Former prisoners employed by PA to bypass Israeli sanctions

Restrictions on financial institutions part of effort to ‘criminalize the Palestinian struggle,’ professor says.

A Palestinian prisoner, convicted of security offences against Israel, looks out of his cell at Nitzan jail (photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
A Palestinian prisoner, convicted of security offences against Israel, looks out of his cell at Nitzan jail
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
To circumvent Israeli sanctions on the Palestinian banking system, the Palestinian Authority decided this week to permanently cease paying monthly stipends to about 7,000 former prisoners, in order to transfer them to work within security, military or civilian institutions, so they can receive salaries as government employees.
A questionnaire was distributed in the past few days to all Palestine Liberation Organization followers who spent time in Israeli prisons, to identify their qualifications and allow them to choose into which field they prefer to integrate.
Hasan Abd Rabbo, the spokesperson of the PLO’s Commission of Detainee Affairs, explained to The Media Line that recently the commission worked to fill out the questionnaires for those prisoners who spent more than five years in Israeli prisons, “in order to transfer them to become PA employees, based on their wishes and the information they provide us.”
Abd Rabbo clarified that payments to the families of “current prisoners [in Israel] and martyrs” will remain unchanged, “including their salaries, legal expenses and everything they need, which come as part of the greatest Palestinian national interest.”
He stressed that the change is intended to protect the former prisoners’ income, amid Israeli and American pressure to deal with them as terrorists. “The move is providing these former prisoners job security and social stability.”
Many banks in the West Bank closed accounts of relatives of “prisoners and martyrs,” after the Israeli army threatened the financial institutions, accused them of serving terrorists, said such stipends encouraged terrorism, and set a deadline to close the accounts, Abd Rabbo said. “And the most recent deadline given to the banks expires at the end of next month [December 31],” he added.
“But the PA has made a decision to establish a national bank, to serve the prisoners and the families of martyrs,” Abd Rabbo continued.
Moshe Marzouk, an Israeli analyst and research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, told The Media Line the PA’s decision was very dangerous, as it encouraged people to commit terrorism attacks. “The PA pays them salaries when they are in prison, and then outside as employees. Unbelievable!”
Mazouk said none of the countries supporting the Palestinian leadership will accept this step, and that he believes the Israeli sanctions on the West Bank banks will continue. “The decision won’t help the PA, but on the contrary,” he added.
The Palestinian leadership pays the prisoners and families what it calls “salaries” – and what many on the Palestinian street call “martyr payments” – totaling an estimated 1.5 billion shekels ($444 million) annually.
Last May, the Israel Defense Forces Central Command issued an order prohibiting banks in the West Bank to transfer stipends that the PA pays to prisoners in Israeli jails and to the families of those slain in clashes with Israelis.
The Central Command is responsible for overall security in the West Bank, and issues directives enforcing many policies. It sees these payments as a security threat.
As such, it warned Palestinian and non-Palestinian banks not to carry out transactions related to what it called “terrorism funds,” saying that doing so would expose them to lawsuits. Bank managers and employees would be considered “accomplices to the crime” and be subject to imprisonment and fines.
Adel Mohammed Abed from Bethlehem, who was imprisoned by Israel twice, in 1994-2007 and in 2014-2016, told The Media Line that the questionnaire he filled out for the Commission of Detainee Affairs concerned information about him as a person, in addition to his professional qualifications.
“We were asked about our hobbies, experience and preferred work field. Now regarding the salary, it remains the same, but instead of receiving our salary from the commission, we now receive it from the Palestinian Finance Ministry’s Staff Affairs Office,” Abed said.
He said that his bank did not close his account, but his brother faced an issue with Cairo Amman Bank. His brother’s son was recently imprisoned, and his salary was being transferred to his father’s account. “The bank froze my brother’s account and that caused him a lot of problems,” Abed said.
Nasr Abd al-Kareem, a professor of finance and banking science at the American University in Ramallah, told The Media Line the PA decision addressed a small part of the issue but would not solve it, “especially since Israel has several tools to pressure and blackmail the PA.
“The prisoners and martyrs’ case is a national one and a priority, but I’m not sure if the PA move will help the situation,” he said.
Israel aims to “criminalize the Palestinian struggle,” Abd al-Kareem said, and therefore it does not want prisoners and former prisoners to receive any payments from the PA or to be able to open bank accounts. “If Israel wants to punish them, the PA decision will not really protect them; they [the Israelis] have lists with their names and information.”
He added, “The name of the payment is not a problem for Israel, as long as the PA pays these former prisoners.”
Abd al-Kareem added that the decision might not protect the banks from Israel, “and regarding the fact that the PA is establishing a bank, that takes time, and the steps to get it working are very slow.”
He opined that Israel was not targeting these prisoners personally, but rather “their history,” and therefore what one calls the prisoners or the payments does not really matter. “However, Israel might just look at things differently, for security and political reasons, or for whatever strategic aim it has. It already postponed the deadline for the banks before, but at some point Israel might just implement its decision.”
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