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Aftermath of bombardment in Gaza. PA
THE MORNING LEAD

Irish banks urged to respond to claims that payments to Gaza have been 'blocked'

It comes after The Journal heard accounts outlining difficulties when trying to transfer money to Palestine.

SINN FÉIN HAS written to a number of Irish banks asking them to outline whether donations and payments to people in Gaza are being “blocked or frustrated” by the financial institutions.

It comes after The Journal heard a number of accounts from different individuals outlining difficulties when trying to transfer money to the Palestinian territory, with Irish and international banks facing criticism for how they process the transactions.

Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty told The Journal that any attempts to hinder the transfer of funds should be taken extremely seriously.

Banks can refuse to allow a transfer of funds to go through if there’s a concern it could be used for terrorism and, given that the chief political entity in Gaza, Hamas, is designated by the EU and other blocs as a terrorist organisation, some campaigners believe this means a host of other transactions wind up getting caught in the net.

Since Israel’s invasion and bombardment of Gaza began following the surprise attack by Hamas on 7 October, various fundraisers have been held around the country to help support Palestinians.

Some of this money has likely been directed to official aid organisations, but with a blockade at the Rafah crossing on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, aid agencies have regularly expressed frustration at how little of these supports have made its way through.

Alternative ways

This has led to some deciding to seek alternative ways to provide support to the region.

But this has seen efforts impeded by banks declining to transfer funds, with one financial institution allegedly claiming that an Irish man seeking to transfer funds to friends in Gaza was at risk of being duped – even though he knew the people he was trying to send the money to.

It’s understood some private firms have also struggled to transfer money, including media outlets.

Eddy Blake and a number of friends were able to raise €1,200 through a music gig held in Waterford city last month.

He was hoping to send the money to friends in Gaza he had made through contacts on a city twinning committee. The committee has successfully campaigned in recent years for Waterford to be linked officially with Ramallah, a city in the West Bank.

He told The Journal he was motivated from news and social media reports showing the “flattening” of Gaza by aerial bombardment.

However, he found efforts to transfer the funds frustrated by several banks.

“I think the money would be best suited going directly to them. It would also probably reach them faster given what you see on the news of these loads of trucks on the border of Gaza, not being allowed entry,” he told The Journal.

One of Blake’s friends is a man in southern Gaza who as a result of the Israeli army’s bombing campaign has seen his home become a shelter to families.

Michelle Byrne, who is a member of the Waterford-Ramallah twinning committee, outlined to The Journal that their Gaza contacts are friends made from visits to Palestine in the years prior to the current war.

“[They're] looking after 40 displaced people in his house so we were hoping to send funds to sustain them as they fall outside of traditional refugee camp/aid structures. I know the people through my visit to Palestine 6 years ago,” she said.

Byrne added that she found it frustrating to hear of financial institutions “trying to imply the donations are a scam”, when there are long-established relations between Irish communities and Gaza.

AIB transfer

Blake tried AIB – which he pointed to being almost half-owned by the State – but found that while the transaction at first was a success, the money was refunded to his own account quickly that same day.

Blake also tried both Revolut and Western Union, which are known for international transfers, but to no avail.

Blake added that at no stage was any reference made to Hamas’ status as a proscribed terrorist organisation. “I’m pretty sure that by the way they were talking to me, it felt like they were really trying not to use that sort of terminology,” he said.

When he spoke to Western Union, he claimed that the bank warned him that he was the “victim of a con and being duped into sending money to somebody that doesn’t exist”, which he said was ridiculous.

“I ended up feeling disheartened after trying three different banks,” he added.

In recent days, he has managed to transfer funds through a friendly contact in a separate country.

“[My friend] has been experiencing a huge amount of blackouts in terms of broadband reception as well as mobile coverage but we’ve been able to make contact with him again in the last few days thankfully,” Blake said.

He said the experience made him question whether there is an “unofficial stance” to prevent money being sent to the region, or if concerns around helping groups recognised as terrorist organisations has spread so widely that it means banks are effectively not letting money through.

“Once I called AIB, they didn’t really elaborate as to why they refunded me the money. I just said to them, look, can you do it again for me so they got in touch with their international department of AIB but just came back and said they said they wouldn’t be able to clear any money onto Palestine,” he said.

When The Journal contacted AIB regarding its policies for financial transfers from Ireland accounts to accounts based in Gaza, it contended that it is “processing payments to Gaza/Palestine as usual”.

“AIB has not instructed payment blocks against Gaza or Ramallah and we comply with all legal and regulatory obligations.” a spokesperson said.

However, the bank said that once payments sent via AIB are “routed through intermediary banks”, the Irish bank “cannot comment on any reviews or restrictions that other banks may have”.

When asked whether it can confirm if any payments have been made to accounts in Gaza since October, the bank did not respond directly. It said: “AIB can send payments to Gaza.”

The Journal also contacted Bank of Ireland but did not respond when asked if it’s allowing money to go to Gaza. Western Union also did not respond when contacted.

Doherty, a Donegal TD for Sinn Féin, said that any allegations that payments are being frustrated was of serious concern.

“Any reports that attempts to transfer money or aid to journalists, civilians or aid charities are being blocked or frustrated is a cause for serious concern,” he said.

“Accordingly, I have written to Irish banks to clarify their policy towards such transactions.”

Unofficial

Philomena McKenna, a member of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, alleged that the group believes there to be a “longstanding” unofficial policy that financial transfers to Palestine are thwarted.

“The Americans do have a block in place preventing banks transfers to Gaza, same as for Cuba, and it does look like a lot of other banks follow the Americans’ lead on this. I do think people should always really try and challenge the banks on this though,” she said.

While there may be some uncertainty over whether donations will reach those who need it, McKenna said that aid organisations should still be used and have a credible track record for getting supports into Gaza.

“Some banks were destroyed in the very first week [of the Israeli attack] so it’s almost impossible to get money there. It’s a shocking state of affairs, and things will open up eventually and we will be able to get aid to people, but at the moment it is dire.”

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