Human rights at a premium: How this Egyptian company profits from the blockade of Gaza

Human rights at a premium: How this Egyptian company profits from the blockade of Gaza
Comment: With Gaza under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian siege, an Egyptian company is profiting charges thousands of dollars for 'dignified passage' through the usual humiliation at Rafah crossing, writes Muhammad Shehada
6 min read
22 Aug, 2019
Gaza is under siege [Getty]

The well-documented incapacitating measures that besieged Gazans encounter when seeking to exercise their basic right to freedom of movement are too numerous to go through in detail, but now there’s one Egyptian private company offering a VIP service that puts this nightmare aside, for the (un)affordable price of $1,200 per passenger.

As Israel continues to criminally shut down both Gaza's air and water spaces by military force, the beleaguered population have been compelled to rely on the occasional mercy of the Egyptian authorities to grant them access to the world through its territory, via the border crossing of Rafah.

However, to attempt departure through Rafah, Gazans have to endure unspeakable tribulations, sometimes beyond human capacity.

Only cases deemed humanitarian (e.g. students and terminally ill patients seeking help abroad, or family reunifications) are allowed to petition for departure, only to find themselves then waiting for months on end until its one's turn in a never-ending queue to despairingly attempt to exit.

After a long humiliating journey to cross the few metres of numerous border gates that separate the imminently uninhabitable Gaza Strip from Egypt, Gazan passengers are then gathered in an Egyptian-run passenger hall for 24 hours, punctuated by a high likelihood of the Egyptian intelligence calling one's name suddenly, every ten minutes or so, for deportation back to Gaza without further explanation.

The successfully departing passengers are then shuttled in prison-like conditions to Cairo airport, through the Sinai desert, where passengers are subject to more humiliation, extortion and abuse on hundreds of "security" checkpoints in the peninsula, making the supposedly 6-8 hours journey take days instead.

Profiteering from suffering

This agonising apparatus opened an avenue for Egyptian entrepreneurs of misery to parasitically feed on Gazans' pain and desperate needs where they can turn a handsome profit in return for sparing Gazans the Egyptian rod.

In the past few years, Egyptian intelligence and national security officers have discreetly offered Gazans a "coordinated passage," where for the price of about $2,000 per passenger, bribers would never be exposed to a glimpse of the tormenting that their fellow ordinary passengers are systematically subject to.

Last June, this paradigm became institutionalised and evolved into the shape of a well-connected private Egyptian company called Hala. On its social media page and official website, Hala shamelessly markets an easy solution to bypass the nightmare experience of exiting Gaza, with its "door to door" VIP service. 

Despite the controversy this chutzpah of offering Gazan passengers a non-humiliating experience in return for what’' considered astronomical fees relative to Gaza's compromised economy, the Hala company is openly thriving and marketing itself heavily. Its name has become widely circulated amongst besieged Gazans dreaming of seeing the world beyond their merciless confinements without going through an agonizing nightmare.

For the price of $1,200 per passenger, the company offers to pick up any Gazan in an air-conditioned vehicle that communtes the passenger directly to the well-staffed VIP hall at Rafah

For the price of $1,200 per passenger, the company offers to pick up any Gazan individual from the doorstep of her/his house in an air-conditioned luxurious vehicle that communtes the passenger directly to the well-staffed VIP hall – designated for dignitaries – at Rafah, where passengers would be met by unmatched kindness and hospitality instead of the infamous brutality of Egyptian security forces dealing with ordinary Gazan travelers.

Hala's customers are then offered to enjoy a nice lunch meal at Rafah while their passports are stamped in a short while, instead of sleeping on the cold floor of the ordinary Rafah hall overwhelmed by fear of hearing one's name next for deportation to Gaza.

Suddenly, all Egyptian "security concerns" that cause arbitrary deportations completely disappear for Hala's customers, when this huge profit is being made by Gaza's suffocation.

Hala's vehicle then drives the customer all the way to any address in Cairo in 6-8 hours, whereas the norm is to shuttle most ordinary Gazan passengers in transit directly to Cairo Airport without being allowed to step a food in any Egyptian territories. The Hala vehicle is never stopped a single time at any "security" checkpoints in Sinai where Egyptian military personnel usually loot the belongings of Gazan passengers at free will.

The company didn't miss to thoughtfully consider generating other revenue from the return journey to Gaza, where ordinary travelers are usually met with a similar great abuse and bullying on their way back to the blockaded enclave through Sinai.

With current hundreds of "security" checkpoints, the road through Sinai takes about 3-5 days for passengers to reach Rafah, where at certain infamous checkpoints, like Al-Risa, people are forced to sleep the evening in most cases in the middle of the freezing desert and wait the whole day under Sinai's boiling sun.

Well, for $600 per passenger, the company now offers to provide the same experience for passengers returning to Gaza from Cairo in 6-8 hours instead of the long days it now takes. The VIP hall treatment is also included on this itinerary, and the promise of having no unpleasant encounters whatsoever.

No choice

For despairing Gazans, Hala sometimes becomes the only choice. For instance, my uncle, who has some medical problems, was traveling last week from the US to Gaza through Egypt. As he was being shuttled through Saini as an ordinary passenger, he was stopped for long hours at different security checkpoints in an unbearable heat, where he was humiliated, kicked and yelled at constantly, his luggage was thrown on the floor and some items were looted, and he was forced to sleep a night on the ground in the heart of the nowhere in Sinai while waiting to be let through a "security" checkpoint.

He eventually broke down and returned to Al-Salam Bridge that separates Sinai from Egypt, where he was picked up by the Hala company and transported all the way to his house in Gaza in 8 hours without further humiliation, for the price of $600.

Taking pride in this exploitative apparatus, Hala announced recently that it would soon launch an e-service where passengers could submit their applications and pay online to enjoy this 'luxurious' experience.

Hala’s price list remains insanely unaffordable in Gaza, where 80% of the population depend of food aid to survive

Although Hala’s price list remains insanely unaffordable in Gaza, where 80% of the population depend of food aid to survive, yet, Gazans in dire need to travel, such as those blacklisted by Egypt, cancer patients who cannot join the months-long waiting queue, are forced to sell everything they possess and go to great lengths to collect this institutionalized bribe.

For anyone upset by this brutal paradigm, Gazans have repeatedly provided a clear way out; end Israel’s illegal closure of the enclave’s water and air spaces, build a UN-run airport in Gaza and this suffering and abuse would be over in an instant.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.

Follow him on Twitter: @muhammadshehad2

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.