Banks prove to be 'weak link' in terror funding, close terrorists accounts

The decision came ahead of legislation set to take force on Saturday, which makes the transfer of 'pay for slay' payments to terrorists a criminal act.

Gazans wait to draw money from an ATM of the Bank of Palesti (photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHTIB/FLASH 90)
Gazans wait to draw money from an ATM of the Bank of Palesti
(photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHTIB/FLASH 90)
Banks operating in the West Bank have begun closing the accounts of Palestinian terrorist prisoners and their proxies, ahead of a new law coming into force which would allow the Israeli authorities to prosecute the employees of any bank handing terrorist's salaries for facilitating terror.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) paid out NIS 517 million in 2019 to jailed terrorists and the families of terrorists killed when carrying out attacks, a significant portion of their annual budget.
However, according to the NGO Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), Israeli legislation set to come into force on May 9 states that any person who conducts any transaction involving assets, including money, to facilitate, further, fund, or reward a person for carrying out terror related offenses is committing an offensive, the penalty for which is up to ten years imprisonment and a substantial fine. This would apply to the employees of banks which handle PA payments for terrorism, and would leave the banks themselves open to criminal and civil proceedings against them.
Although official PA media has made no mention of the matter, independent Palestinian and Arab news sources have reported the banks' closure of the accounts, which has been verified by The Jerusalem Post.
A report on May 6 in the independent Palestinian newspaper al-Hadath stated that the PLO's Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Spokesman, Hassan Abd Rabbo, confirmed to them that "complaints have come in from the families of prisoners and released prisoners against two banks that are active in the Palestinian territories, because they have closed the prisoners’ bank accounts."
He added that on Wednesday a meeting was held between the PA's Monetary Authority and the Commission of Prisoners' Affairs to discuss the matter.
Similarly, Wattan, an independent Palestinian news agency, reported on May 6 that Prisoners had confirmed that the Cairo Amman Bank, a Jordanian bank with branches in the Palestinian territories, "closed bank accounts of prisoners who were released from the occupation’s [i.e., Israel's] prison, and this was in submission to pressures exerted by the occupation authorities. According to the prisoners, the bank management demanded that they pay off their debts and transfer their accounts to other banks.”
It added that additional banks in the area are expected to follow suit.
The closures led to Former PA Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs, Wasfi Kabha, lamenting that the banks were putting their own interests ahead of the prisoners'.  According to PMW, Kabha wrote on his personal Facebook page: “The bank must refuse the occupation’s dictates and cooperate with the other banks and banking institutions, in coordination with the relevant institutions in the PA and official institutions that deal with the prisoners and released prisoners’ affairs, in order to reject the occupation’s decisions and arbitrary measures.”
The move has been claimed as a victory by Palestinian Media Watch, which has been mentioned in a number of the reports as the direct cause of the banks' decision to close the accounts.
In late April, Itamar Marcus, Director of PMW, and Maurice Hirsch, Head of legal Strategies at PMW, who is a former Director of the IDF Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria, wrote to a number of banks in the region to warn them of the incoming legislation.
Their letter, headlined "Warning not to cooperate in committing a prohibited action with terror assets," alerted the banks to the relevant legislation, and stated: "If you continue holding accounts for imprisoned terrorists in your bank, you are turning yourself personally and the bank employees into partners in crime.
"If your bank has any accounts of imprisoned terrorists - whether in the names of the terrorists themselves or whether in the names of proxies appointed by the terrorists - you must order the immediate freeze of those accounts and the transfer of their contents to the IDF Military Commander for Judea and Samaria."
The letter, sent in both English and Arabic, further warned that failure to close the accounts would mean "the bank is likely to be considered as a body that gave material support to terror, with all the implications of such, including civil suits to compensate the victims of the acts of terror."
In a joint statement on Thursday, Marcus and Hirsch said: "Based on the speed by which the PA banks are responding to PMW’s letter, it seems that PMW accurately identified the banks as the weak link in the PA’s terror reward program. Many of these banks are foreign banks that conduct business internationally and would not want to be tainted by the threat of criminal or civil proceedings for supporting terrorism."