Why It’s Tough to Send Aid Money to Palestine During the Latest Israel-Hamas Conflict

Banks in Israel and around the world are restricting business relationships with what they consider to be risky clients.

People around the world looking for ways to send relief funds to Palestinians after 11 straight days of violence are finding that sending money to Gaza can be quite difficult. 

The past week of strife between Israel and Palestine has claimed over 200 lives, a majority of them Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Those looking to donate funds to local aid groups largely can’t because of long standing restrictions, by the U.S., Israel and other countries, on transferring money to bank accounts in the territories. Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire earlier this week.

“We’re not aware of this phenomenon changing or getting worse in recent weeks or during the military attack on the Strip. It could just be that people are trying now and discovering they can’t make transfers,” said Miriam Marmur, international media coordinator at Israeli human rights organization Gisha, in an email. 

Banks in Israel and around the world are restricting business relationships with what they consider to be risky clients, along with Israel’s ongoing, severe controls on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza, undermine Palestine’s economy and hinder development, according to Marmur. 

“They also impact humanitarian and human rights organizations working in the region as well as businesses who have employees in Gaza, and block families from sending remittances to the Strip,” Marmur said. 

The use of sanctions as a geopolitical tool can violate human rights and halt entire populations from accessing financial services. Earlier this year, the U.N. called on the U.S. and European Union to ease sanctions on Venezuela as the restrictions – imposed with the goal of removing controversial President Nicolas Maduro from power– were exacerbating a humanitarian crisis. People in sanctioned countries like Venezuela and Iran are increasingly looking to alternatives like cryptocurrencies, that are relatively resistant to government censorship and other restrictions, to be able to conduct day-to-day transactions. 

Venmo 

Gaza is controlled by the militant group Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel. Organizations linked to Hamas are flagged on the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) list of sanctioned entities. 

On Tuesday, tech publication Rest of World reported the U.S. payment service Venmo, a subsidiary of PayPal, was delaying transactions that contained the words “Palestine” or “Palestinian” along with terms including “emergency fund.” 

“In tests conducted by Rest of World, transactions designated for ‘free palestine,’ ‘Free Palestinian,’ ‘Palestinian emergency’ and ‘Palestinian fund,’ were all completed without any issue,” the report said.

A spokesperson for Venmo told the publication the transaction reviews were OFAC-related. OFAC did not respond to a request for comment by press time. 

One Venmo user who goes by Rami for privacy reasons that appeared in the Rest of World report, was attempting to pool money for a donation to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), an American organization that has provided medical relief in Gaza since 1992. Venmo eventually released the funds to Rami. 

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