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Palestinian community orgs and ex-prisoners say the Arab Bank is closing their accounts

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It was supposed to be a routine run to the bank. As the Executive Director of the Aida Youth Center (AYC), Anas Abu Srour frequents the Bethlehem branch of the Arab Bank, overseeing transfers and transactions for the organization.

At the beginning of January, Abu Srour stopped by the bank to pick up the new check books he had ordered two weeks prior, as he had done countless times before.

But when he arrived, he was told that his application had been denied, and any further questions should be referred to the compliance department at the bank.

After a few days of following up with the bank, he received a call that left him utterly confused.

“They told me that I had to close the account of the youth center and move banks as soon as possible,” he told Mondoweiss from his office in the Aida Refugee Camp.

When he asked why the account was being closed, Abu Srour said he was told it was an “internal policy” decision. “They refused to elaborate more than that,” he said.

The incident with the AYC came just a few days after a class action lawsuit was filed against the Jordan-based Arab Bank by the families of Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks.

The plaintiffs, numbering over a thousand Israelis, are suing the bank for NIS 20 billion ($5.8 billion) in compensation, claiming the bank “knowingly supported and financed terror groups that carried out attacks that claimed hundreds of lives,” the Times of Israel reported in December.

The suit claims that the Arab Bank played an integral role in the attacks, knowingly funding individual Palestinian attackers as well as organized groups.

Abu Srour said he immediately suspected his youth organization was being arbitrarily targeted in relation to the Israeli lawsuit filed against the bank.

“It seems that the bank doesn’t want to risk being subjected to more lawsuits in the event that any Palestinians with Arab Bank accounts were to commit what is labeled as a ‘terror attack’ against Israelis,” he said.

What Abu Srour cannot understand is why a local youth organization that provides after-school music and arts programs to disadvantaged children, was getting caught in the mix.

Pattern of behavior

Mondoweiss learned that the incident with the AYC was not an isolated event, and that in recent months the Arab Bank has reportedly been closing the accounts, or refusing to open new accounts, for other community-based organizations, former Palestinian prisoners, and the families of Palestinians killed by Israelis.

Mondoweiss reached out to several community-based organizations across the Bethlehem area that were reportedly subjected to similar measures taken against the AYC.

One youth sports organization, that asked to remain unnamed, said that they recently attempted to open an account with the Arab Bank, but found the process to be “unusually difficult.”

After weeks of back and forth, the organization decided it wasn’t worth the hassle, and went with another bank instead. The group said while they were never given a formal answer on why it was so difficult to open an account, they “didn’t rule out” the possibility that it was politically motivated.

In another case, 30-year-old Ahmad Salah from the al-Khader village, was recently notified that his application to open up an account with the Arab Bank was denied.

Salah, a former prisoner, wanted to switch from his current bank to the Arab Bank, which has a branch that is closer to his home.

“When I returned two weeks after applying to check on my status, the employee checked my file, and he suddenly became shy, as if he was ashamed,” Salah told Mondoweiss.

The employee asked Salah to take a seat, and his manager would come to explain the situation to him. When the manager arrived, Salah was shocked to hear his answer.

“The manager came and told me ‘we can’t open an account for you because you were in Israeli prison,” Salah recounted. “I asked, ‘what does this have to do with anything?’ This is a Palestinian bank, not an Israeli bank.”

Salah alleges that the manager told him the bank was “having a lot of issues in court with the Israelis,” and due to pressures from the Israeli government, couldn’t “take the risk” of opening an account for someone with his profile.

“I was in total disbelief,” he said, still visibly frustrated by the incident. “I never thought that being arrested by the occupation, simply for fighting for my rights as a Palestinian, would affect something so simple as trying to open a bank account. It’s very disappointing.”

A controversial internal policy

The current lawsuit being filed against the Arab Bank is based on a similar suit filed in 2004 by American citizens who were victims of Palestinian attacks. The bank reached a confidential settlement with the plaintiffs at the time.

The apparent success of that lawsuit, alleging that the bank facilitated the attacks by opening private bank accounts for the families of Palestinian attackers through which they received money from donors, laid the foundation for the current suit.

According to a former staff member at the Arab Bank, who held a managerial position at West Bank branch of the bank, the company has been employing a series of efforts to prevent itself from becoming susceptible to such lawsuits.

The staffer, who asked to remain anonymous, told Mondoweiss that one of the policies the bank employed was curbing its acceptance of “risk-prone” groups and individuals. In other words: former political prisoners and their families and the families of Palestinians killed by Israel.

He alleged that for years, the bank has been using a filtering software called “SafeWatch”, marketed by its parent company EastNets, as an “Anti-Money Laundering & Counter Terrorist Financing” tool.

“Any time an individual would apply to open an account with the bank, we would run their information through this software,” he told Mondoweiss.

“If their name brought up any sort of political record, they would immediately be considered for disqualification, pending further investigation into their background,” he said. “If you were in prison, or your dad or brother were killed by Israel for example, you would be flagged.”

He said he had not seen the software used with civil society or community-based organizations, but he “would not be surprised” if this is now the case, due to the bank’s fears that such organizations could be tied to “terror activity” by the Israeli or American government — as has been done in the past.

“At the end of the day, the bank is going to do all that it can to not lose its money,” he told Mondoweiss. “Even if it comes at the expense of the Palestinian citizens.”

Mondoweiss reached out several times to the main branch of the Arab Bank in Ramallah. After several requests for comment on pattern of closing the accounts of community organizations and refusing to open accounts for ex-prisoners, the bank refused to give a statement on the matter.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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6 Responses

  1. Misterioso on January 20, 2020, 12:51 pm

    Off subject, but relevant:

    “Why Israel’s So Called ‘Occupation’ of ‘Palestinian Territories’ is a Farce.” by Miko Peled, MPN News, Jan. 15/20

    “The occupation. A phrase commonly used when speaking about the injustices taking place in Palestine. It is a phrase that limits the discussion to a small part of Palestine and to only a portion of the Palestinian people. The occupation only exists in the two small areas that we are permitted to state that human rights abuses take place. There are checkpoints and road-blocks and a dual system of justice, one for Jews and another for Palestinians. The Jewish residents in the ‘Occupied Territories’ are called ‘settlers,’ and unlike other Israeli Jews, they are ‘illegal’ and the places in which they live are known as ‘illegal settlements.’

    “The phrases, ‘the occupation’ and ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories,’ refer generally to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and sometimes parts of East Jerusalem, depending on who is speaking. These are, of course, the territories which Israel seized in 1967, and which comprise only 22 percent of Palestine as a whole. ‘The occupation’ and the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories,’ have become the focus of those who claim to seek justice for Palestinians and peace in the Middle East, yet that claim misses the mark.

    “The lion’s share of Palestine has been occupied since 1948, only it is not called ‘occupied.’ Millions of refugees in and around Palestine live in squalor because of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Two million Palestinians live in other parts of Palestine and while the oppression and violence that Palestinians of 1948 suffer is slightly different than that which the 1967 Palestinians experience, it still includes a great deal of violence and systems of oppression. Israeli settlers have been living on stolen Palestinian land since 1948, but they are not called ‘settlers’ and for reasons beyond understanding they are deemed legal.

    “It’s not only the Occupation”
    “The root cause of oppression and violence that Palestinians experience is not ‘the occupation’ of 1967 as many people claim, but Zionism and Zionist institutions that have been active long before that time. The Zionist onslaught which brought about the displacement, massacres and destruction of cities, towns and villages has been going on for over a century. Even before the State of Israel was established, Zionist organizations around the world have been responsible for the fate of Palestine and its people.

    “The World Zionist Organization, for example, openly states among other things that: ‘For the purpose of establishing a legally assured home in Eretz Yisrael for the Jewish people, it shall engage in, ‘Promoting the settlement of Jewish farmers, artisans, and tradesmen in Palestine.’

    “Aliyah, the Jewish Agency for Israel, claims: ‘We founded and built the State of Israel, and we continue creating links globally—bringing Jews to Israel and Israel to Jews.’ Aliyah also states that ‘All Jews, no matter where they were born, are Israeli citizens by right.’

    “The Jewish National Fund (JNF), which has been involved in displacing Palestinians and destroying the Palestinian landscape, admits on its website: ‘We plant trees, build houses and parks, source water solutions, support Aliyah, promote Zionist education and engagement.’ Of course, they leave out the fact that this is all done on Palestinian land, at the expense of Palestinians and excludes the native people of Palestine, the Palestinian people.

    “In other words, major organizations that are all well-funded and well-established have been directly responsible for the destruction of Palestine and the dispossession of its people long before 1967. When we limit the conversation to the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories,’ which refers only to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, we are letting these organizations off the hook.

    “A Fight Against Zionism”
    “Describing the oppression, dispossession, mass arrests and killing of Palestinians by Israel without pointing a finger at the root cause of these injustices is almost as criminal as the actions themselves. Discussing the situation in which Palestinians have to live without discussing who is responsible all but ensures things will not change. Using the term ‘occupation’ lets Israel off the hook for colonizing the vast majority of Palestine and it all but legitimizes the conquests and the ethnic cleansing of 1948.

    “Palestinian refugees languish in camps, not because of the ‘occupation’ but because of Zionism. Two million Palestinians who possess the dubious status of quasi-Israeli citizenship live without rights, not because of the ‘occupation.’ Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin live in poverty and are denied services by the State of Israel right next to Israelis who live in beautiful colonies built for Jews only in the Naqab desert. This is not a result of the ‘occupation’ but of Zionism and the Zionist institutions which perpetuate these injustices.

    “The Zionist Left”
    “Zionist left is, in fact, an oxymoron. One can either believe in and support a racist ideology like Zionism or believe and support the ideals of Left-wing politics, politics which exclude racism and settler colonialism. There are, however, a substantial group of people, including Israelis, Americans and others, who refer to themselves as the ‘Zionist Left.’ These so-called ‘Leftists’ claim they are opposed to the ‘occupation,’ yet they refuse to accept that the root causes of injustice in Palestine are Israel and Zionism. Any person, group or ideology that claims to be Zionist accepts, almost by default, the legitimacy of Israel. This ensures that the injustices and atrocities perpetrated by Israel will continue.

    “The Zionist Left is beholden to Israel, accepts Israel’s legitimacy, and insists that the injustices and atrocities are a result of Israeli policies and not rooted in Zionism and the existence of the State of Israel. In fact, they refuse to reject Zionism. However, there are those who believe in justice, freedom and equality. Three values without which no country can exist in peace. People who care about this issue must take off the kid gloves. Opposing Zionism is not anti-semitism and if we do not tackle this issue head on, Palestine and its people will forever suffer.”

    Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

    • gamal on January 20, 2020, 5:22 pm

      “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

      Miko Peled giving a talk about that book and the utter injustice of their prosecution and the corruption behind their conviction.

  2. JWalters on January 20, 2020, 7:41 pm

    Of course this is political. This is clearly another instance of the economic siege warfare the oligarchy banks conduct on those they are trying to subdue.

    • Rashers2 on January 21, 2020, 1:58 pm

      @JWalters, “Of course this is political. This is clearly another instance of the economic siege warfare the oligarchy banks conduct on those they are trying to subdue.” Yes, it’s political; but is the denial of service that Abu Srour and others are experiencing a result of Arab Bank’s (“AB”) spontaneous policy or of policy brought about in reaction to external forces being exerted upon it? It’s certainly the latter and represents AB’s path of least resistance to (it hopes) survival against Israeli and international “lawfare” designed to annihilate it or, at the least, force it to cease operations within the occupied Palestinian territories. AB, now directed from an Amman HQ, is itself a part of the “Palestinian diaspora”, having been established originally in 1930 as a Palestinian institution in Al Quds.
      As so often, the USA is the willing and useful instrument of Israeli policies because it has the power to control the behaviour of private sector and overseas sovereign-owned banks by means of denial or the threat of denial of US dollar clearing through New York under the cloak of sanctioning money laundering or financing international “terrorism”: “terrorism” naturally being whatever the US government decides, perpetrated by whomever the US government arbitrarily decides to be the “terrorists-of-the-day”. Until the demise of the petro-dollar as the world’s sole effective reserve currency, this life-and-death power over foreign financial institutions remains; and will undoubtedly continue to be roundly abused.
      AB’s behaviour towards innocent Palestinian account holders and Palestinian organisations may not be courageous, uplifting or inspirational but it is, as present, probably the bank’s main hope of staying in business.

  3. Tom Suarez on January 21, 2020, 5:39 am

    Thank you for the (hugely troubling) report.
    I am curious as to whether there have been any such issues with the Bank of Palestine?

  4. Radish on January 24, 2020, 3:08 am

    The problem with this bank is that they want to give the impression of a global large bank or they want to think so, but outside Jordan they are not. This bank is the largest in Jordan and they think they are larger than the whole system.

    I had the chance to work with them briefly in IT and we had a hard time with the internal auditors who barely know what they are talking about. The head of internal audit is himself in a violation to the mandates of Central bank of Jordan and department of labor as his position is blocked to non Jordanians, he is Lebanese and the CEO is Lebanese too

    Internal staff regulations and practices are annoying and staff always complaining

    If it’s their internal policy they should not have opened these accounts to start with. If these accounts were closed, in my humble opinion this is a discrimination among customers. You have to deal with all customers or just leave that market.

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