At least one bank operating in the West Bank has blocked access to accounts of Palestinians convicted of terror offenses, days before an Israeli military decree imposing sanctions on banks for financially rewarding terrorism takes effect, according to a report and a monitoring group, prompting the Palestinian Authority to form a committee to fight the Israeli measure.
Many Palestinians who served time in Israeli prisons for terror offenses have complained in recent days that they have been unable to access their bank accounts to receive monthly stipends paid out by the Palestine Liberation Organization, and have been told to switch banks if they want to continue receiving them, the Haaretz daily reported Thursday.
Israel has long tried to clamp down on hundreds of millions of dollars in stipends paid out to Palestinians convicted of security offenses or the families of attackers, which it says encourages terror. Ramallah has vowed to continue the payments, describing them as a form of social welfare and compensation for what it claims is an unfair military justice system.
According to Haaretz, at least one released prisoner from Bethlehem said that the Jordan-based Cairo Amman Bank had told him he must close his account and move it elsewhere.
Similar details were reported Thursday by Israel-based monitoring group Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), which cited various Arabic-language Palestinian and international reports saying other West Bank financial institutions were taking the same steps.
PMW said in a statement that the Israeli legislation, meant to stop the Palestinian Authority incentivizing terror attacks via monthly payments to attackers and their families, was due to take effect on Saturday.
The new military order, signed in February, applies substantial parts of Israel’s anti-terror law to the West Bank. The law states that any person or body handing financial aid to anyone, with the purpose being to facilitate, advance, fund or reward terror-related offenses, is committing a crime that carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and a fine.
Israel has previously deducted the presumed total worth of the stipends from tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA, prompting a long standoff with Ramallah.
There are 13 banks operating in the West Bank areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority. Seven of them are Palestinian-owned, five are Jordanian and one is Egyptian.
PMW said on April 20 that it had sent a letter of warning about the new legislation to the banks, signed by its director Itamar Marcus and the group’s head of legal strategies, attorney Maurice Hirsch, who is a former director of the IDF’s military prosecution in the West Bank.
“If your bank has any accounts of imprisoned terrorists … you must order the immediate freeze of those accounts,” warned the letter, which was also sent in Arabic.
If they failed to take that action, the letter noted, “the bank is likely to be considered as a body that gave material support to terror, with all of the implications of such, including civil suits to compensate the victims of the acts of terror.”
A spokesperson for the PA’s government, Ibrahim Melhem, said Thursday in a statement carried by the official WAFA news agency that Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh had instructed relevant officials to form a committee to “study Israeli threats against banks that provide services to the families of prisoners and martyrs, and to issue necessary recommendations to confront them.”
The committee will include the PA’s minister of prisoner affairs, and representatives of the association of banks and the ministry of finance, the report said.
Melhem added that the government “confirms its refusal to submit to Israeli pressures” and would continue making the payments to terror convicts and their families no matter the pressure.
Qadura Fares, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Palestinian Prisoners Club, confirmed to Haaretz that his organization has received complaints about banks refusing to serve released terror convicts.
Fares argued that closing bank accounts was an extreme step that would hurt some 11,000 families receiving the stipends.
“Such a draconian step means a death sentence for many families, for which this stipend is the only financial breathing tube,” he was quoted as saying.
He urged the PA leadership to prevent more banks taking similar steps.