As the war between Israel and Hamas enters its 100th day, some Gazans are resorting to online fundraising platforms to raise money to bribe Egyptian officials at the Rafah border crossing and get their family members out of the besieged enclave.
The Rafah crossing, the only exit point from Gaza that does not lead to Israeli territory, has been largely closed since the outbreak of hostilities on October 7, when Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and abducting another 240.
Since then, Israel has imposed a tight blockade and a relentless bombing campaign on Gaza, which has killed more than 23,000 people, according to Hamas officials. The UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe, with more than 1.9 million Palestinians displaced, facing shortages of food, water, medicine, and fuel.
Egypt, which has mediated several failed attempts to broker a ceasefire, has only opened the Rafah crossing sporadically and for limited categories of people, such as the wounded, the sick, and foreign nationals.
However, some Gazans have found a way to circumvent the restrictions and escape the hellish conditions in Gaza by paying hefty bribes to Egyptian border guards, who reportedly demand as much as $10,000 per person to allow them to cross.
Online Crowdfunding Platforms
To raise the money, some Gazans have turned to online crowdfunding platforms, such as GoFundMe and LaunchGood, where they appeal for donations from sympathetic people around the world.
One of them is Ahmed, a 35-year-old engineer who lives in Gaza City with his wife and three children. He said he decided to launch a fundraising campaign after his house was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike and his brother was killed by a Hamas rocket that fell short of its target.
“I have lost everything. My home, my job, my brother. I have no future here. I want to take my family to a safe place, where we can live in peace and dignity,” he told NBC News via WhatsApp.
Ahmed said he contacted a smuggler who offered to take him and his family to the Rafah crossing and arrange their passage to Egypt for $40,000. He said he managed to collect $15,000 from his relatives and friends, but he still needed $25,000 more.
He created a GoFundMe page, where he posted photos of his family and his destroyed house, and explained his situation. He asked for $25,000 to cover the bribe and the travel expenses to Turkey, where he hoped to apply for asylum.
“I know it is a lot of money, but it is the only chance for me and my family to survive. Please help us. Any amount will make a difference. Thank you and God bless you,” he wrote on his page.
So far, he has raised $12,000 from more than 200 donors, mostly from the US and Europe. He said he was grateful for the generosity of the strangers who supported him, and he hoped to reach his goal soon.
“I am very touched by the kindness of the people who donated. They gave me hope and courage. I pray that I will be able to thank them personally one day,” he said.
Ahmed is not the only one who is using online fundraising to escape Gaza. Several other campaigns have been launched on various platforms, with similar stories and requests. Some of them have reached or exceeded their targets, while others are still struggling to raise enough money.
The online fundraising phenomenon has also attracted criticism and controversy, as some people have questioned the legitimacy and morality of the campaigns.
Some have accused the fundraisers of being scammers, who are exploiting the sympathy of the public and the chaos of the war to make money. Others have argued that paying bribes to corrupt officials is unethical and illegal, and that it only perpetuates the problem of the closed border.
The Egyptian authorities have not commented on the allegations of bribery at the Rafah crossing, but they have repeatedly denied that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and that they are doing their best to facilitate the movement of people and goods.
The Israeli government has also dismissed the claims of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, and has blamed Hamas for the suffering of the civilians. It has accused the militant group of using the population as human shields, and of diverting international aid to fund its war effort.
The online fundraisers, however, say they have no choice but to resort to desperate measures to save their lives and their loved ones.
“We are not criminals, we are not terrorists, we are not scammers. We are just human beings who want to live,” Ahmed said.