Gaza’s anger escalates at the price and ‘humiliation’ of Egypt travel

After an hour, his phone rang. “Someone from Hamas called me and told me to erase everything,” says Sawaf, referring to the Islamist group that runs the Israeli-blocked coastal strip.

The caller said the border issue was “a very sensitive issue for the Egyptians and that my article was going to harm the Palestinians,” says Sawaf, a political analyst.

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Palestinians wait their turn to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing.

Palestinians wait their turn to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing.

(Photo: AFP)

He quickly removed the post on social media, but it had already garnered dozens of supportive comments, reflecting widespread frustration over Gaza’s main livelihood with the outside world.

The 380-kilometer (240-mile) road trip to Cairo passes through the sweltering deserts of the Sinai Peninsula, where the Egyptian army fights the Islamic State group and operates checkpoints and night curfews. It also crosses the Suez Canal.

The common complaint in Gaza is that travel, often made on congested buses, is deliberately made more arduous and uncertain so that tour operators can benefit by offering hassle-free “VIP services” to those who can afford them.

“It’s a disaster for the Palestinians,” said an industry source, speaking on condition of anonymity, who estimated the business was worth up to $ 175,000 a day.

“On the Egyptian side, they are putting increasing pressure to make it difficult to return to Gaza, trying to pressure people to pay for VIP service next time.”

Gaza, an impoverished territory of about two million people, where Hamas fought its most recent war with Israel in May, is a difficult place to enter or exit. Israel, which used to occupy Gaza, has maintained a strict land and sea blockade on the enclave since Hamas took it over in 2007.

Jerusalem argues that this is necessary to protect itself from a group labeled a terrorist organization by much of the West. Yasser Arafat International Airport was bombed by Israel at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, the uprising from 2000 to 2005, and goats now graze on its missing runway. Israel also does not allow passenger ferries to dock in Gaza’s Mediterranean ports.

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The Rafah border crossing is known to be an expensive and bureaucratic nightmareThe Rafah border crossing is known to be an expensive and bureaucratic nightmare

The border crossing from Rafah to Egypt, known to be a costly and bureaucratic nightmare

(Photo: AFP)

This leaves only two ways out of the territory: strictly controlled land crossings through Israel and Egypt. The crossing from Erez to Israel is restricted to Palestinians with permits to work or trade within Israel, some serious medical cases, and some people with transit permits into Jordan. That means that for the majority of Gaza’s population, the Rafah crossing into Egypt offers the best exit route. But it is known to be, all too often, an expensive and bureaucratic nightmare.

Palestinians are forced to put their names on a waiting list weeks before they plan to travel, and even then, transit is not guaranteed. To ensure travel security, Palestinians have in recent years resorted to paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to private companies and intermediaries offering “VIP” services. This has generated frustration for Egyptians who are seen to benefit from trade.

There was a brief period in the Hamas era when transit through Rafah was easier. In 2013, when Egypt was ruled by the late President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood less hostile to Hamas, a record half a million Palestinians crossed through Rafah. But the numbers dropped dramatically after Morsi’s removal in July of that year.

Under current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Egypt opens and closes Rafah periodically, a tactic that allows it to exert influence over Hamas. Several Gazans who recently made the trip through Rafah spoke on the condition that they not be named for fear of being blacklisted by Egypt for future trips.

A man who asked to be named Ahmed said he returned from Cairo earlier this year, a road trip that should last about five hours and went on for four days. First, he hired a private taxi that left Cairo at 4:00 am on a Wednesday with an agreement to take him to Rafah for $ 130. The trip stopped at the entrance to the Suez Canal area, where the passage of Vehicles was closed and full of taxis.

He left his taxi, shared the cost of another with five other passengers, and slept in the car. At the checkpoint, he said, “the Egyptians opened all my suitcases. They confiscated my cologne, my cigarettes, opened my Facebook and WhatsApp profiles and looked at my photos.”

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For countless Palestinians, the Rafah-Cairo round trip is complicated by security conditions in Sinai.For countless Palestinians, the Rafah-Cairo round trip is complicated by security conditions in Sinai.

For countless Palestinians, the Rafah-Cairo round trip is complicated by security conditions in Sinai.

(Photo: AFP)

After three security checks, he was traveling smoothly through the Sinai until he reached another checkpoint 50 kilometers from Rafah late Thursday afternoon, where the Egyptians announced the closure of the road. He said he rented a “totally dirty” room in the nearby town of al-Arish and stayed for two days until the road was reopened.

Ahmed and his companions ran to Rafah, but missed the one-hour window that day to cross. Devastated, he slept on the street and crossed the next day. For countless Palestinians, the Rafah-Cairo round trip is complicated by security conditions in Sinai, an area where IS jihadists have clashed with Egyptian forces.

Fatima, who is also not her real name, said she broke out in a cold sweat while sleeping at a checkpoint last year while traveling with a group of women from Cairo to Gaza. “I stretched out in a cardboard box and made a blanket out of my abaya robe,” he said.

“I was scared, we were in the desert, there was no water, there was no bathroom. We heard bombardments in the distance. One of the women who accompanied us kept shouting: ‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die. . ‘”

The following night, at the Baluza checkpoint, about 200 kilometers from Rafah, he slept in a bus, and then under a bus in al-Arish the following night. He said it was hot and the children who tried to sleep under the vehicle were crying all night. When she had to relieve herself, she asked other women to stand up for privacy.

Ahmed said the aggravating difficulties of the travel were devastating and humiliating for the Palestinians. “It’s killing me inside,” he said. “The people of Gaza are treated really badly. It is as if we are all terrorists, members of Hamas, but Hamas is not Gaza.”

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Rafah crossing into EgyptRafah crossing into Egypt

Rafah crossing into Egypt

(Photo: AFP)

His frustration increased when, after finally returning to Gaza, he met other people who had made the same trip in just one day. The difference, Ahmed said, was that they paid the VIP fees.

“In the end, counting the taxis, the rotten hotel, I almost paid the same amount and it took me almost five days,” he lamented, accusing Egyptian security officials of creating conditions designed to force Palestinians to resort to VIP service.

Gaza-based companies charge $ 1,000 to speed up travel to Cairo, including registration, private taxis, and other documentation. The return costs $ 600, making the entire trip more expensive than most Gazans can afford.

Multiple sources, in the border industry and among officials, confirmed that these Gaza-based companies coordinate with an Egyptian company called Abnaa Sinai, which declined to comment.

A woman who asked to be identified as Hiba said that when she decided to visit Gaza earlier this year to see her family after several years abroad, she was chilled by her experience at Egyptian checkpoints. The guards “look at us with eyes that say ‘I hate you,'” Hiba said, explaining that he has since decided to pay VIP fees to speed up the process.

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The common complaint in Gaza is that the journey, often made on congested buses, is deliberately made more arduous and uncertain.The common complaint in Gaza is that the journey, often made on congested buses, is deliberately made more arduous and uncertain.

The common complaint in Gaza is that the journey, often made on congested buses, is deliberately made more arduous and uncertain.

(Photo: AFP)

In recent months, Palestinian officials urged Egypt to facilitate transit, including the president of the Gaza Chamber of Commerce, Walid Al-Hosari.

Hosari said Egypt stated that it will increase the number of travelers who will be allowed to pass through a new tunnel under the Suez Canal, making travel easier.

Palestinian economist Omar Shaban, an expert on Gaza-Egypt trade, said that forcing Gazans to pay huge sums of money for transit is a bad strategy for Egypt if it hopes to continue to participate in rebuilding Gaza devastated by war.

The border business is a “great generator of money,” Shaban said, but stressed that Egypt cannot seek to be a player in the reconstruction effort while obstructing Palestinian travel, and stressed that its policies must be “harmonized.”

A senior Hamas official, who requested anonymity given the “very sensitive” nature of the issue, said that on the issue of facilitating travel, Egyptians “promise and promise, but you never know if it will materialize.”



Reference-www.ynetnews.com

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