Yasir had to pay a bribe of $13,000 so that his wife and two children could leave Gaza. It was the only way they could join him in the US, where he now lives.
His story reflects the desperation of so many.
A few weeks ago, Yasir paid $9,000 to a broker so that his family could exit the Rafah crossing on the border between Gaza and Egypt.
After handing over that sum, Yasir was informed that only his wife’s name was on the list of those permitted to travel. Another $4,000 was demanded in order to get his children on the list.
Determined to be reunited with his family, Yasir parted with the extra sum so that they could go through the Rafah crossing, which is administered by Egypt.
“It was heartbreaking,” Yasir said. “Brokers took advantage of my dire need to get my family away from the terrible situation they have experienced during the war.”
“But I was ready to pay everything I have to help them flee,” he added. “I am willing to give my soul for their survival.”
Like the vast majority of people in Gaza, Yasir’s family were uprooted from their home during the war.
They took shelter in one of Rafah’s schools. It was completely overcrowded and they had little food.
The children sometimes went to bed hungry. Their bed consisted of a mattress on a classroom floor.
Yasir paid the bribe as a last resort. He had already sent and made numerous email messages and phone calls to the US authorities, seeking their assistance in having his wife and children evacuated from Gaza.
He was stonewalled.
Through a Facebook page, he learned that brokers were arranging exit permits via Rafah in exchange for hefty payments.
It is widely assumed that the brokers have connections with the Egyptian intelligence services.
The bribes have increased amid complaints from Palesitnians living abroad about the indifference to their plight of the governments in the countries where they have taken up residence.
In earlier stages of the war, there had been a push by many governments to ensure that their citizens in Gaza could leave. More recently, Palestinians seeking exit permits have found that paying brokers is their only viable option.
The bribe sought by brokers had initially been set at $3,000. In December, it rose to $7,000 and now stands at $10,000 for each adult and at a few thousand dollars for a child.
Following an article on the subject published by The Guardian, the Egyptian authorities denied that people have to pay bribes in order to leave Gaza.
The Egyptian State Information Service dismissed the report as groundless. It claimed that officials in Rafah are “collecting fees in accordance with Egyptian law regulating border-crossing operations.”
People in Gaza are adamant that bribes have been sought. They say that even Egyptians in Gaza are expected to pay a bribe at the Rafah crossing, albeit a lower one than that sought from Palestinians.
The expectation of a bribe is not new.
For a long time, there has effectively been a two-tier system operating at Rafah.
People whose names were on a “normal” list could leave the crossing – when it was open – but they would frequently have to endure long waiting periods first.
Those who “coordinated” their travel plans with the Egyptians would be able to leave at their desired time. To do so, they would have to pay a bribe.
Previously a few hundred dollars, the bribe has increased to five figure sums during the current war.
Asmaa was awarded a scholarship to study in Turkey last year.
In September, she obtained a student visa. She had not yet left Gaza when Israel declared its war the following month.
Asmaa contacted Turkish diplomats to see if they could help her leave Gaza. She was told that the diplomats could only help Turkish citizens to evacuate.
The more time passed the more worried she became that she would lose the scholarship.
At first the administrators at the university where she is due to study granted her an extension on taking up her college place. The extension will expire at the end of February.
Last month Asmaa went to a travel agency in Rafah known to deal with brokers in Egypt. She inquired how much it would cost to receive authorization so that she could leave Gaza.
To her shock, she was told the price was then $6,500.
When she asked the travel agent how he could justify seeking such high amounts during a war, he replied that he was merely an intermediary. The bribe was set by the brokers and the travel agency just received a commission.
Asmaa and her family cannot afford the bribe.
Before the war, Samah worked as a teacher in a school run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).
She is now living in a rented flat in Rafah, after her home was destroyed. Her parents and brothers’ homes were also attacked and 12 members of her uncle’s family were massacred.
She recently obtained a tourist visa for Australia.
The visa had been sought by her brother Muhammad who lives in Australia. In theory, 12 members of his family are eligible to travel using it.
During the war, her brother contacted the Australian authorities seeking help with getting his family out of Gaza. He emphasized that both his parents have health issues and that the medicines they need are no longer available in Gaza.
Muhammad did not have any luck with the Australian authorities. He was told that the authorities would only help residents of Australia to be reunited with their husbands, wives or children.
When Samah made her own inquiries, she was told that she would have to pay a bribe of approximately $17,000 if she, her husband and their four children wanted to leave Gaza.
She has ruled out paying bribes of that size. Hoping that the bribes will fall once a ceasefire comes into effect, she has decided to postpone her travel plans.
“I need my savings,” she said. “If I cannot travel outside, then I will need money for life in Gaza after the war. I will need to rent an apartment. And I’m sure that rents will go sky-high, just like the price of food.”
The author of this article, who requested anonymity, lives in Gaza.