Dalia Shurrab, a content writer and translator based in Gaza, receives payment for her work through online money transfer platforms, like many freelancers around the world.
But she can’t use PayPal. Despite serving nearly 200 million users in 203 countries, PayPal denies its service to Palestinians – though not Israeli settlers – in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“PayPal’s restrictions majorly disadvantage Palestinian startup and tech companies,” Shurrab told The Electronic Intifada, “essentially rigging the game in favor of their competitors in the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.”
The company cites regulatory concerns as the reason it denies service to Palestinians, although this ignores an established working relationship between the US Treasury and the Palestine Monetary Authority.
It also works in jurisdictions far less stable than Palestine, including Somalia and Yemen.
PayPal’s policy involves discrimination. Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank can use PayPal, while Palestinians are unable to. All of Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law.
The company did not respond to The Electronic Intifada’s repeated requests for comment.
Shurrab, who lives in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, is – like Gaza’s two million other residents – subject to Israel’s 10-year blockade of the territory. This makes it almost impossible for her to leave Gaza through any Israeli-controlled checkpoint.
With draconian restrictions on freedom of movement and the import and export of goods and basic materials, Gaza’s economy has tanked, leaving the coastal strip on the brink of collapse.
To Shurrab, this stark reality also presents an opportunity.
“Entrepreneurship in the Gaza Strip, and generally in Palestine, is growing so fast,” Shurrab said. “It’s opening closed doors for these youth to find new experiences and to live their passion and make their dreams come true and be their own bosses without contributions from other governments or the private sector.”
Shurrab got her first break at Gaza Sky Geeks, an incubator for startups, tech innovation and education.
Half of the startup founders supported by Gaza Sky Geeks are female, a proportion the company aims to increase to 80 percent.
Shurrab considered one day launching her own startup, but was forced to abandon the plan given lack of access to payment.