Palestinians Can’t Use PayPal—but Israeli Settlers Can

Several pro-Palestinian rights groups and Palestinian tech firms sent a letter this week to the president of PayPal, the U.S.-based online payment service, urging the company to allow Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza access to the service just as it grants access for Israelis and Jewish settlers living in illegal settlements across the West Bank.

“Regretfully, when corporate America turns a blind eye to the services these start-ups require to thrive, the message they are indirectly sending is that they don’t think young Palestinians deserve the same opportunities and advantages that their products offer so many other tech entrepreneurs,”said Sam Bahour, CEO of consulting firm Applied Information Management.

The letter argues that the tech sector in Palestine is one of few that has the potential “to grow under status quo conditions of the Israeli occupation which severely restricts the internal and cross-border movement of goods and people.”

However, the letter warns, “PayPal’s absence is a major obstacle” to the tech sector’s growth because without access to PayPal.

“All we want is equal access for our talented young people to bring their innovative products and ideas to the world,” said Zahi Khouri, CEO of Palestine’s National Beverage Company and early-stage startup investor through the Ibtikar Fund. He also noted that, “by extending service to Palestine, PayPal has the opportunity to make a real contribution to alleviating the disastrous unemployment rates in Palestine which are a major source of instability.”

While highlighting the importance of PayPal for improving the Palestinian tech sector, the letter stresses that, “More importantly extending PayPal services would resolve the current discriminatory situation whereby PayPal’s payment portal can be accessed freely by Israeli settlers living illegally (per international humanitarian law) in the West Bank while it remains unavailable to the occupied Palestinian population.”

The letter also argues that PayPal has an ethical responsibility to expand its services in the context of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“PayPal’s decision to launch its service in Israel for Israeli bank customers means that it inadvertently made its services freely available to Jewish settlers living illegally in the occupied West Bank,” the letter says.

“Palestinians living in close proximity to those settlers do not, however, have access as PayPal doesn’t work with Palestinian banks and Palestinians are unable to establish Israeli bank accounts.”

While PayPal has yet to provide a reason for blocking Palestinians from using their services, the answer might be at the very office they have in Israel.

A recent article by Haaretz revealed that PayPal’s risk assessment office, which advises the company about going into new markets, is managed from its Tel Aviv development center.

This office is made up of “100 Israelis, mostly veterans of the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence corps,” according to a 2014 report in the Israeli paper Haaretz on PayPal’s fight against several alleged fraud cases.

The letter also highlighted PayPal’s stance for equal rights in North Carolina when it cancelled plans to open a global operations center there and invest US$3.6 million after the state passed a controversial law targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.

Such a stance would show that PayPal “would agree that people living in the same neighborhood ought to have equal rights and access to its services regardless of religion or ethnicity,” the letter said.