Bank of Ireland closes Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign Accounts

On 27 September 2016, the Bank of Ireland (BOI) closed three accounts belonging to the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), deeming Palestine to be a ‘high-risk country’ and declaring that IPSC no longer met the bank’s “risk appetite.”

IPSC, a human rights advocacy group that seeks to “build solidarity and mutual understanding” between the Irish and Palestinian peoples, held accounts with the Bank of Ireland since the organization’s establishment in 2001. In those accounts, IPSC generated its revenue from charitable events, as well as donations and member subscriptions. IPSC fundraising events in recent years included a boxing fight night ($7,257), a sponsored walk ($1,305), and an annual Christmas lunch ($1,507).

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The money that IPSC raises is primarily used to fund Palestinian solidarity projects in Ireland, such as: advocating for recognition of the occupation by the Irish government and European Union; and educating Irish citizens on the boycott of goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements. In March of this year, IPSC transferred $1,350 to the Hirbawi textile factory in Hebron for the purchase of authentic Palestinian keffiyehs (available on the IPSC website). This kind of action epitomizes IPSC’s objective: to peacefully promote Palestinian rights and culture.

Earlier, the BOI had contacted IPSC to inquire about how the bank accounts were being used. The questions were routine: “What are the funds in the account used for? What is the source of funds in your account? Do you transfer funds to Palestine and, if so, to whom in Palestine? Do you transfer any money to political organizations and, if so, to whom and where are they based?”

IPSC fully disclosed all of its information to the BOI, and provided the bank with a copy of its organizational charter and a 2015 audit. When the IPSC National Coordinator, Kevin Squires, attempted to defer the closure until December of this year, the BOI rejected the request and provided very little information about exactly why the bank accounts were to be terminated in the first place.

IPSC described the move as “frankly shocking” and stated that they felt “vulnerable” and unfairly discriminated against. On 3 October, IPSC released the following statement and has since called for action:

It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that this attack on our ability to bank is a politically-motivated measure to silence a human rights organization that campaigns for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it fulfills its obligations under international law – a campaign the Irish Government views as entirely legitimate.

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Many officials in Ireland denounced the BOI’s actions. On 3 October, Sinn Fein Senator Paul Gavan described the situation as “corporate censorship, a political and vindictive position against decency and justice for the Palestinian people.” Meanwhile, the party’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, commented that the bank accounts should be reopened. On the same day, the youth wing of Sinn Féin held a protest outside a BOI branch in Dublin city-center, at which youth spokesperson Eoin Rochford IPSC urged people to share their indignation by contacting the bank directly or to consider closing any accounts they may have in solidarity with IPSC.

The BOI’s measure was by no means unprecedented. Several banks across Europe, including in France, Germany, Austria and Britain have closed accounts of BDS-supporting organizations, as well as personal accounts of those connected to Palestine. The bank accounts of Friends of al-Aqsa, the Ummah Welfare Trust, and the Cordoba Foundation have all been closed in recent years because they no longer meet HSBC’s “risk appetite.” The common factor linking these organizations is their support for Palestinian rights.

In 2011, the British banking company HSBC decided to terminate the checking accounts of my parents, both of whom had been customers for over thirty years. My father, a British citizen who was born in Palestine; and my mother, an English woman born and raised in Leicestershire, relied heavily on these accounts to transfer funds to one another. My father worked in East Jerusalem and regularly sent money through HSBC to support his wife, a part-time school secretary and mother of four children. The bank gave little notice of the closure and when my parents asked for a meeting to clarify such drastic action, HSBC denied their request and gave no explanation. This personal story is just one of many illustrating how those connected to Palestine have seen their assets frozen, their hard-earned income unavailable to withdraw, and their long established business casually disdained without explanation, justification or apology.

Talal Husseini is an Editorial Intern with IPS.