The Palestinian governments in the West Bank (Fatah) and Gaza (Hamas) are undergoing increasing pressure from aid donors to eliminate Palestinians payments to imprisoned terrorists and the families of dead terrorists. Up to half of the foreign aid received by the West Bank goes to these payments and Fatah has refused to end the system. The current covid19 virus has spread to the West Bank and Gaza and the Palestinians are asking for more foreign aid to deal with it. Donors are reluctant because the Palestinian governments have consistently diverted portions of any foreign aid to maintain the “Martyrs Fund” which regularly pays imprisoned, wounded or families of dead terrorists.
Palestinian leaders sense that the Martyrs Fund is more popular locally than covid19 is feared. That’s because as of late April only two Palestinians had died of covid19. This is not a miracle but the reality of how covid19 actually works. Covid19 is similar to the annual appearance of influenza but tends to kill only those who are already ill and vulnerable to breathing problems. This is especially true of the elderly. For healthy adults and children, nearly 90 percent of them will resist the virus and about ten percent will actually be infected but show no symptoms. There are some efforts to deal with covid19, but only because many Palestinian leaders are elderly and some are weakened by illness. For most Palestinians, whose welfare is invoked when Fatah or Hams appeal for covid19 aid, not much will be done to test or treat covid19 if aid is received, but the Martyrs Fund will get a share one way or another.
This is not a new attitude but it has become more visible to the outside world as more details about the Martyrs Fund are printed in the non-Arabic media. Particularly damning is how the Martyrs Fund encourages terrorism against Israel. For example, in 2019 Fatah threatened to cause an economic catastrophe by refusing partial payments from Israel and donor nations unless everyone stopped deducting the money Fatah spends on supporting and encouraging terrorist activity. This has become more of an issue since 2018 when Israel passed a law to deduct from the $130 million a month (it collects in taxes and fees for the Palestinians in the West Bank) the amount (over $20 million) Fatah pays out to Palestinian terrorists in prison or to their families for deceased terrorists. The U.S. had already enacted a similar law and was deducting a similar amount from the $300 million it currently gives to the West Bank Palestinians each year. Other foreign donors have taken similar measures.
Fatah complains that the U.S., Israel and other donors are being unfair. Yet it is no secret that many Palestinians become terrorists because they are attracted by the financial rewards, which are considerable for many young residents of the West Bank impoverished by Fatah corruption and incompetence. Palestinians who are jailed, injured or killed (martyred) while trying to kill Israelis receive large payments from Fatah. For example families of dead terrorists get an immediate payment of $1,700 from Fatah plus monthly payments for the life of the immediate family. These monthly payments ($400 to over $1,000 depending on the number of wives and children) can make a family relatively affluent and open new opportunities, like saving enough cash to afford a people smuggler who can get one or more family members to the West. There is also a bonus ($86 a month) if you are a legal resident of Israel and a similar monthly bonus if you were a resident of Jerusalem. Fatah is currently paying about $200 million a year to the families of over 26,000 “martyrs” (dead terrorists) as well as smaller payments to 6,000 badly injured while trying to kill Israelis. Monthly payments to jailed Palestinians vary according to how long they have been in jail, how many dependents they have and so on. There are also bonuses for how many Israelis the prisoner killed or injured. Some of these convicts get over $50,000 a year. Fatah currently spends about $160 million a year to reward over 6,000 jailed terrorists. Fatah considers this payment program a success even though hundreds of Palestinians have died in the latest Fatah-promoted violence, the “knife terrorism: a campaign that began in 2015 and after a year was attracting far fewer potential martyrs. These attacks also left a few Israelis dead and for Fatah that is political gold as far as Arab language media is concerned. But Fatah continues to praise the martyrs and encourage children to seriously consider it as a career choice.
Fatah and Hamas together spend over $400 million a year to make murder economically attractive to many young Palestinians. Most of it comes from Fatah although Hamas is trying to make more payments to Palestinians in the West Bank who support Hamas and attack Israelis in the name of Hamas. The Arab language media throughout the Middle East take for granted that these payments are just and necessary for the war against Israel. In response to the current American and Israeli efforts to penalize Fatah for what is spent to encourage terror attacks, Fatah made it clear it would not halt payments. Instead, it cut pay to Palestinians who worked for the West Bank government. But by refusing money still being offered, Fatah will cause widespread shortages of food and other necessities in the West Bank. The ensuing Palestinian outrage and resulting damage would be blamed on the efforts to halt the “pay for slay” terrorism program. Fatah is pleading with Russia and Arab oil states to help them out. Russia is broke and prefers to be on good terms with Israel. The Arab oil states are fed up with the Palestinian preference for self-destructive behavior.
The Martyrs Fund is not unique in the Arab world because it is not just terrorist organizations that use it. During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, the Sunni minority that ruled Iraq had to depend on the Shia majority to fight and die to keep the Saddam Hussein government in power. The wealthy Sunni oil states provided $47 billion in aid to Iraq, plus billions more in loans. It was understood that several billion would be spent on generous “death befits” to the families of Iraqi Shia soldiers who died fighting the Iranians and even more on providing adequate medical care to the many more wounded Shia soldiers. This played a role in keeping the Shia soldiers loyal during the war even though before, and after the war, Saddam persecuted the Shia majority. These payments built on the fear all Arabs had of being conquered by the Iranians, who were Indo-European and not Semites. Iran has an Arab Shia minority that they have always treated badly and this was known to the Iraqi Shia. But the large death benefits made a crucial difference. These payments played a role in the Iraqi decision to invade Kuwait in 1990s. The Kuwaitis were pressing Iraq to pay back $10 billion in loans and Saddam declared this disgraceful after so many Iraqis had died keeping the Iranians out of Kuwait and the rest of Arabia.