As far as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (pictured) and the PA leadership are concerned, any Palestinian who joins the jihad against Israel and Jews and gets killed, wounded or imprisoned is a "hero" and a "freedom fighter." This is the same PA that the Biden administration is now working to strengthen. (Photo by Alaa Badarneh/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
While many international media outlets focused their attention on the escape of six Palestinian inmates from an Israeli prison on September 6, as well as the ensuing dramatic manhunt launched by thousands of Israeli police officers and soldiers, only a few – if any – reported on the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership's ongoing glorification of terrorists.
The PA lionization of Palestinian terrorists, including those who have been caught by the Israeli security forces, tried and are currently serving prison sentences, is not new. In fact, this is a practice that dates back to the first years of the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964.
Since then, the PLO has not only been heaping praise on Palestinian terrorists who murder or wound Jews, but has paid monthly stipends to them and their families.
Earlier this year, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) revealed that the PA paid more than NIS 512 million ($175 million) in salaries to terrorist prisoners in 2020. PMW assessed that the amount paid to terrorist prisoners accounts for nearly 3.25% of the PA's annual budget.
According to PMW, the PA attempted to hide its payments to terrorist prisoners by transferring more than a billion shekels to the PLO, of which 512 million shekels was used to pay the terrorists and their families.
This policy of providing financial aid to terrorists and their families is not a policy that the PA and its leaders ever tried to hide. Quite to the contrary; PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and many senior Palestinian officials continue to boast of their role in rewarding the terrorists and their families.
In 2018, a defiant Abbas said in Ramallah during a ceremony to honor Palestinian prisoners:
"We will neither reduce nor prevent [payment] of allowances to the families of martyrs, prisoners, and released prisoners, as some seek, and if we had only a single penny left, we would pay it to families of the martyrs and prisoners. From our standpoint, the martyrs and prisoners are stars in the firmament of the Palestinian people's struggle, and take priority in every matter. In 1965, a few days after the outbreak of the Palestinian revolution, the first mission undertaken by the martyr late president Yasser Arafat was to establish an institution to care for the families of the martyrs and the mujahideen of Palestine – for they are the pioneers and must be cared for, and we will care for them."
The recent escape ad recapture of the six prisoners served as a reminder of the PA's continued support for, and admiration of, terrorists who carry out attacks against Jews.
As far as Abbas and the PA leadership are concerned, any Palestinian who joins the jihad (holy war) against Israel and Jews and gets killed, wounded or imprisoned is a "hero" and a "freedom fighter." This is the same PA that the Biden administration is now working to strengthen.
This approach by the PA leadership has sent a message to generation after generation among the Palestinians that the murder or wounding of a Jew is a noble deed that earns the perpetrator boundless respect – even adoration.
Although five of the terrorists who escaped belong to the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) – a group that seeks the elimination of Israel and opposes the PA leadership's "moderate" policy towards Israel -- Abbas and his senior officials in the West Bank continue to call them "heroes" and "brave prisoners."
Although four of the PIJ terrorists were convicted of murdering and wounding several Jews, Abbas and his representatives continue to refer to them as "political prisoners" and "freedom fighters" who are being held in prison for nothing other than "opposing Israeli occupation."
Just two months ago, Abbas defied COVID-19 rules and was prepared to risk his health by inviting an ex-prisoner, Alghadanfar Abu Atwan, to his office in Ramallah.
Abu Atwan was invited to Abbas's office shortly after he was released from Israeli detention on suspicion of involvement in anti-Israel terrorist activities, the nature of which have not been revealed by the Israeli security services.
During the meeting, Abbas was quoted as saying that the released prisoner "represents a model for the Palestinian youth that we are proud of."
Such meetings between Abbas and Palestinian prisoners are common and aimed at sending a message to the Palestinian public about the great esteem Palestinians hold towards the terrorists and their families. Abbas is actually telling the Palestinians: If you go to prison for murdering or wounding a Jew, you will earn the utmost respect and even be honored by the president himself.
While the manhunt for the six fugitives was underway, Abbas sent his spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, to relay the following message to the Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of the world: "Our brave prisoners in the Israeli prisons are the heroes of the Palestinian people, and there will be no peace or stability without the release of all our prisoners."
Mahmoud al-Aloul, the deputy chairman of the ruling Fatah faction (headed by Mahmoud Abbas), even warned Israel against attempting to recapture the convicted terrorists, whom he hailed as "heroes." According to al-Aloul, the re-arrest of the terrorists who escaped from Israel's Gilboa Prison would be tantamount to a "crime" and "violation" of their rights.
This is the theater of the absurd, where a senior Palestinian official condemns Israel for making an effort to recapture convicted terrorists who murdered and injured several Jews and are serving lengthy sentences. Israel, according to this official, should stand aside while terrorists escape from prison and return to murdering Jews.
The PLO, which is also headed by Abbas, said as the manhunt was underway that the terrorist prisoners are "the advanced vanguard and the best of the Palestinian youth because they sacrificed their lives for the sake of their homeland and their people."
It is this kind of rhetoric that prompts Palestinians to join the jihad against Israel and set out on missions to attack Jews. It is also this type of rhetoric that sent thousands of Palestinians to the streets to express solidarity with the fugitives and all terrorists held in Israeli prisons.
The statements and actions of Abbas and other Palestinian leaders in the aftermath of the escape of the six terrorists demonstrate clearly how the Palestinians have transformed murderers and thugs into societal role models.
What Abbas, the PLO and Fatah have been saying – in Arabic – about the terrorists over the past few days reveals the Biden administration's talk about reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for what it really is: a fatal phantasm.
To Palestinians, the real "heroes" are those who are in Israeli prison for carrying out terrorist attacks against Jews.
By praising the terrorists and depicting them as "heroes" and "martyrs," the Palestinian leadership is underwriting those who engage in violence, seek the elimination of Israel and reject any peace process in the Middle East. Under such circumstances, how could Abbas – or any Palestinian leader – ever return to the negotiating table with Israel, regardless of how many hundreds of millions of dollars the Biden administration decides to waste on the Palestinians' worthless words.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.