Biden’s Israel Waffling Let This Company Scam Refugees

A new report from the Win Without War Education Fund, a progressive foreign policy advocacy group, details how the U.S. government’s failure to intervene in Gaza has allowed an Egyptian company to exploit American citizens and Palestinians desperate to secure passage away from the Israeli military’s ceaseless bombardment.

For nearly eight months, there was only one way out of Gaza: the Rafah crossing, a thin strip of land on Gaza’s southern border. The crossing has since been seized by the Israeli government, preventing the transfer of essential aid and humanitarian workers, as well as blocking the only means of escape. Before Israel seized the crossing, the only way to use it would be to get your name on a list that is maintained by the Egyptian government.

To expedite the process, many families turned to one company, Hala Consulting and Tourism Services, which promised to help get people’s names on Egypt’s list—for a steep price. Hala is part of the Orjani Group, which is owned by Ibrahim Al Arjani, a close ally of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, and one of the most powerful men in Egypt. 

By the end of April, Hala had raked in at least $88 million by charging people to cross, according to an investigation from The Times. By the time Israel seized the border crossing days later, the price for a “coordination fee” had ballooned from $4,000 to $10,000 per name.  

The burden of this cost was far too steep for most Gazans, who have been forced to leave their homes, families, and friends amid the ruins of their cities. Instead, the price was thrust onto their family members and allies in the United States, who turned to private charities as a last resort for fundraising. 

Once Hala received money to add a family member to the list, it would still take up to a month for that person to move to the top of the list. In that time, a lot could change, as the dangers in Gaza are ever present.

Family members of those trapped in Gaza were forced to pay Hala’s exorbitant fees because the U.S. government has refused to pressure Israel to stop its relentless assault. Washington has even failed to expedite the evacuation of U.S. citizens. 

Texas attorney Maria Kari, who works with hundreds of Americans who are trapped, or have family members trapped, in Gaza, said that the State Department has been slow and at worst unresponsive to her efforts to secure humanitarian parole for her clients and their families.

One woman interviewed for the WWWEF report, identified only by her first name, Shifa, turned to GoFundMe to raise money to get the names of her 50 family members in Rafah on the list after exhausting all other options.

“We’ve exhausted absolutely every avenue to save their lives,” Shifa, a Palestinian American lawyer, told WWWEF. “We submitted correspondence to the State Department. We’ve submitted all the applications to expedite this process. We’ve reached out to immigration attorneys. We have done it all; no response.”

Because of the high costs, waiting period, and lack of government support, Shifa was forced to make difficult decisions about which family members to prioritize. “Time is of the essence. We’ve exhausted every avenue possible,” she said. “They’re waiting to either leave or die.”