The next fault line in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes from an unassuming corner, the banking system. With the Trump Administration having its back, Israel legislated to commit crimes in broad daylight. The latest effort comes in the form of a military order, one of the thousands issued throughout Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Today, as far as the Israeli books are concerned, any Israeli soldier has the right to enter any Palestinian bank and confiscate funds that are claimed to be associated with particular bank accounts.
Anywhere else in the world this would be called “bank robbery” but in Palestine it is just another day under Israeli military occupation.
Israel is demanding that Palestinian banks close the accounts of unnamed Palestinians which they have blacklisted. This flagrant infringement of the Palestinian private sector, not to mention the jurisdiction of the Palestinian government, is being undertaken in broad daylight with no legal pretext, no due diligence, and no due process. Instead, Israel, as it has done for over five decades, simply issues a military order through its Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for the occupied Palestinian territory.
As an occupying force, Israel appointed itself to be the judge and jury, as well as the jailer and torturer in this case, in total defiance of the internationally defined obligations required of it under the laws of occupation.
This latest Israeli military order, #67 (2020), is an amendment to a previous military order, #1651 (2009), and was issued on February 9, 2020. It became effective on May 1, 2020. In short, the new order adds a new definition to the original order and reads [in Hebrew, translated]:
“Giving the right or withdrawing the right to ownership of the funds or any right to the funds, in the event that they are movable or immovable, at a price or without a price, and every process that includes the recruitment, delivery, taking, possession, exchange, banking operation, investment, trade in the stock exchange, brokerage, grants, or taking credit, importing, exporting, creating credit, or mixing terrorism money with other funds even those that are not related to terrorism.”
Using this definition, the Israeli military threatens to hold anyone responsible for being involved in any of the above transactions, directly or indirectly, to be guilty and liable to face a seven-year prison sentence and/or a fine which can reach ten times the amount of the transaction.
The political motivation behind this “legal” hogwash is the Israeli desire to punish the Palestinian leadership for refusing to stop making welfare payments to those Palestinians who were, or continue to be, detained in Israeli prisons—political prisoners,—in addition to welfare payments made to families of martyrs. It is important to note that nearly one million Palestinians have gone through the Israeli prison system since the start of Israeli military occupation in 1967. These arrests are greatly arbitrary and the courts hearing the cases are military courts with a 99.74% conviction rate. Thousands of Palestinians have also been imprisoned by Israel under what is called “Administrative Detention” where they are held without any charges being brought against them.
With this latest attack on the banking sector, Israel is directly threatening all 14 Palestinian banks, which comprise a network of 370 branches and offices and nearly 7,000 bank employees, managing 14.8 Billion USD in deposits, a credit portfolio of 9 Billion USD, and total assets of 17.3 Billion USD. In a nutshell, this is an attempt to undercut the Palestinian economy from its foundations.
The institution responsible for banks in Palestine is the Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA), one of the few relative success stories of the Oslo Accords period. The PMA is the organization that will supposedly transform into the Palestine Central Bank once independence is gained and Palestine can issue its own currency. Until then, its role is limited to regulating the banks under Palestinian law.
The Israeli military has had help in this latest aggression against Palestinian banks. A right-wing, Israeli-intelligence-linked non-governmental organization (NGO), issued personalized warning letters to Palestinian banks on April 20 to warn them about the new legislation. The letter was signed by the group’s director and its head of legal strategies, who is a former director of the Israeli “Defense” Forces’ military prosecution in the West Bank, and warned:
“If your bank has any accounts of imprisoned terrorists […] you must order the immediate freeze of those accounts.”
It was sent in Arabic, unlike the military order itself which was issued in Hebrew. How banks are supposed to be able to classify a client as a “terrorist” or not is irrelevant to those seeking to pursue frivolous lawsuits.
The state of Israel and its quasi-governmental NGOs have historically divided the roles of oppressor between themselves. Even before the founding of Israel, its founders employed the offices of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to strip Palestinians of their land. This arrangement with the JNF continues to this day. Outsourcing illegal activities to organizations that it has control over, Israel’s strategy is akin to a commercial firm outsourcing its customer collection efforts to the mafia so when a delinquent client is found with two broken legs and no fingernails they can always claim that they were unaware and did not do anything wrong themselves.
This is not the first time Israel unleashed its military to raid Palestinian banks and money exchangers. Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization based in Ramallah, West Bank, reported, “On 25 February 2004, Israeli police, Internal Security Agency (Shabak) officers and Border Police raided branches of the Jordan-based Arab Bank and the Cairo Amman Bank in the West Bank town of Ramallah, seizing in cash from the bank vaults more than NIS 35 million (the equivalent of US$ 7 million). The sum corresponded to the amount of money held in over 200 accounts belonging to individuals, charities and non-governmental organisations.” So much for the need for a military order to rob a bank.
Of course, the banking sector has not been the only one placed in Israel’s crosshairs. The publisher’s office of the leading Palestinian English publication, This Week in Palestine, was raided several years ago and their computers confiscated. To this day, the publisher has been unsuccessful in efforts to obtain their office equipment.
With the never-ending battering of the Palestinian society, now with the added threat of additional annexation of land, Israel needs the cover of violence to cover up their aggression. When Palestinians do not react in a violent matter, Israel frets and incites, like with this latest banking threat.
When a rogue state like Israel, engaged in a 53-year old belligerent military occupation, reaches the point of absolute impunity it seems like anything goes. Sadly, for us all, “anything goes” is a two-way street that no side can legislate away.