It has long been common knowledge that the Palestinian Authority, led by Israel’s “peace partner” Mahmoud Abbas, provides stipends to perpetrators of terror and their families. I had always understood these were “off books” stipends, paid in the guise of charity to families rendered needy by the absence of family members who choose to bomb, maim, and kill Israeli citizens.
But a Congressional Hearing held March 5 (in part facilitated by the efforts of ZOA’s Center for Government Advocacy) examined the disturbing reality that these programs are not after-the-fact support, which is awful enough, but a formalized salary program with payments made on a sliding scale that provides increased payments for crimes that result in more murder and mayhem. Foreign aid, primarily from the US and EU, is used to cover these payments, estimated to total $4-7million/month, or 6% of the PA budget, according to the PA’s Ministry of Finance. Some sources attribute even higher amounts. According to Palestinian Media Watch, an Israel-based NGO, the PA paid $100 million to terrorists in 2013. And in practice these payments are not just used to compensate those ideologically committed to terror, but to encourage and recruit new terrorists who are lured by the lucrative compensation paid to reward these grotesque acts.
At the March 5 hearing, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee reviewed testimony from terrorists describing their decisions to murder as an easy way to make money, some even planning attacks in order to be captured and thereby become eligible for high monthly salaries and lifelong pensions. One convicted terrorist, who had previously received payment of $13,000 from the PA for helping to plan a suicide attack that was foiled, admitted to planning a second attack in order to receive a higher payment for a second offense and thereby cover his wedding costs and personal debt.
Terrorism has become a financially rewarding profession. Convicted terrorists held in Israeli prisons make approximately $500-$3500/month, and some make as much as $10,000 a month. This far exceeds the salaries earned by local workers, where minimum wage is approximately $400/month. The payments are salaries, listed in the general PA budget along with salaries for civil servants, military personnel, and other government employees. The money can be used as the convicts choose; they are not social service payments. Payments begin on the date of conviction, but are back-dated to be paid from the moment of arrest. These provisions are institutionalized as formal entitlements under PA law.
The perpetrators take for granted that they won’t be in prison long, a presumption made believable by Israel’s repeated willingness to release convicted terrorists. (The latest release of 104 prisoners last summer and fall, including many who had maimed and murdered Americans and Israelis, was a precondition for the PA to come to the negotiating table. If rewarding murder is the first step, what hope is there for the final negotiation?) Upon release, they are eligible for numerous additional social services on top of their salaries and pensions. These include generous university scholarships for themselves and their relatives, medical insurance, and tax exemptions. There is even a program to fund fertility treatments for released terrorists!
One is tempted to say that crime pays, but under the twisted morality of the PA, murders of Israeli civilians are not crimes, but rather acts of heroism. Released terrorists are considered part of the PA National Security Forces. A semi-governmental advocacy group, also paid for with PA funds (and therefore largely by US taxes), is called the Prisoners’ Club. This group presses to make payments to former terrorists a top PA funding priority, so that even with the PA’s frequent budget shortfalls, these salaries come before various government expenditures and social programs. Further, Prisoners’ Club Chairman Qadura Fares recently stated that released terrorists should be exempt from rehabilitation programs required of other criminals “because of the prisoner’s holiness and importance in the eyes of society.” There are hundreds of examples of Palestinian government officials, including the so-called moderate Abbas, praising these killers as heroes, naming streets and squares after them, celebrating them culturally in song and theater, and otherwise honoring their acts of murder.
Almost as horrifying as this glorification of terror is the complacency with which most Americans, including supporters of Israel, accept this situation. Ever afraid to derail the fragile peace process, our leaders tell us to quiet our consciences and suppress our outrage. But how can we maintain our own morality while we negotiate as equals with a society that rewards those who kidnap and kill teenagers, who bomb buses, who stab children in their sleep? Will we speak out more now that we know these are not occasional payments but official entitlements? Congress has taken an important first step by calling attention to this situation. It is up to us to see that they follow through and stop funding government salaries for terrorists.
Laura Fein is the Executive Director of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), NJ Region.