Gaza City, Gaza – For the residents of the besieged Gaza Strip, there are two ways to go and none is easy. The first route is through the Erez crossing. on the eastern edge of the territory in Israel, while the second option is to travel south to Egypt through Rafah.
The Erez route requires permission from the Israeli authorities. Permits are extremely difficult to obtain and are limited to those that fit into various categories, including some entrepreneurs and previously approved medical cases. The route through the Israel-controlled crossing also carries the risk of being pressured to spy on Israeli intelligence agencies, Hamas officials told Al Jazeera.
On the other hand, leaving Rafah means waiting for months to obtain travel documents from the Hamas government in Gaza.
However, there is a way to speed up the process that involves spending hundreds, or sometimes thousands of dollars in bribes to jump the tail.
Since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, after unexpectedly winning the Palestinian elections of the previous year, both Israel and Egypt have imposed a stifling blockade in the coastal enclave, drowning Gaza's economy and severely limiting the movement of its residents.
For the vast majority of the 1.9 million residents of Loop, Rafah's route is usually the only viable option. To leave through Egypt, they register their application with the Hamas government, but with thousands of names on the waiting lists, approvals can take months.
This is where "travel agents and representatives,quot; enter the scene: Gaza-based agents working with Egyptian intelligence officers to accelerate the movement of Palestinians. Known in Arabic as "Tanseeqat,quot; or "Coordination," they announce on social networks that they can organize immediate trips to or through Egypt.
The Hala agency is one of the largest companies offering such services. With offices in Gaza City, it organizes the trip for $ 1,200 per person, an amount equivalent to three times the average salary of a civilian worker here.
Hala describes its services as "VIP trips,quot; and includes transportation from Gaza to Cairo without delays at the busy crossing.
Payments must be made at Egyptian intelligence offices in Egypt, according to activists in Gaza and abroad, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
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These types of services are also advertised on social networks. An online advertisement, which provided a local phone number, guaranteed a trip to Egypt for $ 650.
A person who answered the phone number in the ad was identified as Abu Amr. He told Al Jazeera that a potential traveler should send a copy of the passport through WhatsApp, pay the amount in a local currency exchange and within two days they would be on their way to Egypt or beyond.
"And if by chance the traveler was returned, they will return their money," said Abu Amr, who said his only communication with travelers is by phone or WhatsApp messages.
Another announcement published online offered "the strongest Coordination supervised by Egyptian intelligence."
& # 39; Clean and honorable & # 39;
An Egyptian intelligence agent in Gaza, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied that the Egyptian army and intelligence branches exploited the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.
"Egyptian intelligence is clean and honorable," he said, adding that he personally knows many senior officers at the border crossing who are "very professional."
Hasan Abu Zakaria, a local businessman from Gaza, told Al Jazeera that he wanted to go to Europe to attend his son's graduation and paid more than $ 1,000 to a local agent.
Rates may increase when clashes between armed groups and Israeli forces occur, or when the Egyptian government closes the border.
Mohammed Hussein Khalaf, a student from Gaza who is now in Jordan, told Al Jazeera that his family paid $ 4,000 to leave two years ago after Egypt tightened restrictions on entry to Gaza's Palestinians. They raised the funds mainly by borrowing from relatives, he told Al Jazeera.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 70,000 people had already left through Rafah in 2019, compared with 61,000 the previous year and only 16,000 in 2017.
The crossing has been open for 219 days so far this year, according to OCHA, compared to 198 days in 2018.
An Egyptian official at the Rafah crossing, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that an average of two buses, with a total of approximately 100 Palestinians who had paid between $ 600 and $ 1,200 per person, arrived at the crossing Every day it was open.
"The Egyptians divert this large amount of money from Gazans every month," the official said.
Risks entering Israel
According to OCHA, more than 168,000 people have left Gaza through Erez so far this year, including 110,000 who belonged to the business / merchant category, while some 32,400 people left with medical permits.
Hamas officials told Al Jazeera that Israeli intelligence agents often try to recruit Palestinians who are allowed to travel through Erez to spy on the organization in Gaza.
Israel has fought three wars against Hamas in Gaza since 2008, in which thousands of Palestinian civilians were killed and many residential areas destroyed.
In an attempt to counter the recruitment efforts of Israeli intelligence officials, Hamas has imposed requirements on those who travel to Israel to obtain permits and also provides detailed information on their reason for travel.
On the Palestinian side at the Erez crossing, Hamas officials have posted posters that warn Palestinians about possible interactions with Israeli intelligence officers.
"Don't listen to the (Israeli) intelligence threats of harming you," orne poster read.
"Don't be on the side of the enemy against your own people and your own country, don't give them the chance," said another.
Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports