During the 2021 Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, we saw reports that people were unable to donate to impacted families under attack using Venmo. Human rights organizations in Palestine reported that they were unable to access funds they raised on PayPal to support impacted communities. This all came as a result of ongoing exclusion of Palestinians from digital payment platforms.
Since 2016, 7amleh — The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media and a number of civil society organizations have been advocating for PayPal to offer its services in Palestine. PayPal, a global digital payment company, operates in over 200 countries and territories, including countries which struggle with major political and economic instability such as Yemen, and Somalia. PayPal offers its services in Israel, including in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, but the company does not grant Palestinians with bank accounts in the West Bank and Gaza access to its platform.
PayPal does however provide full access to the estimated 9.2 million Israeli citizens, which includes Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as Israeli settlers residing in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are unlawful under international law. PayPal services are also available to the nearly 340,000 Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem, but only if they open an account with an Israeli bank.
In Palestine, PayPal’s services are provided under conditions of discrimination, as the company excludes over five million Palestinians in the rest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip from its full services. Whereas PayPal’s services are available to Israeli settlers residing in settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are built unlawfully on Palestinian land for the sole benefit of Israeli settlers and entrench discriminatory Israeli practices against Palestinians, their Palestinian counterparts living in the same territory are denied access to the platform. PayPal’s operations in illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) goes against their responsibility not to contribute to human rights violations, as outlined and provided by the United Nation Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Israeli settlements are part of Israel’s discriminatory regime that privileges Israeli settlers over Palestinians residing in the oPt. Businesses operating in Israeli settlements sustain the existence of such settlements, support their expansion, and benefit from Israel’s discriminatory practices against Palestinians in the oPt. Many human rights organizations have documented how businesses in Israeli settlements contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
As such, PayPal’s policy to deny Palestinians equal and fair access to its services in the West Bank and Gaza appears to be based on discriminatory grounds of national or ethnic origin rather than location. Differential treatment, on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin, violates the fundamental prohibition against discrimination under international human rights law. PayPal has a responsibility to respect human rights, in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and must ensure its services and operations are provided in a non-discriminatory manner on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.
PayPal’s decision is also biased as it unequally provides Israeli freelancers, startups, entrepreneurs and businesses with far more opportunities than their Palestinian counterparts, who face high unemployment rates (24% in 2022, including 13% in the West Bank and 45% in Gaza) and a codependent and weak economy. This is due, in large part, to Israel’s discriminatory restrictions imposed on imports, exports, access to resources and movement in the West Bank, and to an even larger extent in the Gaza Strip. By excluding Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from its services and making them available to Israeli settlers, PayPal indirectly contributes to the inherently discriminatory Israeli occupation, and further exacerbates its devastating impacts on the Palestinian population and its economy. As if this were not enough, PayPal has also interfered in Palestine solidarity initiatives launched from different parts of the world. In the particular case of Europe, PayPal has closed the accounts of several organizations whose activity focuses on the struggle for Palestinian human rights. The firm has also obstructed the operation of other similar organizations' accounts on its platform. This obstruction has added considerable impact on the economic development of Palestinians in the oPT, but it also contributes substantially to eroding the already precarious spaces for international debate around the situation in Palestine, in line with the dynamic of pervasive silencing and delegitimizing Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists and organizations.
Economic deplatforming not only impacts access to financial and professional opportunities, but also various aspects of the socio-political context, particularly in conflict-affected environments where the economic climate is unforgiving. Economic deplatforming is a phenomenon that exacerbates existing inequalities within a society. It also means that quality employment will not be available to all Palestinians. The younger generations, especially women, will be the most affected: as in other regions of the world, young people who do not see their professional ambitions fulfilled and who are unable to be part of a professional context that matches their academic qualifications (we should not forget that in 2022 the unemployment rate for young graduates in the West Bank was 36%, compared to 74% in Gaza), will experience increasing dissatisfaction with their institutions and their political representatives, and thus exacerbate already existing political instability. The longer they wait, the more significant the impact this situation will have on their long-term prospects for financial stability and self-sufficiency.
As the world’s most recognized online payment platform, access to PayPal can generate more income, employment opportunities, and improve the livelihoods and future growth of thousands of Palestinians. This is particularly impactful for freelancers, entrepreneurs, business owners and organizations. However, the discriminatory exclusion and inability of Palestinians to access PayPal’s platform has further contributed to preventing the overwhelmingly young Palestinian population from seeking employment as freelancers or entrepreneurs. This limits the growth of the struggling Palestinian economy by excluding Palestinians from the global market.
Since 2016, numerous civil society organizations have tried to challenge PayPal’s policy in Palestine through various efforts. These included a 2016 letter to PayPal’s CEO, Dan Schulman, by Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy and 43 other signatories; an online petition by Eko (formerly known as SumofUs), Jewish Voices for Peace, and the U.S Campaign for Palestinians Rights started in 2017; as well as calls for a boycott campaign against PayPal by the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network (APAN).
These advocacy measures have led multiple investors who hold shares at PayPal to bring up the issue of Palestine at PayPal’s annual shareholder meetings. PayPal’s responses to such efforts, between 2016 and 2018, were limited to stating that there were no immediate announcements nor near-future plans to operate in Palestine.
In 2020, 7amleh, in cooperation with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), submitted a statement emphasizing the importance of providing Palestinians with access to PayPal and ensuring that its policies do not discriminate against the world’s most vulnerable groups. PayPal once again did not address the discriminatory conditions of its operations in the oPt, but stated that they hoped to be able to further assess the risk of operating in Palestine in the future. In their response to 7amleh, PayPal said:
“Our ambition is for everyone to have access to our services for digital payment and commerce, in accordance with applicable regulatory requirements. Although we are not currently providing services in Palestinian Territories, we hope ultimately to be able to address the risk, compliance, regulatory and resource allocation issues to properly serve customers in this region and other markets where PayPal is not yet present in due course. While we do not have anything to announce for the immediate future, we continuously work to develop strategic partnerships, address business feasibility, regulatory, and compliance needs and requirements, and evaluate the necessary local authority permissions for new market entries.”
Source: PayPal4Palestine Twitter
In 2022, 7amleh, in partnership with the European Legal Support Center, submitted a joint statement to three U.N. Special Rapporteurs, and one U.N. Working Group, on PayPal’s discriminatory practices. The submission outlined testimony from 15 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but also from Global North citizens, about the negative impact of their inability to fully access PayPal when operating in/with the oPt.
In 2023, both Shareholders and Members of Congress showed strong support for PayPal4Palestine. In collaboration with the PayPal4Palestine campaign, activist investment firm Harrington Investments introduced a shareholder resolution at PayPal's 2023 Annual General Meeting. The resolution called on PayPal to expand its services into Palestine and other conflict-affected areas. Despite PayPal's board officially recommending against it, the resolution received an encouraging 10.99% of the vote. While this may seem like a modest portion, it actually surpasses the SEC's threshold of 5% required for reintroducing the resolution at a future Annual General Meeting, making it a significant success.
Moreover, on the morning of PayPal's Annual General Meeting, a group of 11 Members of Congress, led by Representative Mark Pocan, sent a letter to PayPal, urging the company to open up services in Palestine. These actions are cause for celebration, as they clearly demonstrate the widespread and growing support for PayPal4Palestine.
7amleh research has found that Palestinians demonstrate their legal, economic, and social preparedness to access digital payment services. In its report “Palestine & PayPal” released in 2018, 7amleh found that the purchasing power of Palestinians was in line with the purchasing power of citizens in several countries where PayPal provides its services. The research estimated that around 80% of households in Palestine (upper, middle, and lower class) would use PayPal if it were accessible to them.
The report also evaluated financial and regulatory preparedness of Palestinian institutions to use PayPal, which were evident in (i) the implementation of the Basel I Recommendations, an internationally-recognized banking regulation, by Palestinian banks, which have had long-lasting ties with prominent financial services, including Visa, MasterCard, Swift, and MoneyGram; and,
(ii) the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations by the Palestinian Monetary Authority on coordinated efforts to combat money laundering. The research further demonstrated the Palestinian legal system’s preparedness to accommodate digital payment services, which is evident from the passing of laws such as the “Electronic Transactions Law,” which facilitates electronic transactions and establishes measures to combat money laundering and fraud in line with international standards. Most recently, Apple Pay also opened services to the Palestinians, providing further proof that large digital finance transaction services can be safely used in Palestine.
PayPal’s discriminatory exclusion of Palestinians from accessing its network has left many Palestinian freelancers, entrepreneurs, and businesses with limited alternatives that significantly limit their work options. Other companies that provide online payment services are often either subsidiaries of PayPal, and as such have the same policy on Palestine, or competitors with little interest in working in Palestine, particularly due to less pressure to invest in truly assessing the risk and implementing human rights principles in their work. As a result, Palestinian freelancers and entrepreneurs, as well as organizations with an active role in defense of international law, have to rely on wire transfers either through banks or other monetary service providers, such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Not only does this limit the opportunities available to Palestinians, as most international employers often refuse to make a wire transfer, it places additional restrictions and higher fees over the amounts of money being transferred. In addition to wire transfers, Palestinians have launched local digital payment services, such as PalPay and Jawwal Pay, which have enabled users to purchase and sell products and services easily online in the West Bank and Gaza. However, these services are only operational in Palestine and users/customers cannot exchange cash with vendors or employers anywhere else.
PayPal’s current policy on Palestine is discriminatory, in violation of human rights, and international law. As Palestinians continue to demonstrate their need and preparedness to access the service, PayPal’s discriminatory refusal to fully operate in Palestine, while operating normally in Israel and illegal settlements in the West Bank, results in serious violations of Palestinians’ digital, and human rights and contributes to sustaining illegal Israeli settlements. This situation contributes to the violation of Palestinians’ economic rights, right to work and to development and empowerment through a functional impairment of business opportunities and consequently hinders the entire economic and social development of the oPt. This discrimination also has an impact on the right to education or the right to international solidarity, as well as on Palestinians’ right to freedom of expression, and ultimately contributes to curtailing Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
PayPal should genuinely live up to 'the highest ethical standards' and reflect, in full, the values enshrined by international law. It thus needs to establish clear and consistent policies on how decisions are made regarding accessibility to its services, and to establish fair and open appeals processes to such decisions. Countries that are banned should be regularly updated about their status and any changes that may occur.
1. 7amleh. (December 2.18) Palestine & PayPal.
2. 7amleh. (February 2020). Access Denied - E-commerce in Palestine.