Palestinians are using Bitcoin to Transact Across Borders Amid Conflict

By Ravindra Chagetha

The Gaza Strip is a self-governing Palestinian territory on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Gaza and the West Bank are claimed by the State of Palestine. Bitcoin has become quite popular in a small growing community of users in the occupied Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Ahmed Ismail, a financial analyst in Gaza, states there are at least 20 unofficial “exchange” offices that are dealing cryptocurrency to local users according to his estimation. Also, he himself had helped 30 clients to use bitcoin to purchase investment abroad as they do not have any alternatives.

Another currency dealer in Gaza, Mohammed, has also helped up to 50 families a month an average of $500 worth of bitcoin each to spend money abroad or shop online. According to him, “Bitcoin, in their opinion, is cheaper, safer, and quicker.” He added “Nothing works with Palestinian banks. Bitcoin wallets are alternative banks.”

Anyone can conduct a peer-to-peer bitcoin transaction. Once the transaction is paid for, it can’t be vetoed by an emissary. This would appear to solve a real problem for a population with restricted access to the global economy amid the ongoing conflict with Israel.

The CEO of the nonprofit Palestine Techno Park in the West Bank, Laith Kassis, says “There is no payment gateway, like PayPal, for entrepreneurs to receive payments internationally,” he further added, “So here come solutions on blockchain with private nodes.”

Saifdean Ammous, who is a bitcoin supporter, throwing light on the crypto for the economic future of his nation, says “If the people who want to do the transaction don’t both have balances in bitcoin then you’re just adding extra layers of conversion from their home currency to bitcoin and back to the home currency.”  Ammous is a professor of economics at the Lebanese American University. “That’s never going to be a sustainable solution.” he further added “Rather, it bitcoin is its own monetary system and it will have its own payment solutions.”

Kassis engages with the PMA and has a different agenda than Ammous or Ismail. Kassis’s Techno Park hosted its first blockchain boot camp the first week of September, with 29 participants ranging from students to entrepreneurs and government officials. “The whole ethos of decentralized ledgers plays into the [Palestinian] community’s need to talk peer-to-peer, that will enable Palestinian entrepreneurs to do business internationally,” Kassis said, adding, “I think blockchain and fintech has a huge potential to change the dynamics of our economy and solve many of the financial constraints by leveraging the decentralization of the network.”

So far, the Techno Park’s blockchain seminars at four universities across the West Bank have discussed government-sponsored pilots, enterprise crypto services provided by companies like Ripple, and initial coin offerings, in addition to bitcoin.

“It’s all about bringing awareness and creating new markets,” Kassis said. “The younger generation is more knowledgeable about crypto, more than the IT departments at banks.”

Ammous believes that in the long term bitcoin has great potential to spark societal change.

“The key thing is that the more bitcoin grows, the more it will deprive governments of the ability to print more money,” Ammous said, concluding

“I think, in the long run, this is going to be a very good thing for everywhere in the world, particularly places in the Middle East.”

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Ravindra Chagetha

His interests and the desire to learn something new cannot be neglected as he is always keen to learn new things.

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