Members of the United States House of Representatives at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (AFP/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A bill was reintroduced by US Republican lawmakers on Tuesday seeking to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over the so-called “martyrs” compensation program which provides payment to families of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or held in Israeli prisons.
According to the Jerusalem Post
, the bill was initially introduced by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) during a Congress session last year and would eliminate funding to the PA unless it ceased providing funds to families of slain Palestinians and prisoners.
“If a young Palestinian is convicted in a court in Israel of being a terrorist, the longer they’re in jail, the more their family receives from the Palestinian Authority,” the Jerusalem Post reported Graham as saying.
The bill was named the Taylor Force Act after a US army veteran who was killed during an attack in Jaffa last year.
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS)
, the bill would necessitate that the PA follow certain conditions in order to receive funds from the US government, including taking “credible steps” to end violence by its citizens under its “jurisdictional control,” publicly condemning and punishing Palestinians who have committed acts of violence against Israelis, and “terminating payments” to individuals and their families who have been killed after carrying out an attack.
In Palestinian society, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is responsible for providing financial assistance to families of those slain, injured, or imprisoned by Israeli forces. In 2016, this included 112 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces and nearly 4,000 Palestinians wounded by Israeli forces mostly during clashes, according to UN documentation.
In addition, Israeli authorities currently hold 6,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, according to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, including 536 without charge or trial. The group has reported that 40 percent of the Palestinian male population has at some point been detained by Israeli forces.
The payments are estimated to be a monthly base payment of $350 and is increased depending on certain factors, such as if the individual was married, has children, or the duration Palestinian prisoners have spent in Israeli custody.
Rights groups have claimed that Israeli authorities use prison and detention raids -- which often erupt into violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces -- as a tool to disrupt Palestinian life in the occupied territory, as many families suffer financially when Israeli forces kill, wound, or imprison Palestinians.
The controversial social program has been the target of criticism in the US Congress for years. While the program was managed by the PLO since its inception in 1966, the payments to Palestinian prisoners and their families were shifted to the PA following the Oslo Peace Accords in 1998. However, stipends to families of Palestinians killed or injured by Israeli forces remained under the management of the PLO.
In 2014, following a flurry of criticism by the US government and the passing of legislation aimed at cutting funds to the PA over the program, the payment distribution was then shifted completely back under PLO management.
However, while the PLO is in charge of distributing payments in the program, the PA has been accused of providing the funds to the PLO which then in turn provides assistance to the Palestinian families.
According CRS, since 2015 US funds to the PA have been cut “by an amount the Secretary determines is equivalent to the amount expended by the Palestinian Authority as payments for acts of terrorism by individuals who are imprisoned after being fairly tried and convicted for acts of terrorism and by individuals who died committing acts of terrorism during the previous calendar year.”
The Taylor Force Act differs from this previous legislation by threatening to completely eliminate aid to the PA if it refuses to dismantle the program.
Last year, meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister’s office ordered that the money being transferred by the PA to “terrorists and their families” be deducted from monthly tax revenues Israel collected on behalf of the PA.
Israeli authorities said at the time that they would reduce tax transfers sent to the PA each month by $130 million, a figure said to be equal to stipends Palestinian leadership pays Palestinian "militant" prisoners and their families, and the families of slain Palestinians. However, there were no reports that the decision was followed through by the Israeli government.
Palestinians have often argued that the compensation program does not have anything to do with “funding terrorism,” as this most recent bill claims, but is part of a larger social program to assist Palestinian families who have been affected by Israel’s nearly half-century military occupation of the Palestinian territory.
Moreover, the payments are not only distributed to families of Palestinians who have been accused of attacking Israelis, but also to numerous families whose members have been killed, imprisoned, or injured by Israeli forces without any wrongdoing.