President Trump announced the United States is cutting $200 million in annual foreign subsidies to Palestine channeled through the United Nations, followed by an announcement last Friday that the United States willwithdraw all funding from UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.
Furious reactions accuse the White House of everything from “political blackmail” and “coercion” to “weaponizing” humanitarian subsidies. This week’s media coverage has generally bolstered those misleading claims by failing to adequately cover one of the primary reasons for the move: the Palestinian “Martyrs Fund.”
Though the White House may have eventually reduced Palestinian subsidies anyway (as a part of an upcoming overhaul of foreign subsidies in general), the significant size and timing of this particular cut tells another story, one that the media is failing to report.
The ‘Martyrs’ Fund
Palestine uses the Martyrs Fund to openly and proudly pay out $403 million per year, in large part to confirmed terrorists and their families. It’s known as the “pay-for-slay” law.
If Palestine redirected those funds, it would more than double the $200 million in subsidies the United States is withdrawing. Instead, Palestinian leaders choose to allocate this portion of their national budget for terror, instead of for the basic needs of their own people.
Some media briefly mentioned the Martyrs Fund with little or no explanation (Associated Press, The New York Times) while others, such as Reuters, didn’t mention it at all. Even worse, the media completely neglected to mention that the Palestinian government is also paying rewards to the killers of Americans, including to the killers of a young man named Taylor Force.
Who Is Taylor Force?
Force was a West Point graduate who completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. By March 2016 he was 29 years old, a civilian and a Vanderbilt University student. While he and his wife were touring Israel on vacation, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed him to death and severely injured his wife. Police killed the murderer, 21-year-old Bashar Masalha, but his family continues to receive monthly payments from the Palestinian government through the Martyrs Fund equal to several times the average Palestinian income. By Palestinian law, the killer’s family will continue receiving these payments for life.
Congress responded with the Taylor Force Act: a law requiring that the United States reduce subsidies to the Palestinian government until it stops funding the murder of Americans, Israelis, and all innocent civilians. Trump signed the bill into law this year.
UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, brings its own unique set of problems. Earlier this year, the agency was caught publishing Palestinian children’s textbooks that encourage violence against Jews. In 2017, UNRWA was outed for naming some 30 UN schools after confirmed terrorists. That same year numerous UNRWA employees were caught publicly praising Adolf Hitler on social media.
The 1951 Convention on Refugees sets out a standard definition of what constitutes a “refugee.” Nonetheless, UNRWA developed its own definition that applies uniquely to Palestinians. The UNRWA definition paradoxically grants a “right of return” to people who have never even visited the Middle East, refugee status to people who have become citizens of new countries, and includes people who are multiple generations removed from actual Palestinian refugees.
A 2012 investigation by the U.S. Senate revealed that if one applies standard international definitions, there are only about 30,000 Palestinian refugees in the world, rather than UNRWA’s grossly exaggerated figure of 5 million. It’s no wonder the State Department explained its funding cut by describing the agency as an “irredeemably flawed operation” and stating that Palestinians “deserve better.”
The Palestinian Take
Palestinian leadership essentially sees American dollars as a fundamental right, a debt that is owed to Palestinians by the world. PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi described the funding cut as “bullying and punishing,” adding: “The U.S. administration has already demonstrated meanness of spirit … Now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims … The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale.”
This begs the question, if foreign subsidies are so important why not simply abolish the Martyrs Fund? This would not only free up additional funds for Palestinians in need, but would also remove the primary reason for America’s funding cut.
Last March I discussed the question in a televised debate with PLO Executive Committee member Mustafa Baraghouti. He claimed the Martyrs Fund is merely a “social security system” that is paid to those in need. Barghouti claimed, “that’s what Americans do even to people who shot students inside schools.” It should go without saying that America does not have a fund to reward people who shoot up schools (or their families in the event of their death).
Barghouti’s explanation also directly contradicts the 2017 Palestinian Budget Book, which specifically states that payments to imprisoned Palestinians (and to the families of attackers killed-in-action) are a “salary,” paid because the recipients constitute “a fighting sector and an integral part of the fabric of the Arab Palestinian society.”
Accordingly, this terror based funding scheme does not pay to all people in need as a social security system would, but pays almost exclusively to people directly engaged in acts of terror, and their beneficiaries. This leaves the vast majority of non-violent Palestinians without assistance that they may legitimately need.
Terrorism Isn’t a Partisan Issue
The White House’s funding cuts last week are in addition to the cuts the Taylor Force Act contemplates and likely to raise some complex concerns among Israeli leadership. Last January, unconfirmed reports stated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quietly urging the United States not to cut funds to UNRWA as it could exacerbate humanitarian conditions and possibly result in Israel having to foot the bill. (Israel’s Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that Israel must take financial responsibility for conditions in the Palestinian territories.)
Nonetheless, Israel passed its own version of the Taylor Force Act, demonstrating just how complex the issue of Palestinian funding really is for both the United States and Israel.
The State Department under President Obama condemned Force’s murder as “outrageous” and the Taylor Force Act passed with broad bipartisan support. UNRWA has been the subject of multiple, bipartisan congressional investigations going back to at least 2012. Yet the press has ignored these realities, opting to instead focus on the current administration.
The media also addressed Palestinian anger over Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital in Jerusalem last May, as if that were especially relevant. In fact, the Martyrs Fund has existed in one form or another since 1964, and Force was killed in March 2016, long before Trump was elected, much less moved the embassy.
This story does not merit a myopic focus on Trump and his policies: The story is about the murder of Americans abroad, about terrorism, and about the Palestinian “pay-for-slay” funding scheme. This is a story about a Palestinian government that could choose to take care of its own people and has the money to do it, but instead chooses to fund terror. Make no mistake: this is also a story about ordinary Palestinian people in need, who are allowed access to adequate social welfare only if they turn themselves into killers.