What is PayPal?
PayPal is a digital payments platform that allows users to pay for goods and services online, and offers a simple and secure way of sending and receiving money. PayPal operates in over 200 countries and is the most globally recognized payment platform in the world.1 The company’s family of brands include Braintree, Xoom, and Venmo.2
What are illegal Israeli settlements?
There are over 600,000 Israeli settlers currently residing in over 270 settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Since 1967, the Israeli government has promoted the establishment of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and populating them with civilian Jewish Israeli settlers on land expropriated from Palestinians. Palestinians are prohibited from accessing settlements, except as workers bearing special military permits. Israeli settlements result in serious violations of Palestinians’ human rights and are unlawful under international humanitarian law, which prohibits the settlement of civilians of the occupying power in occupied territory. Settlements further benefit from Israeli discriminatory practices and are a major impediment to the creation of a Palestinian state.3
Why won’t PayPal let Palestinians use its services?
PayPal currently does not operate in the occupied West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, PayPal provides full access to users in Israel and illegal settlements in the West Bank.4 PayPal claims that services are not provided for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip based on its “Prohibited Countries'' policy, under which Palestine and certain countries are labelled as “high-risk” where PayPal is unable to operate therein. However, PayPal operates in several countries with major political and economic instability, for instance in Yemen and Somalia.5
Why are Israeli settlers allowed to use PayPal?
PayPal is available for all Israeli citizens, even to Israeli settlers residing in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli government makes no distinction between Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and treats settlements as part of Israel and applies Israeli civil law to its citizens residing or travelling through the oPt. Palestinians in the oPt – with the exception of East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed and applied its civil law in violation of international law – are ruled under Israel’s military regime.6
Israeli settlements, regardless of their status under Israeli law, are illegal under international humanitarian law, which prohibits the transfer of the occupying power’s civilian population into occupied territory.7
By providing financial services in Israeli settlements, PayPal is not only benefiting from Israel’s discriminatory policies and serious human rights abuses and international law violations, but they risk contributing to these violations while sustaining the settlements and help them grow economically.
Unlike Israeli settlers, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip cannot have Israeli Bank accounts. While PayPal operates normally for users with Israeli bank accounts, it refuses to offer its services for users with accounts in Palestinian banks.
Providing Israeli settlers with its services, while denying the same service to Palestinians living in the same territory, PayPal’s policy appears to be based on national or ethnic origin identity rather than location. The discriminatory element of the policy is also evident, especially considering that Palestinians in recent years have successfully demonstrated their economic, legal, and social readiness to access and start using digital payment services.8
Why does it matter if Palestinians can’t use PayPal?
Israel’s military occupation and its discriminatory policies have resulted in devastating impacts on the Palestinian economy and its poor performance, as the movement of people and goods is severely restricted. As the Palestinian economy suffers under the numerous Israeli restrictions, accessibility to online platforms has become more essential for Palestinians to access livelihood and work opportunities and participate in the development of their economy. The right to access online platforms is regarded as a universal human right, that must be enjoyed without discrimination. It is fundamental that access to the Internet is widely available and accessible for all, including for vulnerable and marginalized groups and isolated communities.9
PayPal’s policy is particularly damaging for Palestinians because:
What regulatory frameworks has Palestine put in place in order to access digital payments platforms?
Palestinians have implemented the regulatory frameworks necessary for accessing electronic payment systems. This includes the “Electronic Transactions Law” which facilitates electronic transactions and establishes measures to combat money laundering and fraud.
7amleh’s research has shown that the purchasing power of Palestinians is in line with the purchasing power of citizens in several countries where PayPal already operates and estimated that around 80% of households in Palestine (upper, middle, and lower class) would use PayPal, if it were accessible to them. 7amleh’s research has also evaluated the financial and regulatory preparedness of Palestinian financial institutions, evident in the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations on coordinated efforts to combat money laundering by the Palestinian Monetary Authority; and the implementation of the internationally recognized financial regulations, Basel 1 Recommendations, by most Palestinian banks, which have had long-lasting ties with prominent financial services such as Visa, MasterCard, Swift, MoneyGram and others.12
Can’t Palestinians just use another payment platform?
As the world’s most recognized payment platform, many other digital payment platforms take their lead from PayPal’s policies. This in turn has led many of PayPal’s competitors such as Stripe and Apple Pay to not operate in Palestine, further excluding Palestinians from the global economy. Instead, Palestinians have to rely on wire-transfers for most international transactions, which significantly limits their ability to access and participate in the global market.
What is deplatforming and how does it apply to PayPal and Palestine?
“Deplatforming” is a tactic used by the Israeli government to shrink the space for Palestinian human rights defenders, activists, and organizations that advocate for Palestinian rights. By lobbying financial services platforms such as PayPal, Israel cuts off and isolates Palestinians from sources of funding and isolates them from global support networks.13
What if I want to donate to a Palestinian organization using PayPal or Venmo?
Venmo is owned by PayPal and has similar discriminatory policies towards Palestinians. Recently, Venmo users reported that the company was preventing them from completing transactions mentioning Palestine-related keywords. Venmo claims that its policy reflects the United States policy on sanctioned organizations in Palestine, such as the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). However, it appears that the company has been restricting all payments that relate to Palestine, regardless of where they take place. This means that Palestinian organizations are defunded and deplatformed, as they are unable to receive donations from international supporters to continue carrying out their important work.14
What impact will PayPal’s partnership with the ADL have on Palestine?
In July 2021, PayPal announced a partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), to combat and investigate how extremist and hate movements in the United States use financial platforms to fund their criminal activities. However, the ADL has been accused of working to censor and deplatform Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims for speaking out or organizing for Palestinian rights.
The ADL has a track history of accusing Palestinian rights movements of antisemitism. In the past the ADL worked with US law enforcement to spy on and target Arab-American groups. It has also facilitated and funded US police training trips to Israel. The ADL has also publicly criticized movements such as Black Lives Matter for showing solidarity with Palestinian liberation.
In light of ADL’s policies and approaches to groups and individuals working on Palestine, PayPal’s partnership with the ADL is likely to put organizations advocating for Palestinian rights or working on issues relating to Palestine at a greater risk of losing funding and support.15
Where can I read more about PayPal and Palestine?