'I see no other option': Suffocated Gazans turn to crowdfunding in do-or-die moment

'Suffocated' Gazans turn to crowdfunding in do-or-die moment
8 min read
12 March, 2024

Surrounded by loss and persistent hardship, Gazans are increasingly turning to crowdfunding campaigns, reaching out for assistance from beyond the borders.

Online crowdfunding platforms are inundated with pleas from Gazans seeking support. Some are asking for funds to cover the "coordination fees" necessary to evacuate to Egypt through the Rafah crossing, while others are hoping to raise resources to remain and rebuild their homes once the war is over.

Most of these appeals originate from Rafah, where 1.4 million people remain in tents and overcrowded shelters amidst a severe humanitarian crisis. Immediate needs are staggering, exacerbated by the collapse of major aid institutions.

Several Western nations have cut funding for UNRWA, the largest aid organisation for Palestinians, as NGOs and other UN agencies report an escalating famine, with children dying from dehydration and malnutrition. In this context, alternative and grassroots forms of mutual support such as crowdfunding campaigns have assumed a crucial role.

"We lost literally everything, we are left with no house or belongings. The price of flour has jumped from 30 ILS ($8) to 75 ILS ($21), and one cartoon of eggs from 15 ILS ($4) to 100 ILS ($28). We are using all our savings to get food"

Only a few Palestinians have been allowed to evacuate to Egypt, mostly to receive medical treatments. However, many Gazans are reaching out to Egyptian agencies that promise to insert their names in a list — supervised and approved by Israeli authorities — allowing them to evacuate.

In Gaza, crowdfunding is 'the cost to live with dignity'

Fees to evacuate into Egypt are between $5,000 to $10,000 per person, forcing Palestinians seeking safety to ask for donations from relatives and friends overseas.

“I see no other option. It's bribery, I know, but that’s the cost for us to live with dignity and safety in any other place," says Bara Adwan (22), who opened a crowdfunding campaign to evacuate with his family to safety.

Currently in Rafah, Bara lives in a partially destroyed building hosting another 30 displaced people. After pulling out the dead bodies of his uncle and little nephew from under the rubble, he has completely lost hope for the war to end anytime soon. For Bara, his relatives and friends, a total of 15 people, travel costs will be up to $75,000. This only accounts for travel fees from Rafah to Egypt, where they'll also need temporary accommodation.

“I feel suffocated from the inside. I don’t know how long this condition will last. They threaten us with an imminent Israel ground invasion in Rafah, and they are already bombing us from the sky. Our office in Gaza City was destroyed, and I lost my job and resources. I have no dreams anymore," said Bara to The New Arab.

The Rafah border is the sole point of crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It has also been the entry point for aid that has trickled into Gaza and for families wishing to evacuate [Getty Images]
The Rafah border is the sole crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It has also been the entry point for aid that has trickled into Gaza and for families wishing to evacuate [Getty Images]

Leaving is a hard decision for Bara, who was passionate about his work, a start-up platform he co-founded to guide and engage young Gazans seeking their first job experience. The project aimed to address unemployment, which was particularly high among the younger population even before the war.

According to figures published in December 2023 published by the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), nearly 80 percent of Gazans have lost their jobs since October 7. From agriculture to industries, private companies to public services, all sectors have been affected by the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

The entire population is currently dependent on humanitarian aid, however only a few trucks have been permitted through the Rafah border, and Israeli authorities have imposed inspection procedures that are systematically delaying the delivery. Episodes of Israeli settlers attempting to obstruct trucks to the Gaza Strip are on the rise, and Palestinians have been shot while trying to get aid.

“My brother was in the real estate business, now he sells slippers in the street to help our family buy the few foods available. They live in a tent in Rafah starving under [Israeli] shelling. I cannot leave them there," says Mahmod Algharabli (31) a Palestinian-American researcher who moved from Gaza to the United States in 2017.

Claims of bribery run riot

Last December, Mahmod took a flight to Egypt hoping to push border authorities to evacuate at least his mother, who suffers from chronic medical conditions, but he couldn’t. He went back to the US, where he reached an Egyptian agency that works as an intermediary asking for $57,000 in "coordination fees" to secure a spot for his mother, brother, sisters, and their children, on the list of Palestinians allowed to leave the Strip.

Supported by his network of friends overseas, Mahmod organised a crowdfunding that enabled his mother to reach Egypt, while the rest of the family still waits in Rafah.

“It's a long and challenging process, and I’m running out of time. Fees need to be paid in cash and I was only able to do so through a personal contact in Cairo. Lastly, I took a loan from a car dealer to reach the full amount needed for the whole family. After the payment you are left with a receipt on paper with your name and the date you can evacuate,” explained Mahmod to The New Arab.

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According to an investigation by Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting (OCCRP), brokers are believed to have connections with businesses close to the Egyptian intelligence services. Agencies have been operating with this system for years, but prices skyrocketed after October 7, generating billions.

Prolonged scarcity of supplies resulted in a dramatic cost increase for all essential products. Many Palestinians are forced to mobilise resources through fundraising to afford basic goods, often relying on relatives abroad.

Data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reports a rise of over 70 percent in food prices. Moreover, the destruction of workplaces, facilities and infrastructure, has further exacerbated food insecurity.

Shops and bakeries are either closed or lacking essential supplies, civilians wait for hours at food distribution points, entire households rely mostly on canned foods, and bread is cooked over fire due to limited access to gas.

"My wife and I just want a decent life for our one-year-old daughter. Fortunately, she is too small to understand what is happening around her. What if I had to explain to her that those are bombs and not fireworks? Our children, the future of our country, are the biggest victims of this war"

“We lost everything, we are left with no house or belongings. Flour jumped from 30 ILS ($8) to 75 ILS ($21), one cartoon of eggs from 15 ILS ($4) to 100 ILS ($28), we are using all our savings to get food,” said 24-year-old Baraa’h Qandeel a writer and business development graduate currently displaced in Rafah to The New Arab.

Defiant Gazans use crowdfunding to rebuild

Due to the inaccessibility of most online crowdfunding platforms from Gaza, Baraa’h reached out to a friend in Europe who helped her launch a fundraising campaign to rebuild her family home.

Their apartment in Gaza City was destroyed in the initial days of the war, and from there they had to relocate first to Khan Younis, and later to Rafah. Her childhood house was bombed also in 2014, at that time they lived displaced for 3 years in Khan Younis before coming back to Gaza City. 

“No one has the right to displace me, I feel my life is put on hold. In a blink of an eye, we lost everything again. What options will we have after the genocide ends? I feel like its my duty to help my family to rebuild. Afterwards, I want to continue my studies abroad, in a country where I can live as a human being," adds Baraa’h.

After the 2014 and 2021 wars in Gaza, reconstruction efforts were put in place under a joint agreement involving the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government, and the United Nations, with Israel maintaining strict control over supply entry points.

While past rebuilding plans were insufficient, future ones will far exceed the financial commitment required after previous conflicts, and construction suppliers are likely to face increased Israeli securitisation.

27-year-old Moataz Abu Sakran, a graphic designer from Gaza City, where he is currently displaced, struggled for years working to secure a comfortable home for his family. The apartment he built brick after brick has now been reduced to debris. Sharing his crowdfunding campaign with the international community he hopes to get enough funds to start rebuilding soon. 

“My wife and I want a decent life for our one-year-old daughter. Fortunately, she is too small to understand what is happening around her. What if I had to explain to her that those are bombs and not fireworks? Our children, the future of our country, are the biggest victims of this war," says Moataz.

More than 12,000 children have been killed in the ongoing Israeli aggression on Gaza. With the collapse of most of the hospitals and healthcare facilities, at least 1,000 minors have had their limbs amputated without proper anaesthetic and medications, while an estimated 17,000 remain orphans.

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As Egypt continues working on a ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel, it is also bracing a border buffer zone for a potential influx of Palestinians in the Sinai Peninsula, as recent satellite images of the area indicate. If such an exodus were to occur, Israel might prevent the Palestinians from returning.

“2.3 million Gazans are the descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians who were forcibly displaced from their homes during the Nakba in 1948. We won’t allow this again. On the other hand, with this level of destruction, it's hard to imagine Gaza as the place full of life that it used to be,” concludes Moataz.

Giulia Bernacchi is a freelance journalist covering Middle Eastern politics and society, focusing on migrations, human rights, elections, uprisings

Follow her on Instagram: @_giulia_bernacchi_