TL;DR: Leigh Cuen is a reporter for leading cryptocurrency news site, CoinDesk. She has been following the adoption of bitcoin within Gaza for at least a year, carefully separating out what appears to be a kind of financial refuge for Palestinians, versus the mainstream media terror narrative concerning groups like Hamas. She shares her findings and gives us the stories behind the story. This episode is available embedded in the article below, and on YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Radio Public, Breaker, PocketCasts, PodBean, and Overcast.
Bitcoin in Gaza: Palestinians Finding Financial Refuge vs. Mainstream Terror Narrative
The politics surrounding the plight of people in what’s known as the Gaza Strip are simply beyond the scope of this journal. And while important, they’re also not the present, principal focus. In fact, Israeli and Palestinian politics are incidental background to the episode. Leigh Cuen has taken-on the arduous task of sliding between that deep, cavernous history to find out how cryptocurrency is being used in the region.
Some necessary listening orientation for this episode might include basic geography. Gaza is surrounded by military blockades to its immediate Northeast and East with regard to Israel, and Egypt to its Southwest. The entirety of the Gaza West is the Mediterranean Sea. At least two factions claim governance, the Palestinian Authority (recognized by the US) and Hamas (classified as a terror group).
Under that background, Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times recently published, Terrorists Turn to Bitcoin for Funding, and They’re Learning Fast. It’s a profile of cryptocurrency and its growing use case, according to Popper, for terror-related groups such as Hamas and its military wing, the Qassam Brigades. This year that “military wing has developed an increasingly sophisticated campaign to raise money using Bitcoin,” he notes.
It’s relatively standard coverage, and it furthers the mainstream narrative of crypto being a real haven for society’s bad actors. “In the latest version of the website set up by the wing,” Popper continues, “known as the Qassam Brigades, every visitor is given a unique Bitcoin address where he or she can send the digital currency, a method that makes the donations nearly impossible for law enforcement to track.”
The article admits to gains from decentralized money being “modest” among the group, but pads that fact by underlining how “terrorist attacks often require little funding. And the groups’ use of cryptocurrencies appears to be getting more sophisticated,” going on to cite a former CIA analyst and even Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to pound home the point.
Popper contrasts Bitcoin with digital payment services like PayPal, which “can shut down accounts and freeze funds. Anyone in the world can create a Bitcoin address and begin receiving digital tokens without even providing a name or an address.” Underground online druge markets do millions, for example, in crypto-related business. Clearly there is much to be worried about when it comes to terrorists now dabbling, if the Times is to be believed.
The Forgotten Adoption Story
Decidedly less sexy is the real Bitcoin adoption story of within Gaza by ordinary Gazans. It gets almost no coverage. Enter crackerjack reporter Leigh Cuen. She’s a veteran by crypto news standards, and her writing is some of the most interesting in the space.
She’s given enough room by her editors at CoinDesk to take months on an article, and to eventually follow up as new information warrants. And that becomes crucial when taking-on topics like Gaza, the Palestinians, and Bitcoin.
Cuen doesn’t debunk nor deny Popper’s latest contentions. She does, however, feel emphasis on the terror aspect tells only one small part of a much broader, nuanced picture. Gaza and Bitcoin have a relationship, and terror is not the story.
- CoinSpice Podcast 42
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