A street advertisement promots one of the Palestinian telecommunication companies with Arabic that reads "to subscribe call *444#, something new every day," in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The World Bank says the Palestinian mobile phone sector lost more than $1 billion in potential earnings over the last three years, largely due to Israeli restrictions. Image Credit: AP

Ramallah: Palestine Telecommunications Co has suffered massive losses due to the spread of Israeli SIM cards in the Palestinian territories, said a senior company official.

According to Ammar Al Aker, the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the number of Israeli SIM cards has recently spiked in the West Bank.

Speaking at the announcement of a company-sponsored conference, Expotech 2017, Al Aker said that before 2015, the number of Israeli SIM cards in the West Bank was estimated at 150,000, but in 2015 the number rose to 370,000 cards.

“This represents totally unfair competition between the Palestine Telecommunications Company and its rival Israeli counterparts, who offer 3G and 4G coverage to the Palestinian market,” he said. “Because of this unfair competition, the Palestinian telecommunication sector is losing $100 million annually.”

Al Aker said that Israeli SIM cards allow the residents of the West Bank to enjoy 3G coverage, whereas the Palestine Telecommunications Company is restricted by Israel to the use of 2G coverage, effectively forcing the company out of the market. He noted that the 3G coverage allows users to benefit from communication applications without the need for a WiFi connection. He also noted that the two Palestinian mobile phone companies have been making the necessary preparations to switch to 3G coverage in order to offer this service to the Palestinian market.

Palestinians often complain that that the less visible economic aspect of Israeli occupation means that the 4 million strong Palestinian population living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza is often used as a lucrative market for Israeli goods and services, hindering the ability of Palestine’s own economy from growth. Palestinians have often retaliated against Israel by organising mass boycotts of the occupation regime’s products, but Israeli restrictions placed on Palestinian industry often leave Palestinians with no choice but to buy from across the Green Line.

The Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications strictly forbids shops from selling Israeli SIM cards in the West Bank, and fines and prosecutes violators. However, with a large number of Palestinians working inside the Green Line, it is difficult to control its use in the West Bank.

West Bankers prefer the Israeli SIM cards, which provide low rate options compared to those offered by Palestinian companies.

Abu Hassan, a Palestinian who works in 1948 areas, said that Palesitnian services cannot compete with what the Israeli services and rates offer.. “Had the Israeli companies been provided with cellular base stations so that Palestinian subscribers could get a better reception and stronger signal, the Palestinian telecommunications companies would not have a single subscriber,” he said. “Subscribers with Israeli telecom companies pay less than one fourth of what Palestinian companies would charge for much older technology.”

Palestinians whose villages and towns are located close to Israeli colonies, where they can get good reception, often exclusively subscribe to Israeli Telecom companies.

In November 2015, Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding paving the way for the deployment of a 3G service for Palestinian cellular companies. The Oslo Accords of 1993, signed between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel, regulates the frequencies available to cellular companies in the Palestinian territories. Israel has been restricting access to 3G coverage as a collective punishment against the Palestinian people.