The Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund is a fund operated by the Palestinian Authority (PA) that pays monthly cash stipends to the families of Palestinians killed, injured, or imprisoned while carrying out politically motivated violence against Israel. The fund also makes disbursements to innocent bystanders killed during violent events and Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails for ordinary crimes. In 2016, the PA paid out about NIS 1.1 billion (US$303 million) in stipends and other benefits to the families of so-called “martyrs”.
Critics often call the fund "pay for slay" and blame the payments for encouraging terrorism. In 2007, the World Bank argued that the fund did "not seem justified from a welfare or fiscal perspective." By 2014, mounting criticism of the payments led to the PA transferring management of the Martyrs Fund to the Palestinian Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs Commission, of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which now disburses the government-funding to recipients and their families.
Fatah established the Palestine Mujahidin and Martyrs Fund in 1964 to recompense the families of dead and wounded Palestinian fedayeen militants. In 1971 it was replaced by the Society for the Care of Palestinian Martyrs and Prisoners. The Society defined as "military martyrs" not only as Palestinian fedayeen killed during terrorist operations but to include fedayeen who died of natural causes while on active service. Their families received cash stipends. Non-members of the Palestine Liberation Organization killed during any kind of encounter with Israeli security forces were given a one-time payment; this created an incentive for families to apply posthumously to have their dead relatives reclassified as fighters.
The payments were routinized during the Second Intifada (2000–2005). In 2016, payments were made to 35,000 families, including the families of suicide bombers, from a 2016 annual budget of $170 million. The stipend is higher than the average Palestinian wage.
The question of whether militants from all political factions will receive such payments from the PA has been highly contested within Palestinian society, with President Mahmoud Abbas withdrawing, then in 2009 restoring, such payments for prisoners belonging to the PLO, but the government claims that it does not make such payments to families of prisoners belonging to Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
A series of funding agencies have existed over the decades, including "Fund for Families of Martyrs and the Injured."
Palestinian Authority payments
As of 2023, the PA makes payments via two funds, one to imprisoned individuals and the other to the families of deceased individuals. The agencies that disburse the funds are under the aegis of the Palestine Liberation Organization, but are funded by the PA and employ over 500 bureaucrats.
In 2016, the fund made monthly payments to approximately 35,000 families of Palestinians killed or wounded, with a budget of $170 million, according to Palestinian figures.
A 2017 analysis by The Washington Post revealed that $160 million was paid to 13,000 beneficiaries of “prisoner payments” ($12,307 per person) and $183 million was paid to 33,700 families in about in “martyr payments” ($5,430 per family) annually. Of the total amount, the newspaper estimated:
- $36 million was paid to prisoners serving sentences of >20 years
- $10 million was paid to former members of the security forces
- $1 million was paid to families of 200 suicide bombers
- $10 million was paid to the families of the Palestinians with life terms, lengthy sentences, and in the security forces
Foundation for the Care of the Families of Martyrs
The Foundation for the Care of the Families of Martyrs is under the PA's Ministry of Social Affairs and makes payments to individuals "wounded, killed, or otherwise affected as a result of their joining the revolution or the presence of the revolution" against Israel. As of 2016, the fund had an annual budget of $173 million and supported approximately 35,100 families. Stipends are paid to families of both prisoners and Palestinians killed in contexts ranging from political demonstrations that turn violent where protesters are killed by non-lethal riot control methods (such as being hit by a tear gas canister) and to individuals imprisoned for "common crimes".
According to the fund's head Intisar al-Wazir, each family of a deceased received a base stipend of 1,400 shekels ($350). If they were married, the amount increases by $100, and $50 is added for each child. Children receive support until age 18, or until they begin working. Those attending university receive support until graduation.
Families of individuals killed by Israeli security forces are paid stipends of about $800 to $1,000 per month. The families of convicted Palestinians serving time in Israeli prisons receive $3,000 or higher per month.
In 2004, Palestinian official Salam Fayyad stated that between January 1995 and June 2002, the fund distributed NIS 16 million to families of prisoners annually, and between June 2002 to June 2004 NIS 88.5 million annually.
In 2017 the National Association of the Martyrs’ Families of Palestine demanded cost of living increases in their stipends, which had been unchanged since 2011.
In June 2021, the PA paid the family of a Palestinian who murdered two Israelis 30,000 Jordanian dinars (US$42,000) to "complete the payment of the price" of the family's house that was demolished by the IDF.
Payments to Palestinian prisoners is enshrined in Palestinian law. Under the Amended Palestinian Prisoners Law No. 19 (2004), prisoners who have served a year or more in Israeli prison are entitled upon release to health insurance and tuition-free school, university and professional education. If they become civil servants, the law stipulates that the Palestinian Authority will "pay his social security and pension fees... for the years he spent in prison." Incarcerated individuals are entitled to monthly stipends "linked to the cost-of-living index." Amendments in 2013 entitle individuals released from prison a preference in getting jobs with the Palestinian Authority, and stipulates that the PA "will make up the difference" if the civil service salary "is lower than the salary he received in prison." Females who have served 2 years in prison, and males who have served 5 are entitled to receive stipends for the rest of their lives. The fund also pays $106 a month in "canteen money" to all imprisoned Palestinians, including those imprisoned for non-political crimes such as car theft and drug dealing, for prisoners to spend in the prison canteen.
In 2016, the fund for Palestinian prisoners had a budget of $125 million, according to the Palestinian Finance Ministry.
As of 2018, Palestinians claim that the payments include more than $10 million to support purchases for food and clothing at the prison canteen. For example, Hakim Awad, who perpetrated the 2011 Itamar attack, receives $14,000 per year, and can expect to receive more than $1.9 million over the length of his incarceration if he lived to be 80 years old.
Hamas has operated a separate fund for years predating before its takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. In 2001, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, boasted that Hamas payments to the families of prisoners and of suicide bombers totaled between $2 and $3 million. According to a 2001 report by the Israeli government, the families of prisoners received an initial lump sum payment of between $500 and $5,000, with monthly stipends of about $100, with higher payments for the families of Hamas members.
Role in Palestinian society
The so-called "martyr payments" are "exceedingly popular" among Palestinians and have been described as "part of the ethos of Palestinian society." Support for the payments among Palestinians is as high as 91%. According to Ziad Asali, founding president of the pro-Palestinian American Task Force on Palestine, Palestinian politicians and the media have elevated these payments to the point where they are "sacred in Palestinian politics," and no government dares terminate the practice. Professor Nathan Brown of George Washington University says that the stipends to prisoner's families are "universally supported among Palestinians."
The Palestinian Prisoners' Club defends the stipends; the club's leader, Qadura Fares, maintains that payments supporting the families of prisoners are just because the families, "are a part of our people" and that "the family did nothing against anyone." According to Fares, the attacks for which the prisoners were convicted are "not terror," but "part of the struggle" against Israel.
In June 2017, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called efforts to stop the martyr payments an "aggression against the Palestinian people," and defended the salaries paid to imprisoned Palestinians as a "social responsibility."
A public opinion poll commissioned by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy in June 2017 showed that two-thirds of Palestinians polled disagreed with the PA's policy, saying that Palestinian prisoners and their families do not deserve extra payments on account of their "armed operations", but should instead be given regular social benefits like other Palestinians.
In July 2018, Australia stopped A$10 million (US$7.5 million) in funding sent to the PA via the World Bank, instead routing the money to the UN Humanitarian Fund for the Palestinian Territories. The reason given was that they did not want the PA to use the funds to assist Palestinians convicted of politically motivated violence.
Prime Minister Netanyahu called the payments "an incentive for murder". The Israeli government, describing the payments as glorifying terrorism, responded to the June 2016 murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel by threatening to deduct the value of "martyr" payments from the tax and customs revenue it pays to the PA.
Speaking before the United Nations Security Council on 24 June 2017, Israeli ambassador Danny Danon, together with Oran Almog, one of the victims of the Maxim restaurant suicide bombing, demanded that the PA cease incentivizing terrorism by paying stipends to terrorists.
In July 2018, the Knesset passed a law for Israel to deduct the amount of money that the Palestinian Authority gives to terrorists and their families from the taxes and tariffs Israel collects for the PA. In July 2021, Israel deducted NIS 597 million for 2020 from the tax money Israel collects on behalf of the PA. PA funding was NIS 517.4 million in 2019. In September 2022 the Israeli government issued seizure orders for 10 million shekels that the PA transferred into the private accounts of security prisoners who were involved in deadly attacks.
During the month of September 2016, the government of Germany has expressed concerns about the payment of foreign aid to the PA in the light of the use of these funds to incentivize terrorism and has promised to investigate the matter.
In November 2019, the Netherlands cut the US$1.5 million per annum it paid directly to the Palestinian Authority over payments it makes to families of militants killed, hurt, or imprisoned by Israel.
In 2016, Børge Brende, Foreign Minister of Norway, demanded that the PA cease using Norwegian foreign aid for "martyr" stipends. He was satisfied with an assurance that Norwegian funds would not be used for the stipends, although the change was purely "cosmetic" since PA funds are fungible.
Following the murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, a dual Israeli-U.S. national, in June 2016, the United States threatened to deduct the sums paid out to "martyrs" from the Martyrs Fund from the subsidies it grants to the PA.
After Taylor Force was murdered in Israel in 2016 by a Palestinian terrorist, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Taylor Force Act into law. The law cuts about a third of US foreign aid payments to the PA, until the PA ceases making payment of stipends to terrorists and their surviving families.
After Joe Biden was elected president in 2020, the United States' foreign policy changed again. As of July 2023, the Biden administration has been harshly criticized for resuming payments to the PA that have been used towards "pay to slay." Many commentators have also advised that any future payments to the PLO be conditioned on the complete cessation of funds going towards payments to murderers of Israeli or American civilians. A lawsuit against Joe Biden and Antony Blinken was filed stating that the United States government funding such "pay to slay" terrorism is a violation of the Taylor Force Act passed during in 2018 during the Trump administration. Some commentators allege that the Biden administration may circumvent the Taylor Force Act by merely claiming that the funds are being made in support of Palestinian "humanitarian aims." Critics argue that by claiming to give funds in support of "humanitarian assistance" the Biden administration is claiming a loophole that does not exist, and that the funds may still be redirected with ease towards "pay to slay" ends. Numerous commentators criticize how easily the PA is able to re-direct American funds once received from the United States, towards "pay to slay" programs. Also, critics allege that it is unlikely that the PA is going to use all of the money received from the American government for strictly "humanitarian" purposes, on the basis that the majority of funds within the PA budget already as of 2023 go towards "pay to slay" and not "other welfare programs, as reported by The Jerusalem Post, "The perverse incentive used by the PA is that the more gruesome and worse the attack, the more money the imprisoned 'martyr' and his family receive through the Palestinian Authority’s Martyrs Fund. The PA spends nearly $350 million per year on "pay for slay", but just $220 million for its other welfare programs for the rest of its citizens."
Countering Palestinian Authority claims that this is a welfare fund, the World Bank has stated that, "the program is clearly not targeted to the poorest households. While some assistance should be directed to this population, the level of resources devoted to the Fund for Martyrs and the Injured does not seem justified from welfare or fiscal perspective." In 2007, the World Bank argued that the fund did "not seem justified from a welfare or fiscal perspective."
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