The Sisyphean attempt to curb Palestinian ‘martyrdom’ - opinion

With internal American and Israeli politics being as divided as they are, it’s going to take a lot more than a congressional bill to keep would-be “martyrs” at bay.

 A knife used in a stabbing in Jerusalem's Old City that injured two Border Policemen on November 17, 2021. (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
A knife used in a stabbing in Jerusalem's Old City that injured two Border Policemen on November 17, 2021.

The stabbing on Wednesday morning of 26-year-old mother-of-five Moriah Cohen in east Jerusalem was one of several recent “lone wolf” attacks in the Israeli capital that illustrated the necessity of a bill introduced this week by a group of Republican lawmakers in Washington.

The Taylor Force Martyr Payment Prevention Act was proposed on Monday by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and 12 of his colleagues: Steve Daines (R-MT), Todd Young (R-IN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rick Scott (R-FL), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

As its name suggests, its aim is to eliminate “martyr payments” – the stipends awarded by the Palestinian Authority to terrorists imprisoned for slaughtering Israelis, or attempting to, and to the families of those killed in the line of duty.

Though a similar law was passed by the US Congress and signed by then-president Donald Trump in March 2018, it didn’t do the trick. This has been a boon to the PA and thorn in the side of Robbi and Stuart Force, mother and father of Taylor, after whom both laws were named.

Taylor Force, 28, a US Army veteran, was stabbed to death in 2016 by a Palestinian terrorist on a rampage in Jaffa. Force, a Christian, was attacked while on a trip to Israel sponsored by Vanderbilt University, where he was a graduate student.

Taylor Force, 29, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist who went on a stabbing rampage in Jaffa on March 8, 2016 (credit: FACEBOOK)Taylor Force, 29, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist who went on a stabbing rampage in Jaffa on March 8, 2016 (credit: FACEBOOK)

The perpetrator, 21-year-old Bashar Masalha from Qalqilya, was shot and killed by Israeli police officers, but not before he managed to wound 10 additional innocent passers-by. While the Forces grieved the death of their beloved son, the Masalhas were honored by the Palestinian Authority for the “heroism” of theirs. As a reward for Bashar’s “martyrdom,” the powers-that-be in Ramallah promptly began paying his family a lifetime monthly stipend in an amount that is far higher than the average wage in the PA. 

To get an idea of how integral a part of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s policy to encourage the killing of Jews is, in 2017, the PA allocated $344 million to the endeavor. This constituted half of the annual foreign aid that it was receiving. You know, for “humanitarian” purposes and societal development.

The first Taylor Force Act was supposed to put a stop to this travesty, by conditioning future aid to the PA on its ending its “pay-for-slay” practice. As the research organization Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has continued to document and expose, however, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has alternately refused to comply and found “legal” loopholes around the inconvenience.

When the Knesset voted in July 2018 to deduct the sum that the PA provides to terrorist prisoners and the families of “martyrs” from the tax revenues that Israel transfers every year to Ramallah – and place that money in a fund for victims of terrorism – Abbas didn’t even try to conceal his intention to conduct business as usual, whatever the cost.

“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 announced to a Palestinian prisoners’ advocacy group. “Even if we have only a penny left, we will give it to the martyrs, the prisoners and their families [whom we] view as planets and stars in the skies of the Palestinian struggle, and they have priority over everything.”

Abbas not only meant what he said; he has been acting on it with a vengeance. And it’s no wonder, since Israel has been inconsistent in its implementation of moves to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the PA leader to goad his people to prefer prison or “paradise” to earning an honest living. The latter, of course, is only possible for them to do by working in Israel, but Abbas is happy to have the Palestinians literally and figuratively cut off the hand that feeds them. 

THIS BRINGS us back to Wednesday’s attack on Cohen, which took place in the Shimon HaZaddik/Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the site of a bitter controversy surrounding four Arab families living rent-free in homes owned by Jews.

The assailant, a 14-year-old girl whose family is among those who rejected a compromise suggested in October by Israel’s Supreme Court that would allow the squatters to remain for 15 years as “protected tenants,” carefully planned the assault, stalking Cohen and her kids with a 12-inch knife hidden among her things. Cohen, who thankfully survived the stabbing, later recounted that she hadn’t been suspicious of the teenager, a familiar neighborhood denizen.

Meanwhile, as Cohen was being taken to the hospital, the terrorist was apprehended in a nearby high school, where she had arranged to have a change of clothes ready. Due to her age, it’s not clear yet whether she’ll be prosecuted as an adult.

One thing is certain, however. She will be showered with accolades from peers and possibly teachers. And her parents will be able to start counting the cash that they can expect to receive from the PA, which, by the way, responded to the event by condemning Israel for “storming” the school where the terrorist ran after trying to kill Cohen in front of her children, all under the age of five. 

It’s in the interest of the perpetrator’s family for her to be behind bars for years to come. In fact, as PMW has reported, the longer a prisoner remains in jail, the greater the stipend, reaching as much as NIS 12,000 ($3,850) per month. This isn’t only four times higher than the average wage in the PA; it’s also hefty by Israeli, and even American, standards.

According to PMW, in order to receive the money, the girl’s parents will have to sign over power of attorney to a PA lawyer, and the process of payment will then be facilitated by the international Red Cross. Once she’s in jail, she will be put on Abbas’s payroll in according with “[P.A.] Government Decision Number 23 of 2010, Regarding the Regulation of Payment of the Monthly Salary to the Prisoner.”

At a news conference held by Cotton, Daines, Cruz and Graham on Monday evening, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) chairman Norm Coleman explained the impetus for the proposed legislation.

“The 2018 Taylor Force Act was an important first step toward ending the Palestinian Authority’s outrageous ‘pay-for-slay’ system that incentivizes deadly terrorist attacks against Israelis and Americans,” he said. “Senator Cotton’s bill will make important progress toward this goal by targeting the financial institutions that facilitate these so-called ‘martyr payments.’” 

The seemingly Sisyphean initiative, backed by the RJC, the Zionist Organization of America and Christians United for Israel, is welcome. But the chances of its being passed by a Congress with a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and an administration headed by President Joe Biden may be slim.

But even if the odds were in Cotton’s favor, money is fungible, thus enabling Abbas to circumvent restrictions. Furthermore, the Israeli government is twisting itself in knots to guarantee that the PA doesn’t collapse under the weight of its poverty. This is why, after doubling the tax-revenue deduction in August, it subsequently gave the PA a NIS 500 million ($161 million) loan.

Then, last month, Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej led a delegation to Oslo for the biannual gathering of PA donor countries. The objective of the mission was to persuade the international community to resume heaping huge sums on Ramallah, since gifts from Europe and elsewhere have dwindled from $1.3 billion in 2011 to only a few million annually in later years.

With internal American and Israeli politics being as divided as they are – belying the premise that bipartisanship is even desirable, let alone possible, where the “conflict” is concerned – it’s going to take a lot more than a congressional bill to keep would-be “martyrs” at bay.