“7amleh - the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement”, an independent organization concerned with defending Palestinian digital rights, accused the global online payment platform PayPal of “discriminating against Palestinians”. The human rights group criticized PayPal for “sharing the actions of the Israeli occupation by imposing an economic blockade on Palestinians and violating their digital rights” by denying its services to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
7amleh believes that, as the most recognized online payment platform in the world, access to PayPal in Palestine would generate more income, job opportunities, and improved livelihoods as well as future growth for thousands of Palestinians. The rights group called on the American company to extend its services to Palestinians like they had to their counterparts within the occupied interior.
These recent calls for PayPal to offer its services in Palestine are not the first that 7amleh and multiple Palestinian human rights organizations have been voicing, with these advocacy measures being repeated from as early as 2016. 7amleh says that there has been “an ongoing and systematic exclusion of Palestinians from digital payment platforms that we have witnessed take place for years.” The platform limited its response to such efforts by stating that there are no future plans to operate in Palestine.
One of the greatest impacts of the platform’s discriminatory policies became evident during the most recent Israeli aggression on the besieged Gaza Strip. Between May 10 and May 21, countless human rights organizations and people abroad were unable to donate or send money to the affected families under attack in order to recoup their losses and rebuild their bombed and destroyed homes.
Why Doesn’t PayPal Operate in Palestine?
PayPal is a global digital payment company/platform, operating in more than 200 countries around the world. However, the company does not grant Palestinians with bank accounts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip access to its platform.
The company claims that its services are not available to Palestinians due to its “Prohibited Countries” policy, which includes Palestine and about 30 other countries labelled as “high risk”.
However, the legitimacy of this claim is completely discredited with the knowledge that the platform operates in countries that suffer from major political, economic and security instability, including Yemen and Somalia. Furthermore, PayPal offers its services in Israel, including Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are defined as “unlawful” under international law.
“Discriminatory” policies based on national or ethnic origin rather than location.. PayPal denies its services in Palestine claiming it’s “high risk, but provides them in Yemen, Somalia and illegal Israeli settlements. #PayPal4Palestine
An estimated 9.2 million Israeli citizens, including Palestinians in the occupied interior and Israeli settlers in the West Bank, along with nearly 340,000 Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem benefit from PayPal’s services.
Accordingly, 7amleh describes PayPal’s policies towards Palestine as “discriminatory”, “exclusionary”, and based on national or ethnic origin rather than location, since it excludes over five million Palestinian citizens in the rest of the West Bank and in the besieged Gaza Strip. The digital rights center sees that this policy “contributes to entrench discriminatory Israeli practices against Palestinians.”
This is related to providing unequal opportunities for freelancers, startups, businessmen, entrepreneurs and businesses in Israel compared to their Palestinian counterparts in areas where unemployment rates are already very high (28% as of March 2021, namely 17% in the West Bank and 48% in Gaza).
Discriminatory treatment on the basis of race and national origin violates the fundamental prohibition against discrimination under international human rights law. PayPal has an obligation and responsibility to respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP).
“Exclusion by Identity”
Speaking to Raseef22, Munya Thaher, the media coordinator at “7amleh - the Arab Center for Social Media Development”, explains that “this policy of exclusion has to do with the Palestinian identity rather than the geographical location,” stressing that the policy adopted by PayPal directly violates the rights of Palestinian citizens.
She adds, “The right to access the Internet is a well-established human right that must be guaranteed without discrimination, and therefore it is necessary to ensure widespread access to various digital platforms for all, especially for groups that suffer marginalization and societies that suffer from exclusion and isolation more than others, and therefore PayPal’s policy of refusing to make its services available to Palestinians is intrinsically violating this right.”
Under the Israeli blockade, access to global digital platforms and remote working is an opportunity for Palestinians to improve their situation. PayPal insists on denying its services to Palestinians, supporting Israel in its economic blockade. #PayPal4Palestine
Thaher describes PayPal as “an accomplice of the occupation by imposing restrictions and an economic blockade on Palestinians,” noting that Israel’s restrictions on imports and exports to and from the West Bank and Gaza Strip have led to economic recession and a high unemployment rate in the two regions.
She stresses that in light of the current Palestinian situation and the restriction of trade and movement, “access to global digital platforms, working remotel and supporting the entrepreneurship sector represent opportunities for Palestinians to improve their economic situation, but the lack of availability of PayPal in Palestinian territories have made these options difficult, restrictive, and in some cases, not possible.”
Thaher carries on, “The impact of PayPal’s policies doubles and is thus devastating for entrepreneurs, freelancers and business owners, negatively affecting their ability to work and earn a living. For Palestinians in general, its double impact comes as a result of the restrictions they face on their freedom of movement between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which leaves them with an increasing need for digital access to achieve their economic growth.”
She points out that many Palestinian businessmen, entrepreneurs and freelancers are forced to move their businesses abroad because of discriminatory policies such as these, and “therefore, they cannot contribute to the Palestinian economy, but will have to bear an ‘additional’ tax for doing business.”
The Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) and the Palestinian banking sector had previously presented a “convincing argument about the Palestinian market’s readiness for PayPal, but the company didn’t respond
It is noteworthy that Thaher acknowledged that “the Palestinian market is ready and qualified for PayPal’s services”. She says, “Palestine has managed to pass several necessary stages on its way to obtaining access to electronic payment systems, including the ‘Electronic Transactions Law’, which facilitates electronic transactions and sets measures to combat fraud and money laundering.”
She then adds, “The Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) has taken numerous financial preparatory measures in order to ensure a secure environment for digital payment systems. Financial readiness is one of the top priorities of the Palestinian Monetary Authority, in order to remove obstacles that may prevent the work of international systems in Palestine.”
She concluded that the Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) and the Palestinian banking sector had previously presented a “convincing argument about the Palestinian market’s readiness for PayPal, but the company didn’t respond to that. The problem today does not revolve around the readiness and qualification of the Palestinian market, and rather the digital discrimination practiced by the platform.”
It is worth mentioning that a 2018 research conducted by 7amleh found that the purchasing power of Palestinians matches the purchasing power of citizens in many countries where PayPal provides its services. The same report estimated that around 80% of families in Palestine from different social strata would use the platform if it were made accessible to them.