For those who are home, and for those who are on the way. For those who support the historic and just return of the land of Israel to its people, forever loyal to their inheritance, and its restoration.
73 prisoners who are serving life sentences for terrorism receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority as public sector employees, pocketing up to NIS 10,000 ($2,700) per month, while their families get tax breaks and free education • Israel: The wages serve as incentive to carry out terror attacks.
The branches emerging from the “tree of freedom” honoring Palestinian prisoners from the Bethlehem district in the West Bank are running out of room.
Each “branch” of this symbolic tree holds up pictures of prisoners who were sentenced to a life term in Israel for terrorism. The images of no fewer than 73 Palestinians who are responsible for killing and maiming hundreds of Israelis hang on the “tree.” For years, Bethlehem was a significant headache for the Israel Defense Forces, which conducted frequent raids there in search of suspects. When the IDF maintained a presence in the city, the volume of attacks decreased. When the IDF left, the attacks resumed with a vengeance. Last April, the “tree” was placed in a glass case in the middle of the city where Christians believe Jesus was born. The inauguration ceremony was attended by Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Karake and Bethlehem district Governor Abdel Fatah Hamail.
However, it appears that the Palestinian Authority, which currently controls Bethlehem, is not satisfied with only symbolic gestures for its heroes. It is also paying their monthly wages. Seventy-three prisoners who are serving life sentences and their “junior” colleagues who were convicted of lesser crimes regularly receive a salary from the authority. All the prisoners even enjoy the perks of public sector employees.
The monthly salary that the authority pays out to jailed terrorists -- a sum that far exceeds the average salary in the West Bank -- is distributed directly to their families. The more grave the crime and the more severe the prison sentence, the higher the monthly payment. Now, as Israel marks five years since Gilad Shalit was taken captive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the authority has increased the prisoners’ salaries for the third time. Karake has stated that the salary rise, which is earmarked for “civilian public sector workers as well as military veterans,” will be handed out retroactively. Just one week after their terrorist brethren murdered Israeli civilians in the south, there is a greater interest in examining this issue.
Prison salaries are higher than average Palestinian wages
It seems that from a financial point of view, it pays to be a Palestinian prisoner. How much does it pay? Earlier this month, two veteran researchers from Palestinian Media Watch provided government ministers with detailed information on the subject. The researchers, Nan Jacques Zilberdik and Itamar Marcus, were the first to reveal the numerous legal clauses and terminology that govern the distribution of salaries to prisoners and their families.
It should be noted that these payments constitute a regular worker’s wage, or “rateb,” as it is known in Arabic. Those who are eligible for these payments include “anyone who is sitting in an occupation prison [Israel] due to their participation in the struggle against occupation.” According to the first article of the Palestinian Prisoner Law 2004/19, a car thief who is jailed in an Israeli prison will not receive a stipend, but Fatah and Hamas operatives who are incarcerated over their involvement in terrorism and murder will receive a monthly salary. According to Marcus and Zilberdik, Israeli Arabs, or as they are known in the authority, “the inside Arabs,” who are convicted of terrorist attacks against Israel would be eligible for an even more handsome wage.
In 2004, Abdullah Barghouti was sentenced to 67 consecutive life sentences for masterminding the murders of 66 Israelis in the suicide bombings that ripped apart the Sbarro pizza restaurant, Cafe Moment, and the three-pronged attack on the Ben Yehuda Street promenade, all in Jerusalem. Today, Barghouti is eligible to receive a monthly salary of NIS 4,000 ($1,080). When compared with standard wages in the Palestinian Authority, this is a large amount. The average Palestinian earns NIS 2,882 ($778) per month in the civilian job market. In three years, after he has served more than 10 years in prison, Barghouti’s salary will jump by 50 percent, to NIS 6,000 ($1,620) per month.
Hassan Salameh, who in 1996 was sentenced to 38 consecutive life terms, already receives NIS 6,000 per month. The terrorist network of which he was in charge carried out suicide bombings on the No. 18 bus line in Jerusalem and an attack against a hitchhiking station at Ashkelon junction which claimed the lives of 46 Israelis and wounded more than 100. Next year, his salary will jump an additional NIS 1,000 ($270), a perk offered to any prisoner who crosses the 16-year threshold.
Yehiye Sanwar, who founded Hamas’ security mechanism on the orders of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, is serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison. He has been incarcerated for 24 years, during which he managed to earn academic degrees in the Arabic language as well as Jewish history. He and his family receive a monthly wage of NIS 8,000 ($2,160). Beginning next year, his 25th in prison, the salary will leap to NIS 10,000 ($2,700) per month.
The monthly salary is not the only benefit enjoyed by the prisoners and their families. The report authored by Marcus and Zilberdik offers a detailed list of benefits and incentives that are specifically earmarked for terrorists. By government order, Palestinian prisoners receive wholly subsidized academic studies at any institute of higher learning that accepts them.
If a prisoner is sentenced to at least 20 years in jail and he or she has served at least five years, their children receive an 80 percent discount on college tuition payments. All Palestinian prisoners who are released from jail after serving at least five years are exempt from paying government health insurance fees. The prisoners also receive a NIS 400 ($108) stipend twice annually as well as subsidized legal fees if they are brought before a court. Even the wife, or, in some cases, wives, and children of a prisoner are entitled to special benefits.
Hundreds of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and Israeli Arabs who were found to have taken part in terrorist attacks receive additional perks. A group of young Arabs from Nazareth who founded an Islamist terror cell that was responsible for the murder of an Israeli Jewish taxi driver and the planning of more attacks receive an additional NIS 300 ($81) to NIS 500 ($135) per month.
These payments are sent directly to the families of the prisoners, and their eligibility is determined by whether they were convicted of terrorist activities that resulted in lengthy prison terms. The Israel Prison Service does not allow the prisoners’ families to bring money or belongings to their loved ones, although they do allow the transfer of small sums of money. By agreement with the Palestinian Authority, this money is transferred directly to the prisoners through an Israeli company.
Israel remains dissatisfied with the prisoners’ arrangement, and it is weighing various steps to implement a response. Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the defense establishment note that the discrepancy in salaries between prisoners and regular public sector workers in the Palestinian Authority serves as incentive to carry out terror attacks. The officials recalled that the government recently approved a legal amendment that denies families of Israeli Arab terrorists who died while carrying out attacks access to health insurance.
Zilberdik points out that the Palestinian statute makes no mention of the families’ economic needs. Rather, it determines the salary according to the number of years the prisoner has been incarcerated. “In contrast with a stipend, the families of ‘shahids’ [martyrs] are explicitly eligible for a ‘wage,’ or, in Arabic, ‘rateb,’” she said. “The Palestinian Authority pays them salaries because it views them as heroes and role models.”
The town square is named for a suicide bomber
Zilberdik’s assertions are well-founded. The “tree of freedom” honoring the 73 Palestinians from Bethlehem serving life sentences is just one example. Last April, a special ceremony was held in honor of 140 prisoners from the Hebron region who were given life sentences. Officials in Ramallah planned to name the main town square after Dalal Mughrabi, the woman who led a group of terrorists that carried out an attack on the main coastal highway linking Tel Aviv and Haifa in 1978. Thirty-seven Israelis, among them 12 children, were killed in the attack. Israel’s protestations have put off plans for the square’s rededication for the time being, but the undersecretary of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, Sabri Saidam, made clear that “there was no official renunciation of plans to name the junction after the martyr Dalal.”
There are currently more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners who have been sent to Israeli jails for acting as accomplices to terrorism. The European Union, the U.S., and other donors have no intention of funding the salaries of terrorists, but their role in subsidizing the payrolls of Palestinian Authority state workers allows the authorities in Ramallah to free up other funds for convicted terrorists. The donor states and institutions who contribute to the authority include Britain, France, Japan, the U.S., Ireland, India, the EU and the World Bank.
Recently, a weekly supplement of the official Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida ran a story citing authentic government documents that list the recipients of state salaries in May 2011. According to the story, the families of “martyrs” received a total of more than NIS 26 million ($7 million), a sum that represents 3.64 percent of the monthly Palestinian Authority payroll, while prisoners and their families received NIS 17.5 million ($4.7 million), 2.43% of the salary payroll. These figures, calculated over a year, amount to NIS 312 million ($84 million) for the families of “martyrs” and NIS 210 million ($56.7 million) for terrorist prisoners and their families.
Palestinian Authority officials are aware of the criticism aimed at these payments, but they are not too keen on heeding the calls to cease and desist. Saidam, who serves as an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, published an article last month extolling the Palestinian culture of respect and admiration toward “shahids.” “It is quite saddening to hear people refer to their own martyrs as burdens just because a donor or a few countries complain or because the daily economic interests will be harmed,” he wrote. “Blessings to the souls of our martyrs.”
The Palestinian Authority is mum
This is an issue that roils U.S. administration officials and members of Congress. Even European officials have expressed dissatisfaction over the matter. In an interview with the Daily Mail website, British parliamentarian Philip Davies, whose government transfers 86 million euros to the Palestinian Authority annually, called these payments “absurd.”
Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic member of Congress, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which he expressed his belief that these payments are “beyond shocking and outrageous.”
“The U.S. has provided about $2 billion in bilateral aid to the Palestinians between fiscal year 2009 and 2011,” Nadler wrote in his letter. “Of that, $800 million went directly to the PA government ... The Palestinian Authority has committed itself to negotiations and to refrain from acts of terrorism. Paying perpetrators of terrorism, and, in so doing, actively supporting violence, is a direct violation by the PA of its agreements and of international law.” Nadler called on the State Department to investigate the allegations of payments to the families of terrorists in an effort to ensure that “U.S. taxpayer money does not go to support terrorists or those who aid them.”
Clinton received a similar request from Rep. Trent Franks (R., Az.), who warned that he would be unable to support continued American aid to the Palestinians of millions of dollars. Behind the scenes, members of Congress are considering legislative action. Researchers from Palestinian Media Watch provided substantial amounts of information to senior American lawmakers earlier this month. While there is no guarantee that the bill will pass, the intention is to freeze or cut American aid to the Palestinian Authority until the government in Ramallah ends the practice of payments to terrorists.
Palestinian officials refused to respond to inquiries about the issue, but according to an official government statement that was given to Israel Hayom’s diplomatic correspondent, Shlomo Cesana, the official agency responsible for state media, the Palestine Media Center, said that the payments were not given directly to the prisoners, though they do receive a stipend of between NIS 300 and NIS 400 as a deposit.
“The authority offers support to the families of prisoners in accordance with the principles of any enlightened society,” said a representative for the media center. “The other sums, which range from NIS 1,400 to NIS 12,000, are given to the prisoner’s first beneficiary, and they are determined by the financial needs of the prisoner’s family.”
A senior Israeli defense official said that the Israel Prison Service is powerless to prevent the cash transfers to the prisoners’ families, yet the prisoners themselves only receive a tiny fraction of these payments. IPS officials said that the prisoners are not permitted to bring cash or equipment into the jail. According to Israel’s arrangement with the PA, Ramallah is authorized to deposit funds for prisoners who are residents of the territories. The PA deposits NIS 300 per prisoner by way of an Israeli company, and the families are permitted to deposit a maximum sum of NIS 1,300 for their loved ones.
If you enjoy "Love of the Land", please be a subscriber. Just put your email address in the "Subscribe" box on the upper right-hand corner of the page. .
I visited Hevron in November 2000 after the outbreak of the Rosh Hashanah War to see what could be done to assist in the face of the growing daily attacks on the community. After returning to work for the community in the summer of 2001, a bond and a love was forged that grows to this day. My wife Melody and I merited to be married at Ma'arat HaMachpela and now host visitors from throughout the world every Shabbat as well as during the week. Our goal, "Time to come Home!"