Maurice Hirsch, director of legal strategies at Palestinian Media Watch, spoke to participants in an August 17 Middle East Forum webinar (video) to discuss efforts to abolish the Palestinian Authority's (PA) "pay-to-slay" system of financially rewarding terrorists.
Hirsch recounted dedicating his two-decade career in the IDF to prosecuting Palestinian terrorists only to realize that the lengthy jail sentences he meted out were "mak[ing] the terrorists rich" due to the PA's pay-to-slay program.
Under this system, which began with the PA's inception in 1994 and was further codified in 2004, 2006, and 2011, Palestinians who carry out acts of terrorism against Israelis receive financial rewards, payable to their families for those killed or in prison. Every terrorist serving time in an Israeli prison is "entitled to a monthly cash reward" that gets higher the longer he or she is behind bars. The average base salary a terrorist earns jumps considerably after three years in prison. After five years, benefits are added and the terrorist receives a pension for life. Those who serve ten years are guaranteed a highly paid position in the PA.
The pay-to-slay system has actually led some captured terrorists to reject shorter jail sentences in plea negotiations so as to qualify for more money. Hirsch recalled a defendant's lawyer rejecting a 52-month sentence in a case he prosecuted, demanding 60 instead. "Why spend 52 months in jail and be released just having received your salary, when at the price of just another eight months you can receive a pension for the rest of your life?"
PA payments to the families of those who are killed (voluntarily or involuntarily) committing acts of terrorism "kicked off a tremendous chain reaction" during the 2nd intifada against Israel. The most notorious case of this happened following a March 2016 stabbing attack in Tel Aviv by Bashar Masalha that killed Taylor Force, a highly decorated American army veteran, and injured 11 others. The family of the terrorist, who was killed, began receiving monthly payments from the PA. "This did not bide well with Taylor's parents," who responded with a "tremendous campaign" against the PA's pay-to-slay system, resulting in Congress passing the Taylor Force Act, signed into law by President Trump in March 2018. The act denied $350 million of direct aid from U.S. taxpayers to the PA for as long as the pay-to-slay program continued. In response, the PA doubled down and told the Trump administration it would do without the aid rather than stop payments to terrorists.
For its part, Israel passed a law stipulating that any funds the PA pays out to terrorists and their families be deducted from taxes Israel collects on behalf of the PA. These taxes – set aside under the Oslo Accords for the PA to promote peace but instead used to incentivize terror attacks – amount to 50% of the PA's annual budget. As a result of this law, the PA lost nearly 1.2 billion shekels in 2018, but it cared little if the Palestinians suffered from the loss, relying on the rest of the world to donate money to make up for the shortfall.
In response to mounting criticism of its pay-to-slay program, the PA has claimed that payments to families of deceased and imprisoned terrorists are social welfare subsidies. However, "welfare has some type of a needs-based requirement. These payments have no needs-based requirement," said Hirsch. "If you're a well off terrorist who lives in a big villa, or if you're a poor terrorist who lives in a shack in a refugee camp, when you go to jail, you will receive the same basic payment."
Additionally, PA law "specifically prescribes these payments as salary," as earned income, explained Hirsch. Years ago, in a ploy to placate the international community, the PA proposed legislation altering its terminology to describe these salaries as "welfare payments," but encountered a severe backlash among its own subjects. Instead, the PA was obliged to affirm that it did not consider the recipients to be "welfare cases."
A new initiative launched by the Middle East Forum and Palestinian Media Watch to combat the PA's pay-to-slay program engaged Congressman Doug Lamborn to write a July 2020 letter to President Trump calling for the Palestinian Authority's Commission of Prisoners' Affairs and its director, Qadri Abu Bakr, to be officially designated as sponsors of terrorism. Concurrently, members of Israel's Knesset were contacted to approach Israel's Minister of Defense to similarly declare the pay-to-slay commission as a terrorist organization. Such designations would enable authorities to seize bank accounts and launch criminal prosecutions of those involved in the pay-to-slay payments.
Hirsch drew an analogy to the 9/11 terror attacks. "If you had an organization that was still paying ... the 9/11 bombers ... a monthly salary as a prize for murdering 3,500 people, you would clearly recognize that organization as a terror organization." Applying this label to Palestinian institutions and officials who reward terrorists will send them clear message: "You people are terrorists and you must be recognized as terrorists."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.