In the blink of an eye, Said Muhammad’s dreams vanished.
Muhammad, 24, concluded last year that cryptocurrencies looked like a promising investment and, more importantly, one that anyone could participate in, which wasn’t just the preserve of the rich or rich countries.
“I’ve read about cryptocurrencies on social media. It seemed like the safest business of the future, “she said.
He has also taken online cryptocurrency trading courses.
“I wanted to work in this field. I wanted to have a future.
He made his first investment in early 2021, the $ 180 he had saved from a previous job.
After a year everything seemed fine. Its decision to enter the market coincided with an industry-wide bull run as the prices of most cryptocurrencies rose significantly. Muhammad’s initial investment was now worth nearly $ 2,000, a tenfold return.
“I was very happy and excited when I made a profit. I started planning for the future.
The happiness and excitement didn’t last long, however. One day, his e-wallet and all its contents disappeared, seized, according to Muhammad, by the Israeli army, which is trying to suppress cryptocurrency trading in Gaza.
“It was like another brutal Israeli bombing. I was shocked and didn’t know why? Why me? ”He said.
Muhammad tried several times to get his money back, asking Binance for help. But the cryptocurrency exchange offered no help and he lost hope when he learned – from others who had the same thing – that the Israeli military was responsible for his downfall.
“Two thousand dollars may seem like a small amount of money, but I was thinking of starting a small business of my own or even getting married. It would have changed my life. “
His loss hasn’t changed his mind about the potential of cryptocurrencies, but Muhammad isn’t returning to trading, he said.
“I will not work in the cryptocurrency industry. I think it’s a good deal, but not for Gazans, not under the control of the Israeli occupation, ”she said.
According to Hussein Abu Saada, head of the Gaza Police’s cybercrime department, the Israeli army’s seizure of cryptocurrency wallets from Palestinians in Gaza is part of a systematic policy to limit their financial resources in order to enforce the total control over the Palestinian economy.
Israel began confiscating Palestinian digital currency wallets in July 2021, claiming that the wallets had been used by Hamas to funnel money into its military wing.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz reportedly said at the time, “The intelligence, technological and legal tools that allow us to get our hands on terrorist money around the world are an operational breakthrough.
In fact, the seizures undermine one of the cryptocurrency industry’s founding claims, which is that cryptocurrencies would be virtually impossible to trace and seize.
Since early 2022, Gaza’s cybercrime department has received more than 200 complaints related to cryptocurrencies, according to Abu Saada.
“We have examined all the complaints. None of the victims had anything to do with military activities or military organizations. They were all ordinary money changers or traders.
Abu Saada said Israeli measures against cryptocurrency traders in Gaza are arbitrary and unwarranted and only aimed at strengthening the economic blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip.
He also claimed that some plaintiffs claimed that their e-wallets were not seized but rather closed from trading, ostensibly because they were resident in Gaza.
“We have noticed that there is prejudice against customers in Gaza just because they are Palestinians,” he concluded.
Despite repeated attempts to get a response, Binance – the exchange used by Muhammad – did not comment on this post.
Since 2020, Gazans have increasingly started buying and trading cryptocurrencies.
According to economist Muhammad Abu Jayab, editor of the Gaza daily Al Eqtisadiya daily, there are several reasons why Palestinians in Gaza are drawn to the cryptocurrency industry. The most important is the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, the resulting financial difficulties, the lack of jobs and uncertainty about the future.
Unemployment in Gaza reached a staggering 46.6% in the first quarter of this year.
The poverty rate has reached almost 80%
Because it is open to all and easy to learn, cryptocurrency trading has become an outlet for thousands of young people in Gaza struggling with unemployment and poverty.
This despite, or perhaps because of, its extreme volatility. For example, Bitcoin, the most popular of hundreds of cryptocurrencies, peaked at nearly $ 65,000 in November last year after doubling in value in just four months.
Today it is trading at just under $ 23,000, having lost nearly two-thirds of its value.
Volatility, in other words, means there is money to be made. But there is also a lot of money to lose, especially by confusing those who borrow money or sell jewelry to invest.
Ahmed Atallah, 26, had high hopes when he started trading.
Atallah graduated from the Faculty of Commerce of the Islamic University of Gaza in 2019. He spent two years looking for an unsuccessful job.
“I enrolled in the business school because I wanted to become an accountant. It is very frustrating to spend five years studying and in the end all my efforts are wasted, “he told The Electronic Intifada.
Frustrated, Atallah saw real hope in cryptocurrency trading.
“Cryptocurrency trading is accessible to everyone. I thought it would put an end to the unemployment nightmare, “she said,” so I borrowed some money and started trading.
“The constant fear”
But with the Israeli crackdown and the inherent volatility of cryptocurrency, traders are living under enormous stress.
“We live in constant fear,” Atallah said. “Over the past year, I have heard of so many people whose e-wallets have been hijacked by the Israeli occupation. The idea that I could be next is terrifying.
The Israeli crackdown worries not only current cryptocurrency traders, but also those whose e-wallets have already been confiscated, who fear that the Israeli military will take further action against them.
An exchange owner in Gaza had his wallet seized last year.
He did not want his name to be reported for fear that “the Israeli secret services would read this article and take other arbitrary measures against me”.
He also didn’t want to reveal how much money was in the seized wallet.
But, he said, he filed a complaint with an Israeli court and sent all the required details and documents.
“I have not received any response and I do not expect them to return my money. It’s a job. They steal, kill and break the law and are never held accountable.
Abdallah al-Naami is a journalist and photographer living in Gaza.