Paying Bribes to Exit Gaza is Big Business

Families inside the Abu Yousef an-Najjar Sports Centre await entrance through the Rafah border. (Photo: Ezz Zanoun, Al-Jazeera)

Egyptian officers are asking for bribes of up to $10,000 from Palestinians in Gaza desperate to leave the besieged coastal enclave, as reported by Gaza brokers who coordinate the bribe payments, former Palestinian border officials and travelers.

Typically, an adult in Gaza must pay a bribe of $3,000 to get permission from Egypt to cross the border, two Palestinian brokers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al-Jazeera. The brokers said that they took a 20 percent cut of the bribe, sending 80 percent to the Egyptian soldier or officer who coordinated the travel.

Sometimes, Egyptian officers put the names of Palestinians on a blacklist, declaring them to be a “security threat”, both brokers said. The list forbids entrance to Egypt for those whose names are on it, but a $10,000 payment can have it removed.

The brokers added that occasionally, the Egyptians want bribes paid in goods, not cash.

“Sometimes, they want iPhones or even gold,” said one of the brokers, known in Gaza as the “King of the Border” for his ability to get almost anyone into Egypt.

During a two-hour interview at his Gaza City office, this broker received six phone calls from people asking him for help getting into Egypt.

The willingness to pay such high fees to leave Gaza may reflect residents’ desperation to escape the coastal enclave, which has endured three major Israeli military operations since 2008, leaving the most densely populated place on earth in ruins.

Gaza’s infrastructure is so damaged that a United Nations report last year predicted that, if current trends persist, the enclave would become “uninhabitable” by 2020.

There are about 30,000 cases of people in Gaza needing to urgently travel abroad for humanitarian reasons, many in order to obtain medical care, Gisha spokesperson Shai Grunberg told Al Jazeera.

Allegations of corruption at the Egyptian border crossing are nothing new.

A former high-ranking Hamas official who worked for the Hamas Crossings Authority, which oversees the Rafah terminal, confirmed to Al-Jazeera that such bribe-taking occurs frequently, and that the business has become “a real money-maker”.

Over the course of only two days last year, when he was working at the Rafah border, the official said that nearly half a million dollars in bribes were paid by 150 Palestinians in exchange for permission to travel to Egypt.

PLS48 Website recently cited Hamas officials as saying that Egyptian officers working at the Rafah crossing during a two-day opening in May had insisted that Palestinians who had paid hefty bribes be allowed to cross the border before those who had not. The Egyptians went so far as to shut down the passenger terminal for seven hours until their demands were met, Hamas officials said.

In addition, in 2009, the Associated Press reported that Gaza residents were paying Palestinian middlemen to facilitate their entrance to both Israel and to Egypt, often by obtaining fake documents claiming they had life-threatening diseases.

The Rafah crossing has become a lifeline for Gaza, Grunberg said: “It’s basically Gaza’s channel to the rest of the world.”

(Al-Jazeera, PC)

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