The New Arab / November 10, 2021
PayPal’s exclusion of Palestinians is a clear contravention of international law. The policy entrenches Israel’s occupation, cripples the Palestinian economy and denies Palestinians the right to access a range of opportunities, writes Samah Ayyad.
PayPal is the world’s largest global payments platform, with over 337 million users across 200 countries. However, five million Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) are excluded from the service, despite the fact that PayPal is available in Israel and even for 600,000 illegal Israeli settlers, who live mere minutes from their Palestinian neighbours.
Palestinian entrepreneurs and human rights activists are demanding that PayPal ends its exclusion of Palestinians and to understand from PayPal why its policy was structured in the region this way, in clear contravention of international law, which discriminates against users on the basis of national or ethnic origin rather than location, and further entrenches the Israeli occupation.
This is not the first time Palestinians have made this request of PayPal, there have been repeated calls from civil society and entrepreneur groups since 2016.
To understand the full impact of PayPal’s discriminatory policy, it is crucial to consider the far-reaching effects are on individual business owners and the Palestinian economy as a whole.
“For many Palestinian businesses, the ability to access the global economy via an online payments platform would mean sustainable and secure growth that is not impacted by the political situation on the ground in the OPT”
The local context
Despite the fact that Palestine is a promising market, the local context is important to understand why PayPal’s policy is very damaging.
Palestinians are living under a prolonged Israeli military occupation, and face extreme restrictions on imports, exports, and movement as a result of Israel’s discriminatory laws, policies and practices in the West Bank, and more severely so in the Gaza Strip, which is under a blockade by Israel and Egypt. These factors have crippled the Palestinian economy and restricted the ability of businesses and freelancers to access the global economy, as they are unable to expand beyond the OPT without great difficulties.
This has resulted in de-development and limited opportunities to access livelihood and work opportunities for Palestinians.
In the West Bank, the unemployment rate is nearly 15 per cent, while in Gaza nearly 50 per cent of the population is unemployed. For many Palestinian businesses, the ability to access the global economy via an online payments platform would mean sustainable and secure growth that is not impacted by the political situation on the ground in the OPT.
Without access to a reputable digital payments platform, Palestinian businesses cannot be competitive in the global marketplace or offer ease of service to international customers.
PayPal’s policy: A personal perspective
In 2019, along with two friends, I decided to quit our jobs and start an e-commerce business in Palestine. We spent two years developing a business model before launching Sook.ps, a Palestinian e-commerce business, in 2021. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we were confident that our business model would be fit for the complexities of our context. However, the absence of a reliable online payment method remains one of our greatest obstacles.
Like many Palestinian freelancers and entrepreneurs, Sook.ps relies on cash-on-delivery as the only available payment method. With cash-on-delivery, all payments first go to the delivery company before we can get our share. If customers are not physically in their homes at the time of delivery, the package is returned to the delivery company then to us, while if online payment was available the package could simply be dropped off at the point of delivery.
These circumstances minimize our control over the delivery process, increase the risk for us and for the customers, and significantly limit our market share.
While there are a number of local online payment methods, these are often not trusted by the public for a variety of reasons, such as not being well-established, globally recognized platforms or being based in Israel, such as Payoneer. A service as globally recognized as PayPal does have the trust of all people and businesses.
Furthermore, Palestine, among the world’s most educated populations, welcomes thousands of tourists every season. Palestinian youth are keen to participate in the global market and the general community are increasingly excited about e-commerce.
As a company, PayPal should not be so focused on the risks of operating in Palestine, as the banking system is highly regulated. There is currently a gap in the market for a digital payments platform, and the opportunities far outweigh the risks.
In fact, 7amleh’s research has shown that access to Paypal would improve the lives of over 80 per cent of Palestinian households, generate employment opportunities for over 42,000 annual college graduates, accelerate the growth of hundreds of small businesses and startups, and facilitate the work of numerous civil society organizations that rely on crowdfunding.
Palestine is open for business
In response to criticisms, PayPal has often claimed that its 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”. Yet, there is a lack of transparency around this policy and the criteria in which PayPal decides which countries are “high-risk” – this is increasingly brought into focus by the fact that the platform operates in several countries currently experiencing major political and economic instability, such as war-ravaged Yemen.
Palestinians have proven that the OPT is a safe, reliable place to do business and a promising market in the MENA region, such as the Palestinian government’s implementation of 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. Moreover, the Palestine Monetary Authority has been working with the US Treasury Department for several years to strengthen safeguards against abuse, as well as implementing internationally recognized financial regulations.
In light of this, the question remains: why does PayPal continue to insist that the OPT is an “unsafe country” when in reality it is highly regulated.
“In a world where much of our lives are now being lived online, being denied access to the world’s most recognized payment platform means Palestinians cannot access a diverse range of opportunities, ranging from education to crowdfunding”
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 for all, especially for vulnerable, marginalized, and isolated communities. Businesses are not the only ones suffering from PayPal’s policies. In a world where much of our lives are now being lived online, being denied access to the world’s most recognized payment platform means Palestinians cannot access a diverse range of opportunities, ranging from education to crowdfunding.
Palestinians are demanding that PayPal urgently reviews its discriminatory policies and engage directly with the Palestinian business community to understand how they can work together to make PayPal’s platform mutually beneficial for the company and Palestinian businesses.
Join our global campaign and send an email directly to Paypal. Let them know that Palestinians deserve access to the global economy: http://hamlehpaypal.nqa.nadsoft.co/about
Samah Ayyad is the co-founder of Sook.ps, a Palestinian e-commerce business. She graduated with a Bachelor’s in Accounting and studied Marketing in London, The United Kingdom