‘Access Denied – E-Commerce in Palestine’

7amleh  /  February 20, 2020

The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media

Executive Summary

The digital economy represents one of the fastest growing sectors globally. However, as this report shows, Palestinians continue to be discriminated against by states and businesses when it comes to accessing the digital economy. Even though the United Nations Human Rights Council has affirmed that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online”. The Israeli government continues its decades long unlawful exploitation of Palestinian resources for the benefit of the Israeli economy and to de-develop the Palestinian economy. Businesses have also benefited from the lack of accountability for their involvement in human rights abuses, including providing access to e-commerce platforms to Israeli settlements and settlement enterprises while denying Palestinians access. This digital discrimination has impacted the development of the Palestinian economy and denied opportunities to work for millions living in some of the hardest conditions on earth.

International Human Rights Law lays down obligations which states are bound to respect. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, protect and to fulfil human rights. Protecting these human rights online and offline are critical to ensure equitable access to the economic opportunities that exist within the digital economy. This is particularly relevant in the case of Palestine, which has been recognized as an occupied territory by the international community. Therefore under the Law of Occupation, Israel must administer the territory for the benefit of the local population; in general, maintaining the status quo in the occupied territory and protecting, respecting and enhancing the rights of the protected occupied population. Therefore, Israel must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of these rights in relation to Palestinians and protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses or face consequences from the international community.

Within this context, generative and protective political and economic policy development and implementation are essential, as well as an empowerment approach in terms of economic development within the West Bank and Gaza. Innovative approaches are being taken by local actors who despite these restrictions, have demonstrated innovative methods of participating in e-commerce and harnessing its potential for the growth of their businesses, as demonstrated in this report.

As a Palestinian digital rights organization, 7amleh researches Palestinian human rights in the online space. In recent years, our relevant research has included “Connection Interrupted” (2019) which details the Israeli control over the Palestinian ICT infrastructure and its impact on the digital rights of Palestinians. Additionally, we have researched, advocated and campaigned for Palestinian access to PayPal which includes our research “PayPal and Palestine”.

This research, “Access Denied – E-Commerce in Palestine”, investigates the experience of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza participating in e-commerce. Drawing upon interviews conducted with e-commerce entrepreneurs and digital economy experts, this report traces the journeys of several Palestinians and analyses their ability to engage with e-commerce as well as barriers and challenges. In the first chapter “Digital Economy in Palestine”, we look briefly at the rise of digital economy and e-commerce regionally and globally including business to business transactions and business to consumer transactions. We summarize the global challenges to e-commerce including import and export logistics challenges, tariffs and taxation. In the second chapter, “Palestinian Experiences in the Digital Economy” we analyse the processes that Palestinians go through when buying and selling online and trying to access different e-commerce platforms. Finally, in the third chapter, “Palestinian Readiness,” we investigate different factors related to the readiness of the public and Palestinian institutions for e-commerce. Even though Palestinians and institutions are ready to engage with e-commerce, this chapter shows there is a lack of enabling environment for digital development and e-commerce. In the conclusion we pose recommendations to governments, businesses and local and international stakeholders.

As Palestine goes through the process of digitization, it is essential that governments and businesses will develop policies and practices in line with human rights norms and standards. New policies should be developed based on research, evidence and consultation with diverse stakeholders including some of society’s most vulnerable, and in particular women and youth. The government, banking sector, and e-commerce companies must insure that their policies and practices do not result in digital discrimination and develop effective pathways for financial inclusion of Palestinians in the digital economy. It is also necessary to reduce the costs of movement of labour, capital and goods as much as possible for e-commerce businesses to be able to sustain themselves. This requires

governments to remove barriers and invest in more efficient logistics systems and management processes.

In conclusion, the E-commerce value chain highlights how occupation, failure to fulfil political agreements and digital discrimination have stunted the development of the Palestinian economy and violated Palestinians human rights. Furthermore, it sheds light on the role that tech companies — who provide essential financial services for utilizing e-commerce — have in denying Palestinians their human rights. Finally, it is important to recognize that despite these challenges digital commerce remains increasingly significant in enabling people in Palestine to access their human rights reinforcing how essential e-commerce is for the development of economic markets that serve those who live in vulnerable contexts — occupied, landlocked and blockaded — such as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.