for those who bribe the authorities.

And the European Union Border Assistance Mission for the Rafah Crossing Point (EUBAM Rafah) cannot be deployed due to security reasons.

  • 32-year-old Rawan with one of her children (Photo: Emma Sofia Dedorson)

This comes amid international criticism calling for Israel to call off its ground operations in Rafah, in southern Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians, most of them displaced, are trapped.

Thirteen kilometres of border separate Egypt and Gaza. Rafah is the only border crossing not exclusively under Israel’s control, but this offers little relief for the Gazans, who find themselves trapped as Egypt maintains its refusal to open the border.

While some individuals, predominantly holders of foreign passports, have been allowed to cross, most remain stuck with no means of escape.

"We possess Egyptian passports. It should be self-evident that we are permitted entry to our own country. However, they only allowed me and the children to pass through, and not my husband," 32-year-old Rawan told EUobserver in Cairo.

Like others with family members in Gaza, she prefers not to disclose her full name to the media.

Rawan was dismayed by Egypt’s refusal to grant her husband entry into his own country.

"We are Palestinians originally, but Egyptian citizens"

A Palestinian man, who was evacuated on the same day, tipped her off about someone who could get her husband’s name listed for a fee.

"We refused at first, thinking it was a misunderstanding," said Rawan.

Finally, they were able to raise money from friends and family, and her husband joined them in Egypt last week for a "coordination fee" of $3000, a lower fee than many others have reported.

"Before the latest war, it was the same, only cheaper. It would cost someone $500 to be put on the list, which was already a lot for most Gazans," Palestinian journalist Nabil Darwishe, who is based in Cairo, told EUobserver

Now it can cost up to $10.000 according to several testimonies to EUobserver and other news media.

The Rafah border crossing is normally jointly controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, with Egypt playing a significant role in its operation and security. The names of those being granted evacuation are also sent to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit in Israel’s Ministry of Defence.

According to The Guardian, the brokers behind the corrupt bribery system are allegedly linked to the Egyptian intelligence services.

As a supposedly neutral third party, the European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM Rafah) is meant to assist at the border crossing to facilitate the movement of people and goods while enhancing security and stability in the region. However, EUBAM Rafah’s headquarters are located in Tel Aviv.

"This is due to security reasons and it has been so ever since 2007," EUBAM Rafah’s new head of mission, Nataliya Apostolova told EUobserver.

They work mainly on the West Bank today. Apostolova underlined that their mission is to assist the Palestinian Authority and not Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since EUBAM’s establishment in 2005.

"We do not cooperate with them in any way, Hamas is a terrorist organization," she stated.

However, EUBAM does collaborate with the Egyptian authorities. Apostolova said that she had read about the accusations of bribery in the media, not knowing whether it was true or not.

When and if the security situation allows the mission to be redeployed, EUBAM would work "transparently and according to regulations," she assured.

"In a post-war scenario, I would like to underline that our goal is to provide all Gazans with biometric passports, for security reasons," Apostolova said.

Abderrahim, an elderly Palestinian man who was evacuated in November, still has his children and grandchildren in Gaza. He said that evacuating them all would incur a cost of $80,000, even after arduous negotiations.

"It’s impossible for me. I can’t choose one and betray the other!" he said in anguish.

Post-war scenarios

Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was recently re-elected with 89.6 percent of the votes for another six-year term. He had no serious opponents and used the war in Gaza and the security aspect of Egypt and Sinai in his campaign.

Organisations like Human Rights Watch have reported that al-Sisi’s regime has imprisoned and tortured tens of thousands of political opponents and critics, while others have "disappeared".

Abderrahim, an elderly Palestinian man who was evacuated in November, said that evacuating his children and grandchildren cost him about $80,000 (Photo: Emma Sofia Dedorson)

With the exception of regime-friendly individuals, almost no one in Egypt wants to talk on record about politics or irregularities.

"The closed border is a security issue for Egypt," Muhammed Anis Salem said. He has served in Egypt’s Foreign Council at the UN and is still a prominent advisor, engaging especially in "international dialogue".

Egypt is currently plagued by several parallel crises, especially economic ones.

"In addition, we now have the situation in the Red Sea, which is hitting us hard, the Suez Canal being our economic backbone," Muhammed Anis Salem said, referring to the Yemeni Houthis who are attacking cargo ships in the Red Sea, allegedly with support from Iran.

"Egypt doesn’t want war but peace," he insisted.

Apostolova said she was looking forward to a renewal of EUBAM Rafah’s mandate in June 2024, following the European elections. They are preparing for different post-war scenarios regardless of the results that she doesn’t think will have any immediate effect.

"We would be assisting the concerned authorities, of course," she said without commenting on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expressed wish to gain control of the Rafah Border Crossing’s buffer zone, the so-called Philadelphi corridor on Egyptian soil, that Israel left in 2005.

The opening of the border crossing depends on an agreement between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in cooperation with Egypt.

"We are ready to redeploy at short notice," the EUBAM Head of Mission said not wanting to comment on the likeliness of such an agreement.