Israel’s borders have always been flimsy. From its very first day as a state, Arab infiltrators have been sneaking in for a variety of reasons. Some were trying to get back to the fields they had once worked before 1948. Some were there to steal, desperate to feed their families, or for even more sinister reasons — like murder.
Sneaking into a foreign country is a risky proposition — especially when you’re technically at war. When you go behind enemy lines, there’s no guarantee you’ll come back. That leaves your family, which is already most likely living in poverty, without a breadwinner.
When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) formed in 1964, they came up with a creative solution.
They didn’t want to stop their people from infiltrating into Israel because Israel was the enemy. They felt the more infiltrations, the better. They needed a way to incentivize infiltrators, so they created a twisted version of Social Security. Anyone who crossed into Israel to do some damage could rely on generous payments from the PLO. That way, families wouldn’t be left destitute if their primary earner got caught, killed, or injured.
The PLO may have styled itself as the official representative of the Palestinian people, but it wasn’t exactly a government. In fact, Israel viewed it as a terrorist organization for the first three decades of its existence.
The Palestinian people didn’t really have a government until the Oslo peace agreements, which were meant to set up the infrastructure needed to build a future Palestinian state. That meant they needed a government, which is how the Palestinian Authority (PA) was born.
Governments — even transitional governments like the PA — need money to function. Even basic governance is expensive, so countries from all over the world started donating hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the PA. Even Israel agreed to collect and set aside tax revenue on their behalf.
The PA was supposed to take on typical government responsibilities, maintaining security to stop attacks on Israel, upholding basic law and order, issuing business licenses, setting up a social safety net, and more.
Most people in functioning countries take these types of services for granted. While the PA did do some of that, they took the social safety net in an unusual direction. They set aside a portion of their budget to continue the program that the PLO had started, helping Palestinians sneak into Israel for nefarious purposes.
It was like a version of Workers Comp, with one crucial difference. Workers Comp pays people who get injured doing normal jobs, like construction. The PA’s so-called “Martyrs Fund” pays people who are killed or imprisoned for terrorism.
A transitional government, which was established as part of a peace agreement, was openly paying its citizens to kill Israelis. A top PA official boasted that the so-called Martyrs Fund had paid out roughly $4.5 million between 1995 and 2002. As the PA was negotiating with Israel, it was paying its own people to kill Israelis.
Negotiations broke down entirely in late 2000. Shortly afterward, the Second Intifada started. Between 2002 and 2004, the PA handed out $25 million a year to the suicide bombers and gunmen who attacked Israelis in markets, movie theaters, and cafes.
That’s an increase of over 500% and the PA is still paying out terrorists for their role in the Second Intifada. The guy who designed the bomb that killed 15 people in 2002 is still getting his monthly check. So is the bomber’s family.
In fact, these payments are guaranteed through PA law called “The Prisoners and Released Prisoners Law,” which legally guarantees a payout to terrorists.
Terrorists who spend at least a year in jail get a monthly salary and twice-annual clothing allowances, free or subsidized tuition and health insurance, plus a bonus when they get released. If a terrorist is in jail for 10 years they’re officially guaranteed a job in the government upon their release.
How is the PA allowed to get away with blatantly funding terrorism?
Israel has tried its best to disincentivize terrorists. It demolishes their houses, sets up restrictions on who can enter the country, and builds checkpoints and security fences to keep potential terrorists out.
All of these moves are considered controversial — particularly the demolition of houses. Critics say that this unfairly punishes the terrorist’s family who didn’t commit any crimes. But advocates of the policy say that’s the point of deterrence.
However, this kind of deterrence doesn’t really work if you’re guaranteed the funds to just build a new house. In order to cut off terrorism, funds need to be cut, and it wasn’t until 2018 that Western countries began cutting off aid to the PA.
In the spring of 2016, a young Palestinian from the West Bank went on a stabbing spree that injured 11 civilians and killed one. That civilian was an American veteran named Taylor Force. He wasn’t Jewish or Israeli. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Two years later, the U.S. passed the Taylor Force Act, which froze all financial aid to the PA until they pulled the plug on Pay to Slay. Other nations quickly followed suit, passing laws that froze or restricted aid to the PA. With other countries in its corner, Israel passed its own freezing law. Since 2018, Israel has withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue from the PA each year.
However, these freezing policies do not apply to humanitarian aid. Vaccines, medical supplies, and other basic necessities aren’t affected. Plus, Israel isn’t taking the PA’s tax revenue for itself. It’s just setting aside the funds for the day that the PA agrees to officially end Pay to Slay.
Are these policies working?
Unfortunately, these policies haven’t stopped Pay to Slay. The PA has done a very good job of exploiting loopholes to their advantage. They’ve designated their Pay to Slay funds as “welfare payments.” They’ve established their own financial institutions free from international regulations and they lie about where the money goes.
Despite the Taylor Force Act, the U.S. resumed paying the PA in 2021, spending half a billion dollars to aid Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Now, this money isn’t all supposed to go to the PA. Lots of it goes to UNRWA and USAID programs, but it would be naive to assume that some of this money doesn’t trickle into the PA’s bank accounts.
Today, roughly 8% of the PA’s budget goes to its Pay to Slay program. That’s more than $350 million a year spent on subsidies and payouts for prisoners, former prisoners, and families of terrorists.
Although Palestinians dislike the PA, they love the payments. According to polling from 2023, a whopping 91% approve of the Pay to Slay program. President Mahmoud Abbas, who is almost universally disliked among Palestinians, has no incentive to stop the payments.
They’re one of the only shreds of leverage he has left. Considering that 60% of Palestinians are calling for the dissolution of the PA, Abbas is going to cling to whatever he can to keep himself in power.
Ultimately, Palestinian governments have never really cared about their people. If they did, they’d spend their billions in aid money on actually aiding Palestinians instead of using that donor money to line their own pockets. It’s easier to exploit young men and women to attack Israelis than to actually do the hard work of governing. The PA has proven that it can funnel its resources toward social welfare but unfortunately, in order to really benefit, you have to attack Israelis first.
To most Palestinians, killing an Israeli civilian isn’t an act of terrorism, it’s an act of resistance. One that 75% of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza support.
That is a lot more dangerous than the Pay to Slay program.
Governments can be toppled, regimes can change and aid can be cut off. But convincing an entire people that their neighbor isn’t going anywhere and that peace is preferable to war is a lot more difficult. Until the majority of Palestinians accept that Israel is here to stay, they will keep pursuing its destruction, and Israel will keep fighting back. The cycle won’t stop until Palestinians and Israelis actively choose to stop it.
If the PA’s programs — not to mention its rhetoric — are any indication, there’s a long way to go before that happens.