Photo of a hand wearing an orange watch throwing a paper plane out of a window. Background: highrises.
Photo by Andrey Larin via Unsplash

I’m Palestinian. This Is What International Travel Looks Like for Me.

If you're from Gaza, travelling is a harrowing experience. Trust me, I know.

This article originally appeared on VICE Arabia.

As a Palestinian, my freedom of movement is heavily restricted. I can’t simply travel as I please – I need to obtain special permits to cross into Israel, travel abroad or to other Palestinian territories, since even the last two involve entering Israeli-controlled areas. The situation is particularly difficult because I am from the Gaza Strip, an area that’s been under a total Israeli blockade since 2007, with no people or goods coming in or out without Israel’s approval. 


Until recently, Palestinians seeking to travel internationally mostly didn’t use Israeli airports, both out of principle and because obtaining a permit was incredibly rare. The nearest option was flying from Amman in Jordan. The next best thing was getting to Cairo and travelling on from there, but this route is only available to Gaza residents – other Palestinians need a visa.

The situation changed in July 2022, when Israeli authorities decided to allow Palestinians to travel from Ramon Airport, a smaller international airport located in the south of the country. The airport has basically been out of use since 2019 and Israel has an economic interest in revitalising it.

The move was heavily criticised in the Arab world. The Palestinian Authority (PA) – the governing body of the occupied West Bank – urged people not to use the airport, and so did the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Instead, the PA asked Israel to let it operate a Palestinian airport north of Jerusalem, which has been shut down since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000. Jordan also condemned this opening, fearing that it might kill its travel industry catering to Palestinians. 


Meanwhile, the only border crossing between Israel and Jordan – the main pathway used by Palestinians travelling abroad – has seen exceptional delays on the Israeli side. Known internationally as the Allenby Bridge, the site has always been slow in processing travellers. But in August 2022, the number of people stranded there escalated, forcing travellers to sleep in makeshift camps for days on end at the height of summer. According to PA sources, these delays could be part of Israel’s strategy to push more people towards Ramon Airport.

No matter how you slice it, the current situation is totally unsustainable – and Israeli policies are largely responsible for it. But what is often overlooked is the role of our Arab neighbours in this crisis, since they, too, have been exploiting Palestinian travellers for years. 

I’ve left Gaza City to go abroad only twice in my life, both times for work. I think my experience illustrates just how hostile the current set-up is. 

My first trip was to Amman, in 2019. It took me three months to obtain all the documents I needed: an exit permit from Gaza; a way to get my name on a “coordination list” allowing me to cross the Allenby Bridge and, most importantly, a “no-objection letter” released by the Jordanian embassy in Ramallah. Just obtaining this last document took a month and a half and cost about €45, or a sixth of the average monthly salary in Gaza at the time.


The most logical route to travel from Gaza to the Allenby Bridge is through Israel. The two are just over 100 km away, but on average, it takes about 20 hours to get there by car due to checkpoints and deviations, since Palestinians cannot use Israeli roads

Unfortunately, to get to Jordan, I first had to cross into Israel via the Beit Hanoun Crossing in the north of the Gaza Strip, and I needed an Israeli permit for that. But my application was denied with no explanation – so even though I’d already obtained all the documents I needed from Jordan, I still couldn't take this route.

My only alternative was to travel from Gaza to Cairo and then to Amman, a much longer trip that took me about 46 hours. The border between Gaza and Egypt has a single crossing, Rafah, located in the semi-desert of the Sinai Peninsula. In 2005, Israel withdrew from its side of the crossing, allowing Egypt and Gaza to administer the flow of people. Since then, the crossing has been only open for short periods, sometimes not more than 30 days in a year. Eventually, I finally managed to reach Amman in October 2019.

In June of 2022, I wanted to visit Amman for a second time, but couldn’t, because the procedure for Gaza residents to enter Jordan had changed. Since my last trip, it became mandatory for us to submit an application for a non-objection paper supported by first-degree relatives in Jordan, which I did not have. That wasn’t the only thing – the fees have gone up to approximately €130, over half of a Gazan’s monthly salary today.


BTW, these documents are required even if you’re just transiting through Jordan to fly out of the country. The situation is even more of a nightmare if you’re travelling to a country that requires Palestinians to obtain a visa before arrival, which is currently pretty much everywhere in the world. In that case, you’ll have to obtain the visa with enough time to apply for all the permits to get to the airport – and even the visa is no guarantee that you’ll get the other documents, like the no-objection letter.

After I had to give up on my plans to travel to Jordan, I decided to redirect my trip to Cairo and Alexandria. And somehow, I got lucky: At the end of June, Egypt announced it would ease the restrictions for Gazans travelling through the Rafah Crossing. 

But my trip was still an absolute odyssey. First, I had to register my name on a coordination list, a document with the names of the people allowed to cross the Rafah gate each day. To do that, I had two options.


The first one was to register through the Gaza Ministry of Interior and wait for weeks, even months for my turn. This option is free, but the downside is that I couldn’t choose when to travel. The second option was to pay a fee to a coordination agency, which will usually get your name up on the list within 48 hours.

The most expensive agency, Ya Hala, is affiliated with the Egyptian military and provides a VIP travel service that skips the lines at crossings and checkpoints and takes you to Cairo within a day, for about €950 per person. The second one is more affordable, about €200 per person, to which you’ll need to add €200 more in transportation fees, transit checks and other expenses. But it’s basically impossible that you’ll reach Cairo within a day – you have to sleep at least a night by the side of the road.

Of course, these prices are totally volatile. If there are any security issues in Gaza or in Rafah and surroundings, they’ll go up – at one point, the coordination service could cost you up to €3,000 per person.

The third and final type of agency is Palestinian organisations which offer the coordination service to members and friends for free. The traveller then only has to cover the costs of the trip – transportation, taxes etc. I was lucky enough to be able to choose this option. 


After getting onto the coordination list, I began my journey to Cairo, which took 22 hours. The road trip itself is much shorter than that – it takes about seven or eight hours – but travellers need to queue up for multiple identity checks and military checkpoints. In fact, the road to Cairo runs through the North Sinai Governorate, a heavily militarised area where the Egyptian government has been fighting a war against the local branch of ISIS since 2011. 

Sometimes, we had to wait inside a big hall with no ventilation, huge crowds and nowhere to sit. Other times we’d be lined up outside under the scorching sun, with temperatures up to 40 degrees celsius. The Egyptian government provided no food, no water, no shelter, not even toilets. The driver kept our passports the whole time, and we were forbidden to take photos or use our smartphones, especially when passing through the checkpoints.

Of course, this was just one leg of the journey. To come back to Gaza, I could either pay for the VIP service – approximately €700 – or buy a ticket on an air-conditioned bus with Ya Hala for about €35, plus travel costs. However, both of these services were fully booked for the following five days, and I had to get back sooner.


There was a third option – buying a ticket on a private minibus for about €20. The upside: I could leave whenever I wanted. The downside: I had no clue when I would actually arrive. The journey ended up taking multiple days, amid delays due to poor organisation, long waiting lines and detours the drivers took to shake us down of a few more dollars with expensive pay toll fees. 

All in, the way back took 42 excruciating hours. I had to spend two nights on the road, and couldn’t even talk to my family since there was no reception.

At the last stop before Rafah, there were hundreds of other men, women, children and elderly packed in dozens of buses in the same situation as me – tired, thirsty, hungry, bored, tortured by the sweltering heat and the cold desert nights. Some slept on the street like myself. Others made their way to restaurants a bit further on from the crossings. We all had to go to the bathroom out in nature or in unsanitary restaurant restrooms that looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in years.

Finally, we reached the crossing at 6AM and had to wait under the sun for it to open at 9AM. I was lucky enough to be standing at the beginning of the line, which looked about a kilometre long. Armed Egyptian soldiers stood watching on both sides of the queue throughout.

Some managed to bypass the line to get their ID stamped and cross back into Gaza, and others could not. I entered the waiting hall an hour and a half after I began standing there, but the queue didn’t end. It turned into several, painfully slow lines where us and our belongings were manually inspected, especially our electronic devices. 

That day, I remember there was a Palestinian woman ahead of me who was going back home after receiving medical care in Cairo. She’d brought back with her some expensive injections that aren’t available in Gaza – she said they were worth €400 – to complete her treatment. She pleaded with the border officer to let her through because she needed to refrigerate them so they wouldn’t spoil. 

I have no idea how she’d kept them cool all this way. The border officer stalled and said he needed to ask his superior if she was even allowed to carry them with her at all. Eventually, they let her use the fridge at the cafeteria, but I don’t know if she was let through any faster.

Looking back at what happened to me and my fellow travellers on these journeys, I can’t help but wonder: As Palestinians and Gazans, do we even really have a choice? Can we afford to deny ourselves one travel route and opt for another?

Yes, Israel’s apartheid policies prevent us from moving freely and reaching our airport of choice – in my case, in Jordan. But it’s also the mistreatment and corruption we experience at the hands of our Arab neighbours that will push many of us to seriously consider flying from occupied lands. All the options on the table are undignified, humiliating and dehumanising. And no one – not even our allies – have our best interest at heart.