The Palestinian Authority has allocated more than NIS 1.24 billion ($330 million) for payments related to security prisoners and so-called “martyrs” in its 2018 budget, according to a new report published by a Jerusalem-based research institute.
The funds include salaries and stipends for convicted terrorists and their families, though the exact figures for the terrorists and their families are not publicly known, with Israeli officials, researchers, and Palestinians split over how many of those eligible for the payments have attacked or killed Israelis.
According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs report, which cited the Palestinian Authority’s detailed budget for the year, the PA set aside NIS 550 million ($146 million) for payments for current and past security prisoners and their families.
The amount includes salaries for 5,000 families of prisoners, funds for commissary purchases of 6,000 prisoners, stipends for 5,500 released prisoners, grants for 1,500 prisoners upon their release, and other expenditures, the report said.
The PA set aside NIS 488 million ($129 million) and NIS 552 million ($146 million) for payments regarding security prisoners in its 2016 and 2017 budgets, respectively, according to the research institute.
Many security prisoners are convicted terrorists who killed or participated in the killing of Israelis.
But the total number of security prisoners who are convicted terrorists is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians.
Yossi Kuperwasser, the author of the JCPA report, said in a phone call that “99.9% of [security] prisoners are convicted terrorists.”
However, an Israel Prisons Service pamphlet from 2007 says 70% of Palestinian security prisoners “have blood on their hands,” according to the Washington Post.
Hassan Abed Rabbo, a spokesman for the PA Prisoners Affairs Commission, however, said in a phone call that approximately 500 prisoners are serving life sentences in Israeli prisons, including a few hundred convicted of killing Israelis.
Abed Rabbo said the overwhelming majority of Palestinian prisoners do not have “blood on their hands” and are serving sentences for other offenses such as membership in “what Israel defines” as terrorist organizations.
Ashraf al-Ajrami, a former PA Prisoner Affairs minister, largely echoed Abed Rabbo’s comments.
In a phone call, he estimated under five percent of Palestinian prisoners killed Israelis.
There are a total of 5,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, according to Israel Prisons Services spokesman Assaf Liberati.
A PA law legislated in 2004 says any Palestinian prisoner and his or her family are entitled to a variety of payments. The law defines a prisoner as “anyone who is sitting in the occupation’s prisons for participating in the struggle against the occupation” and calls them “part and parcel of the Palestinian Arab community’s fabric.”
Israel has argued the payments to security prisoners incentivize Palestinians to carry out terror attacks.
“They can make a lot of money being prisoners,” Kuperwasser said. “It’s a good business for them.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials have argued payments to security prisoners seek to mitigate what they call an unfair Israeli military courts system.
The conviction rate in Israel’s military courts stands at almost 100%, B’tselem, an Israeli rights group said in a March 2018 report.
The PA also allocated NIS 691 million ($183 million) for the families of so-called “martyrs” and wounded persons in its 2018 budget, the JCPA report stated.
“Martyrs” include Palestinians killed while carrying out terror attacks against Israelis, but also those killed in clashes with security forces, violent acts undertaken by settlers and other cases.
It is not clear exactly how many “martyrs” were killed while carrying out attacks.
Kuperwasser said “a large number of martyrs” are terrorists, adding he was not aware of the exact number.
Also Tuesday, Palestinian Media Watch, a non-governmental organization that publishes reports on the Palestinian press, slammed a joint appeal by the United Nations and the PA for $355 million (about NIS 1.3 billion) for humanitarian projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“Outrageously, the sum that the UN and the PA are asking the international community to donate — $350 million dollars — is equivalent to the $355 million dollars the PA allocated in its 2018 budget to fund its payments rewarding terror. This includes payments to terrorist prisoners, released terrorist prisoners, and to the families of the so-called “Martyrs” – i.e., terrorists killed while carrying out attacks, including suicide bombers,” a Palestinian Media Watch report said.
“Instead of the UN asking donor countries to contribute $350 million to provide for Palestinian humanitarian needs, the UN should be joining the unequivocal call from many governments that the PA immediately stop squandering the $355 million dollars of its own funds on its ‘Pay for Slay’ policy that incentivizes and rewards terrorism, and instead spend that money on needy Palestinians.”
The UN and the PA launched the appeal on Monday. A document outlining the details of the appeal shows they are not seeking funds for any PA institutions.
Both Israel and the US have heavily criticized the Palestinians for its policy of payments related to Palestinian prisoners and “martyrs” and passed legislation to counter it.
In July, the Knesset passed a law to cut funds Israel transfers to the PA by the amount Ramallah pays to convicted terrorists and the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks.
In March, US President Donald Trump signed into law legislation that requires the American government to cut some aid to the Palestinians until they end payments to terrorists and slain attackers.
Since Trump signed the legislation, his administration has cut hundreds of millions in aid to the Palestinians.
Abbas has said the PA will continue to pay stipends to the families of Palestinian security prisoners and “martyrs” even if it has to spend its last penny to do so.
“We will not accept a cut or cancellation of salaries to the families of martyrs and prisoners, as some are trying to bring about,” he told representatives of a Palestinian prisoners advocacy group in July.
“Even if we have only a penny left, we will give it to the martyrs, the prisoners and their families.”