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Turmoil in PA following PMW’s letter to PA banks about Israel’s new anti-terror law

Itamar Marcus and Maurice Hirsch  |
  • In response to PMW’s warning to Palestinian banks that facilitating the payment of salaries to terrorists is now against Israeli law, the banks wrote an urgent letter to the PA: “Stop transferring any sums into these accounts.” 
  • The banks announced they are closing the accounts of all terrorist prisoners and “will transfer the balances in these accounts to the Ministry of Finance’s account.”
  • The banks started closing the accounts right after receiving PMWs letter even before the law went into effect yesterday May 9, 2020.
  • The PA is desperately trying to find a solution, with meetings at the highest levels of Palestinian finance. 
  • On May 9, 2020, Israel made the PA’s payment of the terror reward salaries to terrorist prisoners a criminal offence for anyone involved in facilitating the payment.
  • Palestinians have shot and thrown Molotov cocktails at Palestinian banks that are refusing to continue servicing funds of the terrorist prisoners
  • PA’s threat in an op-ed by the former Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs: “I do not steal from anyone, But if I starve I will eat my oppressors' flesh; Beware, beware of my starving, and my rage.” [From poem of Mahmoud Darwish]

Responding to the warning letter Palestinian Media Watch sent to the banks operating in the Palestinian Authority warning that new Israeli legislation criminalizes the facilitating of PA payment of salaries to terrorist prisoners, the banks wrote to the PA Minister of Finance saying “stop transferring any sums into these accounts. The banks will transfer the balances in these accounts to the Ministry of Finance’s account.” 

“Date: May 7, 2020
Number: 033/2020

Dear Sir, 
[PA] Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara
Ramallah, Palestine

Subject: Israeli army order no. 67 from Feb. 9, 2020 (refers to the application of much of Israel's Anti-Terror Law to the West Bank, including rendering banks liable to punishment for facilitating PA terror salaries -Ed.)

Regarding the aforementioned order, and following our communication with Your Honor and with His Honor Palestinian [PA] Monetary Authority Governor [Azzam Al-Shawa] on the matter, we emphasize the risks to which the banks will be exposed as a result of the presence of these accounts [of prisoners, released prisoners, and families of Martyrs and prisoners] in them.
Based on the plenary session of the Association of Banks [in Palestine], all of the banks hereby ask Your Honor to stop transferring any sums into these accounts. The banks will transfer the balances in these accounts to the Ministry of Finance’s account.

With honor and appreciation,
The Association of Banks in Palestine”

[Wattan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 8, 2020]

Former Director of PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Karake called Israel a “state of gangs and lowly people” and implicitly threatened Israel for criminalizing the payment of salaries to terrorists, when he quoted from a poem by a famous Palestinian poet: 

“The Palestinian people is dealing with a state of gangs and lowly people, who our poet Mahmoud Darwish already warned when he said: ‘I do not steal from anyone, But if I starve I will eat my oppressors' flesh; Beware, beware of my starving, And my rage.’”

[Ma’an, independent Palestinian news agency, May 7, 2020]

Violence has already broken out in the Palestinian areas. Palestinians have fired shots and thrown Molotov cocktails at Palestinian banks that are refusing to continue servicing funds of the terrorist prisoners:

“The [PA] Monetary Authority… condemned the attacks on the bank branches, and called on the [PA] enforcement forces to implement deterrent measures against those who did this…
The Monetary Authority… emphasized that it will not be negligent in its role on everything connected to protecting all the depositors’ money and managing the issue of the accounts of the prisoners’ relatives. It demanded that everyone behave with great understanding and in a manner that will ensure that the occupation will not seize money from the banks.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 10, 2020]

Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah called Israel’s criminalization of the PA’s terror money in the banks an act of “war,” stressing that Fatah will not allow its implementation:

Headline: “The [Fatah] Revolutionary Council: We will treat the Israeli military order concerning the prisoners’ accounts as a decision to launch a war”
“The Fatah Movement Revolutionary Council emphasized its complete opposition to the Israeli military order concerning the prisoners’ bank accounts: ‘[The order] is also considered a violation of all the political and economic agreements, and it puts an end to them. We will treat the decision as a decision to launch a war against the holiest national causes in the Palestinian consciousness and soul.’…
It emphasized that our illustrious Palestinian people and its living forces will not allow the implementation of these kinds of orders, which express a mentality of Zionist, terrorist, and criminal occupation.
The council expressed its appreciation for the position of [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas, who always emphasizes that even if only one penny remains for us, we will pay it to the prisoners’ families. It also expressed its appreciation for the position of the [PA] government, which is working to continue paying our prisoners’ salaries and enable their families to live in dignity.

The Revolutionary Council praised the Palestinian banks that constitute an important economic sector in the homeland, and expressed its appreciation for their commitment to the official Palestinian national decisions…
It demanded that the international community, which sponsored the agreements that have been signed with the occupation, do what is required of it and restrain the occupation, which is exploiting the Coronavirus epidemic in order to implement its diabolical plans against our heroic prisoners.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 10, 2020]

PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh announced that the banks had agreed to temporarily freeze their actions, however, this is probably because the PA has already paid the terrorist prisoners their salaries for April and will not be paying salaries for May until the beginning of June. Shtayyeh, added that the interim period will be used by the PA to “find solutions that will protect the rights of the prisoners and Martyrs”:

“The prime minister announced that according to the agreement, the prisoners’ families will be able to activate their bank accounts starting from tomorrow morning, Sunday [May 10, 2020], and that the [PA] government will discuss this issue in its next meeting.
Shtayyeh emphasized his rejection of the Israeli threats to the banks regarding the prisoners' allowances and the Martyrs. He said: ‘We will not submit to them, and we will find solutions that will protect the rights of the prisoners and Martyrs and defend the banks against the occupation’s violence and any legal measure.’” 

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 9, 2020]

In a meeting of the PLO Executive Committee led by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and in the presence of Shtayyeh, the committee rejected the criminalization of the terror reward salaries and emphasized the importance of paying the terrorists:

“The committee emphasized that these attempts will fail against the leadership’s decisions that emphasize the priority in paying the families of the Martyrs, the prisoners, and the wounded.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 9, 2020]

Announcing the decision of PM Shtayyeh to create a special committee to explore potential solutions, official PA Government Spokesman Ibrahim Melhem, added that the PA will continue “to be loyal to the prisoners and Martyrs and protect their rights, regardless of the pressures”:

“[PA] Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh ordered to assemble a committee led by [PA] Monetary Authority Governor [Azzam Al-Shawa], which includes [PA] Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs [Qadri Abu Bakr], the banking association, and a representative from the [PA] Ministry of Finance in order to examine the Israeli threats against the banks that are providing their services to the relatives of the prisoners and Martyrs and to submit the needed recommendations to deal with them… The [PA] government emphasizes its rejection of submitting to the Israeli pressures, and that it will continue to be loyal to the prisoners and Martyrs and protect their rights, regardless of the pressures. It also emphasizes that the solution to this crisis regarding the banks is a collective solution and not an individual one.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 8, 2020]

Fatah Movement Central Committee member and Head of Civil Affairs in the PA, Hussein Al-Sheikh, said:

“The decision to close the prisoners’ accounts in the banks harms the dignity of every Palestinian, is unacceptable, and constitutes submission to the occupation’s will.” 

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 8, 2020]

Al-Sheikh expressed his hope for “creating a Palestinian national consensus to defend our prisoners and their rights and protect their dignity. They are our magnificent glory and our national pride.”  [Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 8, 2020]

Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement also weighed into the discussion saying:

“The Palestinian prisoners are one of the central elements of the Palestinian people’s struggle, and we must not allow anyone to harm their rights that are being paid so that their children and families will live in dignity. We emphasize the resolve of the Palestinian leadership led by [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas, who has emphasized time after time that this matter is one of the basic Palestinian principles from which it is impossible to budge even one millimeter.’”

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 8, 2020]

Director of [PLO] Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Qadri Abu Bakr released a statement saying that Abbas and the PA are committed to continuing to pay the terror rewarding salaries to terrorists and that these payments will even receive “priority in the State of Palestine’s [PA] general budget”:

"[PA] President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership are firm in their position to strengthen the resolve of the prisoners and their families, and there will be no harm to their salaries. They will have priority in the State of Palestine’s [PA] general budget, and a guarantee of socially and financially dignified lives for them is at the top of our priorities.’
Abu Bakr added: ‘The occupation government’s threats to confiscate the prisoners’ accounts in the Palestinian banks is a crime, and it must bear the consequences of this robbery because the Palestinian people with all its official and popular elements will not sit idly by in light of this crime."

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 7, 2020]

A Palestinian Christian religious leader defended the need to continue paying the prisoners’ salaries, referring to the terrorists who include mass murderers of noncombatants, men, women and children, as people who “have spent their lives defending the most just cause known to modern human history”:

“The Palestinian Head of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Sebastia Archbishop Atallah Hanna today [May 8, 2020] demanded that the Palestinian banks that have stopped paying the released prisoners’ salaries reexamine their unfair decisions, and to do this from humanitarian considerations of the first order… 
He said: ‘It is an embarrassment that some of the Palestinian banks are treating the released prisoners in this manner because they have spent their lives defending the most just cause known to modern human history.’
Archbishop Hanna added: ‘We hope that the Palestinian banks will correct this serious mistake, that matters will return to normal, and that they will treat humanely and with dignity these heroes whom it is a duty to embrace, help, and support, especially in these difficult circumstances, and not to submit to anti-Palestinian dictates.
He added: ‘The submission of some of the banks to the Israeli and American pressures was a shock to our Palestinian people, and we hope that these banks will consider this in advance, because stopping the released prisoners’ salaries is an immoral and inhumane act, in addition to the fact that it is inconsistent with the national interests and the great sacrifices that our heroic prisoners have made.’”

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 8, 2020]

Prisoners’ organizations called for the banks to keep open the terrorists’ accounts:

“The prisoners’ institutions (the [PLO] Commission of Prisoners’ [Affairs], the [PA-funded] Prisoners’ Club, the Supreme Council for Prisoners Affairs, the Al-Dameer Association, the Al-Hurryyat Association, and the Al-Haq Association) [parentheses in source] issued a statement today, Thursday [May 7], in which they declared their position regarding the occupation’s decision to pursue the allowances of the prisoners’ families in the banks (refers to the application of much of Israel's Anti-Terror Law to the West Bank, including rendering banks liable to punishment for facilitating PA terror salaries -Ed.).
These institutions called on the Palestinian [PA] Monetary Authority and the [PA] government to issue instructions to the banks not to close the accounts of the prisoners’ families under any excuse whatsoever, because these banks are operating according to the Palestinian financial law and not based on the decisions of the Israeli military governor, and the banks must know that they are partners in good [times] and bad, and not only in the good.
They also called on the prisoners in the occupation’s prisons and the released prisoners and their families to join the popular activity opposing these measures.”

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 7, 2020]

Israeli army legislation which applies parts of Israel's 2016 Anti-Terror Law to the West Bank (taking effect on May 9, 2020). The law prohibits numerous terror related offenses, including terror funding/rewarding and holds heads of terror organizations responsible for murder committed by members of the organization. The law criminalizes the provision of funds for or the payment of rewards for the commission of terrorist offenses, such as the salaries the PA pays to terrorist prisoners and released prisoners. The provision also applies to any person or body - such as a bank - that facilitates such funding or rewarding of terror offenses. Based on this last provision, PMW sent letters in April 2020 to the heads of banks in the PA areas warning them that they must freeze the accounts of terrorists and their proxies and transfer them to the Israeli army or face legal consequences.

The following are longer excerpts of some of the articles cited above:

Headline: “The [PA] Monetary Authority: The rights of the prisoners and released prisoners are protected”
“The [PA] Monetary Authority emphasized: ‘The rights of the prisoners and released prisoners are protected in the banks, and we will coordinate with the [PA] government in order to guarantee that they will continue to receive their money, even though the occupation authorities have issued an amendment to a military order defining the opening of accounts for prisoners as a crime and the bank employees and management as criminals.’ (Refers to the application of much of Israel's Anti-Terror Law to the West Bank, including rendering banks liable to punishment for facilitating PA terror salaries -Ed.)…
It also condemned the attacks (refers to shots being fired and Molotov cocktails being thrown at some banks –Ed.) on the bank branches, and called on the [PA] enforcement forces to implement deterrent measures against those who did this…
The Monetary Authority… emphasized that it will not be negligent in its role on everything connected to protecting all the depositors’ money and managing the issue of the accounts of the prisoners’ relatives. It demanded that everyone behave with great understanding and in a manner that will ensure that the occupation will not seize money from the banks, as happened in 2004 based on the same military order that was amended in February 2020.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 10, 2020]

Headline: “Archbishop Hanna: It is an embarrassment that the banks are treating the released prisoners in this inhumane manner”
“Head of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Sebastia Archbishop Atallah Hanna today [May 8, 2020] demanded that the Palestinian banks that have stopped paying the released prisoners’ salaries (rawatib) reexamine their unfair decisions, and to do this from humanitarian considerations of the first order.
He emphasized in a statement, a copy of which reached [the independent Palestinian news agency] Donia Al-Watan, that it is forbidden to submit to the pressures and dictates that come from the outside, whose goal is to harm our people’s determination, willpower, and morale (refers to the application of much of Israel's Anti-Terror Law to the West Bank, including rendering banks liable to punishment for facilitating PA terror salaries -Ed.).
He said: ‘It is an embarrassment that some of the Palestinian banks are treating the released prisoners in this manner, because they have spent their lives defending the most just cause known to modern human history.’
Archbishop Hanna added: ‘We hope that the Palestinian banks will correct this serious mistake, that matters will return to normal, and that they will treat humanely and with dignity these heroes whom it is a duty to embrace, help, and support, especially in these difficult circumstances, and not to submit to anti-Palestinian dictates.
He added: ‘The submission of some of the banks to the Israeli and American pressures was a shock to our Palestinian people, and we hope that these banks will consider this in advance, because stopping the released prisoners’ salaries is an immoral and inhumane act, in addition to the fact that it is inconsistent with the national interests and the great sacrifices that our heroic prisoners have made.’”

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 8, 2020]

Headline: “The prisoners’ institutions have published their position regarding the occupation’s decision to pursue the allowances of the prisoners’ families in the banks”
“The prisoners’ institutions (the [PLO] Commission of Prisoners’ [Affairs], the [PA-funded] Prisoners’ Club, the Supreme Council for Prisoners [and Released Prisoners’] Affairs, the Al-Dameer Association, the Al-Hurryyat Association, and the Al-Haq Association) [parentheses in source] issued a statement today, Thursday [May 7], in which they declared their position regarding the occupation’s decision to pursue the allowances (mukhassasat) of the prisoners’ families in the banks (refers to the application of much of Israel's Anti-Terror Law to the West Bank, including rendering banks liable to punishment for facilitating PA terror salaries -Ed.).
These institutions called on the Palestinian [PA] Monetary Authority and the [PA] government to issue instructions to the banks not to close the accounts of the prisoners’ families under any excuse whatsoever, because these banks are operating according to the Palestinian financial law and not based on the decisions of the Israeli military governor, and the banks must know that they are partners in good [times] and bad, and not only in the good.
They also called on the prisoners in the occupation’s prisons and the released prisoners and their families to join the popular activity opposing these measures.”

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 7, 2020]

Headline: “The [Fatah] Revolutionary Council: We will treat the Israeli military order concerning the prisoners’ accounts as a decision to launch a war”
“The Fatah Movement Revolutionary Council emphasized its complete opposition to the Israeli military order concerning the prisoners’ bank accounts (refers to the application of much of Israel's Anti-Terror Law to the West Bank, including rendering banks liable to punishment for facilitating PA terror salaries -Ed.). [The council stated:] ‘[The order] is also considered a violation of all the political and economic agreements, and it puts an end to them. We will treat the decision as a decision to launch a war against the holiest national causes in the Palestinian consciousness and soul.’
In a statement that it issued yesterday evening, Saturday [May 9, 2020], the council said that the new [Israeli] order constitutes a prelude to the decision to annex the [Jordan] Valley and the settlements, in accordance with ‘the deal of the century’ (i.e., refers to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan). It emphasized that our illustrious Palestinian people and its living forces will not allow the implementation of these kinds of orders, which express a mentality of Zionist, terrorist, and criminal occupation.
The council expressed its appreciation for the position of [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas, who always emphasizes that even if only one penny remains for us, we will pay it to the prisoners’ families. It also expressed its appreciation for the position of the [PA] government, which is working to continue paying our prisoners’ salaries and enable their families to live in dignity.

The Revolutionary Council praised the Palestinian banks that constitute an important economic sector in the homeland, and expressed its appreciation for their commitment to the official Palestinian national decisions…
It demanded that the international community, which sponsored the agreements that have been signed with the occupation, do what is required of it and restrain the occupation, which is exploiting the Coronavirus epidemic in order to implement its diabolical plans against our heroic prisoners.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 10, 2020]

Excerpt of an op-ed by former Director of PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Karake
Headline: “The Israeli attack on the prisoners’ bank accounts is blatant aggression”
“The latest Zionist threat to the banks that are active in Palestine of arrests and being put on trial due to the opening of accounts for prisoners, Martyrs’ [families], and wounded (refers to the application of much of Israel's Anti-Terror Law to the West Bank, including rendering banks liable to punishment for facilitating PA terror salaries -Ed.)… comes after the occupation authorities’ pressures have not succeeded throughout all the recent years in causing the Palestinian leadership to abandon the prisoners, Martyrs, and wounded on the pretext of support for terror, and after [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas emphasized many, many times that the prisoners, Martyrs, and wounded are the most precious thing to us, and that any amount that is in our hands will be allocated for them…
The goal that Israel, the US, and Europe are seeking to achieve through this blackmail and through the pressures on the PA and the banks is not monetary; the goal is to put the entire Palestinian national struggle under the category of terror and crime, [and to claim] that the Palestinian resistance to the occupation – which is represented by the prisoners, Martyrs, and wounded – has become illegitimate, and that its legal and human foundations and international legitimacy – which has allowed every occupied people to resist the occupation for its freedom and dignity – have been revoked from it…
The interference began with the Israeli calls to disband UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) and erase the cause of the [Palestinian] refugees. The interference reached the Palestinian schoolbooks and the transparent policy of stealing, thieving, and pilfering everything in the Palestinians’ lives: stealing the water, the [freedom of] movement, the air, the freedom of knowledge, the land, and the trees, stealing the prisoners’ money in the Israeli military courts and collecting millions in fines and the policy of compensation (i.e., of terror victims -Ed.). In the Zionist period, the victim pays compensation to the murderer and the executioner…
The Palestinian people is dealing with a state of gangs and lowly people, who our poet Mahmoud Darwish already warned when he said: ‘I do not steal from anyone, But if I starve I will eat my oppressors' flesh; Beware, beware of my starving, And my rage.’”

[Ma’an, independent Palestinian news agency, May 7, 2020]

Headline: “Al-Shawa in response to Wattan’s question: As of now, the banks have not closed the released prisoners’ accounts, we heard about this through the media and the occupation has not informed us of it”
“[PA] Monetary Authority Governor Azzam Al-Shawa emphasized today, Wednesday [May 6, 2020], in response to a question of a reporter of [the independent Palestinian news agency] Wattan about Jordanian banks having closed released prisoners’ accounts: ‘As of now, the banks have not closed released prisoners’ accounts.’ Al-Shawa added: ‘We heard about the matter in the media and have not seen it on the ground. This issue rises to the surface all the time.’
At a press conference that was held at the Monetary Authority headquarters in Ramallah, Al-Shawa emphasized that they are monitoring the matter so that we all will be certain that everything is being managed according to the Palestinian banking rules and regulations.
He added: ‘Consultation is being held with the brothers in the [PA] government and presidency to organize this matter in order to protect the rights of every Palestinian, whether he is a prisoner or a Martyr.’
Al-Shawa continued: ‘The issue is complicated, and the occupation has not officially informed us about this.’”

[Wattan, independent Palestinian news agency, May 6, 2020]
 

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