The road out of Gaza's open-air prison is paved with humiliation

The road out of Gaza's open-air prison is paved with humiliation
Palestinians hoping to leave Gaza have always been at the mercy of Israel and Egypt. Today, escaping Israel's war is almost impossible, writes Hamza M.
6 min read
08 Apr, 2024
The process to leave Gaza is full of arbitrary restrictions, expensive bribes, and humiliating treatment, writes Ahmed Saleh. [Getty]

I've tried repeatedly to pause the experience - I mean the human experience - I recently gained after stepping out of the context of massacre, killing, and the daily humiliation of Palestinians in Gaza. I haven’t dared to pose new questions, so as not to leave my senses to the details that could render me dead or insane.

The last time I bid farewell to my family and home, my feet clung to its floor, and my flesh stretched into its soil, like a fearful and forsaken tree. For my feet know that walking this time to foreign countries is not a luxury, and that returning to gaze into my mother's eyes will require an additional lifetime.

My journey with the pains and challenges of travel began at the end of May 2023, when I applied for a travel visa for only the second time in my life. The first stop was the only suitable office in Gaza, where my documents would be meticulously examined before being sent to Jerusalem to the embassy of my destination country.

Waking up early and gathering my papers, I was filled with anticipation and anxiety. I had to shake off my heavy gait, which seemed that of an elderly man, and find a solution for the dark halos around my eyes, which gave away my inner turmoil, to convince the officials that my life in Gaza was stable enough to return to after my trip.

"The last time I bid farewell to my family and home, my feet clung to its floor, and my flesh stretched into its soil, like a fearful and forsaken tree"

While awaiting the application result, I occupied my ears with the stories of others who travelled to distant cities we watched through our phone screens. They would tell me about the taste of cities, explaining that each city has its own flavour and each capital its own character and scent, impossible to describe with mere words.

In Gaza, waiting takes on a new meaning. We wait with a collective imagination that something will happen, something that will save our lives from the jaws of time, the guillotine of circumstances, and the fabric of barbed wire surrounding our bodies.

Ten days later, I got the phone call, and my body stiffened with the shock of the moment. The voice of the employee was calm, but it left me struggling to breathe and my heart pounding until she finally gave me the news of freedom. I rushed home.

Now, I had to find a coordinator who could facilitate my exit from Gaza as soon as possible by paying "bribes" to expedite the process, to avoid potential difficulties such as the outbreak of a new war or the closure of the Rafah crossing for no reason.

In Gaza, there is nothing easier than finding a broker. This practice has become part of the daily routine of travellers, normalised in our Gazan lexicon. Prices ranging from $350 to $2000 per person on regular days, and these prices have fluctuated since Hamas took power in 2007.

I knew that the journey that awaited me was long and exhausting. In 2017, I travelled to Egypt for the first time to continue my studies. At that time, the crossing operated every three to four months for just a few days.

In 2019, after two years of waiting, I finally left. My journey sparked experiences that left a deep wound in my heart. I saw how Palestinians were treated with extreme disrespect, how the elderly were humiliated, and how young children slept on hard, cold floors. Flies filled the faces of the sick due to lack of cleanliness.

I had to wait for long hours in the dark reception hall. It usually accommodated only a hundred people under normal circumstances, but due to the massive crowds, it looked like bleachers in a football stadium, filled with noise, chaos, foul odours, and harsh treatment from the staff. We had to endure their insults, or else you and your family would be prevented from travelling.


After over 10 hours without hearing my name, I decided to inquire, and the staff informed me that I had to stay until the next morning without stating the reasons. The following day, my passport was released after being interrogated in one of the security rooms.

My last experience travelling to Europe was similar, where I had to pay $1200 as a bribe to one of the brokers to avoid being prevented from travelling despite having a valid entry visa.

If we are approved, we are loaded onto what are called deportation buses directly to the airport, without being allowed to disembark, accompanied by Egyptian military vehicles.

Upon arrival at the airport, Palestinians do not have the freedom to move around the corridors but are provided with a designated room resembling a prison, where we sit until departure time. If we need anything like food, water, or cigarettes, we have to bribe the responsible guard in addition to paying a hefty price for the purchases.

"And so the Palestinian remains, questioning, fragmented, and bewildered, trapped within the world's largest open-air prison and an execution yard"

For me, it wasn't so much about standing in front of officers at Cairo airport for four continuous hours under malfunctioning cooling systems, but rather the dread that gripped me from their suspicious glances, trying to find any fault to justify their decision to send me back.

This is the reality of every Gazan who is lucky enough to get an opportunity to travel outside the besieged strip. The Israeli occupation, along with Egyptian forces, control every aspect of life. While none of this started on 7th October 2023, the past six months of Israel’s war has made access to the outside world almost impossible. 

Israel’s war has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza and displaced and starved almost 2 million people. Those seeking refuge now have to pay amounts ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 in bribes to Egyptian smugglers to escape the fires of genocide in Gaza.

In a society suffering from years of catastrophic economic conditions, where poverty rates reach 90% and unemployment stands at 65%, the Egyptian government has continued to deepen the suffering of Palestinians by imposing additional penalties and tightening restrictions.

Many Gazans have been forced to resort to online donation campaigns to fundraise money to save themselves and their families. But if you don’t have a friend abroad to organise a fundraising campaign, you can’t obtain the necessary amount to survive.

And so the Palestinian remains, questioning, fragmented, and bewildered, trapped within the world's largest open-air prison and an execution yard that has not ceased for six consecutive months in the twenty-first century before the eyes of the world.

Despite this inhumane brutality, they find themselves forced to pay a hefty price for travel and their lives. It's a suffering unlike any other, not seen even in the worst nightmares or bloodiest horror scenes.

Hamza M is a writer from Gaza.

Have questions or comments? Email us at:

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author's employer.