Crime is not supposed to pay in any country, but for Palestinians in the West Bank, crime helps you become a public officer.
In this small piece of land, headed by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), every killer of a Jewish Israeli citizen is called "martyr." This word "martyr" means that each time a Palestinian stabs a Jew, he accomplishes an act of pious virtue. And because the killer is a good Palestinian Muslim, his family becomes eligible for regular payments from the Palestinian Authority's "martyr's fund." This fund is used financially to compensate Palestinian prisoners and the families of "martyrs."
After a 17-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed Tarayra, stabbed to death a sleeping 13-year-old Israeli girl, Hallel Yaffa Ariel, in her bed in the town of Kiryat Arba, the terrorist's house was decorated with Fatah and PLO flags. No doubt the family will be soon on the list of payments from the Palestinian "martyr's fund."
According to an analysis by Bloomberg's Eli Lake:
"The origins of these payments goes back a long way. Before the Palestinian Authority was established in the 1990s through the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization paid the families of 'martyrs' and prisoners detained by Israel. That practice became standardized during the Second Intifadah of 2000 to 2005. The Israelis even found documents in the late Yasser Arafat's compound that showed payments to families of suicide bombers."
The money the Palestinian killers make is not small change. Evelyn Gordon reported in Commentary:
"The PA has for years paid above-market salaries to the perpetrators of anti-Israel terror attacks. The salaries range from 2,400 to 12,000 shekels a month ($600 USD to $3,000 USD) and are paid for the duration of the perpetrator's jail sentence in Israel (people killed while committing attacks get other benefits). The lower figure is roughly equivalent to the average – not minimum – wage for people who actually hold jobs in the West Bank, and about 40 percent higher than the average wage in Gaza; figures at the higher end of the range are the kind of salaries most Palestinians can't even dream of. In short, the PA has made terror far more lucrative than productive work."
Yigal Carmon, president and founder of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), submitted testimony to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 6, 2016. He gave interesting details.
First: the payments are highly structured by law.
"This financial support for prisoners is anchored in a series of laws and government decrees, chiefly Laws No. 14 and No. 19 of 2004, and Law No. 1 of 2013..." According to these laws, the PA must provide prisoners with a monthly allowance during their incarceration, and salaries or jobs upon their release. They are also entitled to exemptions from payments for education, health care, and professional training. Their years of imprisonment are calculated as years of seniority of service in PA institutions. It should be noted that whoever was imprisoned for five years or more is entitled to a job in a PA institution. Thus, the PA gives priority in job placement to people who were involved in terrorist activity."
Technically, the PA transfers the funds through two PLO organizations:
- The National Palestinian Fund, which transfers moneys for the prisoners and released prisoners (further to be disbursed by the Commission for Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs).
- The Institute for Care for the Families of Martyrs, which transfers moneys for the families of martyrs.
What are the amounts?
Prisoners and families: "[T]he PA invests significant sums in underwriting the expenses of the prisoners and their families - $137.8 million according to the PA's 2016 budget (about 7% of which is for officials' salaries and operating expenses).
Families of "martyrs": The PLO's Institute for Care for the Families of Martyrs... allocated just under $173 million for families of martyrs and the wounded within the homeland and outside it. The Institute's operating expenses comes [sic] to about $1.5 million. ... The budget also states that the Institute provides allowances "without discrimination" -- in other words, also from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and so on.
In 2016, not less than $300 million (between 7 and 10% of the budget) are going to be allocated to prisoners and families and to "martyrs' families."
The United States and the European Union, which finance the Palestinian institutions year after year, deliberately close their eyes to the "martyr's fund" to which they contribute.
PA Minister of Prisoners' Affairs Issa Karake, speaking at a rally in November 2013, defends the use of EU aid money to pay "salaries" to imprisoned terrorists, saying "The Europeans want their money that comes to us to remain clean -- not to go to families of those they claim to be terrorists. [They] need to renounce this occupation mentality." (Image source: Palestinian Media Watch)
But things might begin to change. Warning signs are in the air.
1) The recent Report of the Middle East Quartet (European Union, United States, Russia and the UN) does not talk money but "incitement to terror" -- which is exactly the same thing.
"Continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians, and incitement to violence are greatly exacerbating mistrust and are fundamentally incompatible with a peaceful resolution."
The Quartet added:
"Palestinians who commit terrorist attacks are often glorified publicly as "heroic martyrs." Many widely circulated images depict individuals committing terrorist acts with slogans encouraging violence."
This Quartet report is not a pro-Israel banner: It criticized harshly settlement policy, even in Jerusalem, and accuses the Israelis of denying the Palestinian economy any possibility for development. The one, however, who was really angry after the Quartet report was not Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Quartet report apparently infuriated Mahmoud Abbas because, for the first time in
As Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed, the Quartet allegedly sought "to equalize the responsibilities between a people under occupation and a foreign military occupier." To "equalize responsibilities" is for the Palestinians exactly the problem. They do not want to make any gesture, move or even a smile for peace. In a Middle East torn by a multiethnic war between Arabs against non-Arabs, Muslims against non-Muslims and Shiites against Sunnis, who could imagine that these Sunni Arab Palestinian people can claim suddenly and publicly: "Hey, Israel my friend, we are ready to make peace with you Jews and recognize Israel as a Jewish state." Unthinkable (from an Islamic point view, of course).
2) International pressure is on the move. On May 4, 2016, for example, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported that "In a meeting with [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas, Norway's Foreign Minister Børge Brende stressed that the current support program for prisoners should be abolished."
On May 22, 2016, PMW also reported from the official PA daily, Al Hayat al Jadidah:
"Director of PLO Commission of Prisoners' Affairs: Israel and a number of Western countries [are] trying to revoke the prisoners' financial rights on the pretext that they engaged in 'terror'...."
3) The Israeli government that, for a long time, was not paying attention to the issue, has changed its stand on the "martyr's fund" problem. According to Bloomberg, "On Friday, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that he would begin withholding part of the tax revenue that Israel sends to the Palestinian Authority -- equal to the amount paid to 'martyrs.'"
4) Frank Lowenstein, the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, told Bloomberg that "the U.S. has recently started withholding funding" for the same reason. "We have robustly complied with legislation passed in 2014 that requires us to deduct from development assistance to the Palestinian Authority for Palestinian payments to individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism," he said.
5) U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R.Indiana) told the Jerusalem Post on June 29, that "the Senate is acting to shut a loophole that allows Palestinian leadership to use US aid dollars to provide monthly stipends to people convicted by Israel of murder or terrorism." The State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill should be voted on next year.
The amount of development assistance that has been already withheld is classified.
Currently, the difficulty is for American and Israeli officials to press European governments to adopt an equivalent position on this delicate issue. It will not be easy. At the end of June 2016, the European Parliament gave a standing ovation to Mahmoud Abbas in Brussels -- the same Mahmoud Abbas who began his speech in Brussels by saying:
"We are against incitement. But, just a week ago, a week, a group of rabbis in Israel announced, in a clear announcement, demanding their government, to poison, to poison, the water of the Palestinians... Is this not incitement? Is this not clear incitement, to the mass murder of the Palestinian people?"
All the MEPs in Brussels jumped on their feet to acclaim and applaud this pure anti-Semitic lie. The day after, Abbas was forced to retract it; he admitted
Britain could help to break the European adoration of the "good Palestinian" who "wants peace" -- by subsidizing terror attacks -- contrary to the "bad Israeli" who is said to "steal land," by defending it when it is attacked.
In June, an independent report commissioned by the Department for International Development (DFID, a British governmental body dedicated to fight poverty) concluded that by enabling the PA to pay salaries to terrorists, British aid to the PA had made anti-Israel terror "more likely." DFID dismissed the report, but the uproar in Parliament was huge.
It is not impossible to convince the EU -- even France which has been conducting hostile diplomatic actions against Israel just to seduce the powerful French community of Muslim voters -- to stop incentivizing terror attacks. As U.S. Senator Coats said, "Some things are simply too immoral to be tolerated."
So the question is: can the PA stop paying the "martyrs" and make peace with Israel? The answer is NO.
The linkage between paying "martyrs" and making peace is central. Palestinian society is totally built and organized on the basis of "resistance." It is a society where jobs, fame and money go to people who are in, or who have spent years in, Israeli jails. There, legitimacy goes to people who are considered "martyrs." The failure of reforms introduced by former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his inevitable dismissal were due to his lack of "expertise" in terror matters. Gatestone's Khaled Abu Toameh wrote last year:
The reason most Palestinians did not vote for Fayyad is because he had not played any role in the 'revolution' against Israel. In this culture, it is more important if one graduates from an Israeli prison than from the University of Texas in Austin. Fayyad did not participate in any armed attack on Jews and never supported the armed struggle against Israel. Nor did he send his son to throw stones or firebombs at Israelis. That is the real reason why people like Fayyad lack popular support.
Bloomberg's Eli Lake wrote the same thing differently:
"One problem is that the payments to terrorists' families are exceedingly popular these days" writes Bloomberg. "Ziad Asali, the president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, told me that in recent years the media and politicians have elevated these payments to something "sacred in Palestinian politics." Asali said the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and others are too weak to stop it. "This is where we find ourselves now. The vast majority understand there has to be an end to violence; it's not serving the Palestinians in any way," Asali said. "But I think nobody really has the stature and clout to confront these issues publicly."
But foreign donors have to understand something important: they have to cut foreign money for "martyrs," but this does not in itself bring peace. It would just replace a certain type of violence with another type of violence: open revolts against Abbas, who would be considered a traitor; violence against the corrupt Palestinian Authority system; new Palestinian terrorism financed by hostile countries like Iran and perhaps some others.
Even if a minority of Palestinians think that the terror reward money is a dead end, the shortage of this same money opens the door to another dead end.
In this 21st century, with no "good guy," no model to follow in the Middle East, Muslims need the war on Israel.
We have not finished with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yves Mamou, based in France, worked for two decades as a journalist for Le Monde.