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Palestinian leaders slam Israeli bill cutting PA tax revenues over 'martyrs' compensation

April 5, 2017 7:55 P.M. (Updated: April 6, 2017 11:27 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- An Israeli bill that would deduct 1 billion shekels ($273,847,120) from tax revenues transferred from Israel to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over the controversial “martyrs” compensation program was introduced to the Knesset last month, sparking condemnation among Palestinian leaders.

Several Palestinian leaders spoke to Ma’an on Tuesday concerning the controversial bill making its way through the Knesset. The bill targets a social program managed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that provides financial allowances to Palestinians imprisoned in Israel and their families, those injured by Israeli forces, and families of Palestinian "martyrs" -- those killed by Israeli forces, whether amid attacks against Israelis or in situations void of wrongdoing.

According to Israeli media outlet The Times of Israel, the legislation was introduced by Elazar Stern, from the Yesh Atid party, and will be discussed by Knesset members in mid-May.

“The funds transferred to terrorists are not just part of the larger issue of incitement but they encourage Arabs to carry out terror attacks,” Stern reportedly said. “It’s a real incentive to murder Jews, and we must stop this insanity immediately.”

Hassan Abd al-Rabbu, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, told Ma’an that all Palestinian prisoners and martyrs had the right to receive allowances, adding that there was no article in the Oslo peace agreements prohibiting the Palestinian government from providing financial support to families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed by Israel.

PLO Executive Committee member Wasil Abu Yousif said that the PA would not “abandon Palestinian prisoners, martyrs, and those injured who sacrificed for the Palestinian cause,” adding that the bill is part of Israel’s “continued war against the Palestinians.”

Abu Yousif said that if the bill was approved and implemented, “serious and urgent steps must be taken,” which included appealing to international organizations, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and dissolving “all agreements signed with the occupation.”

Meanwhile, Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Israeli Knesset in the Joint List political bloc -- representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel --told Ma’an that the bill was part of a campaign that Israel was launching against Palestinian prisoners while attempting to exert pressure on the PA’s already shaky financial status.

He added that these Israeli policies have forced Palestinians to organize a mass open hunger strike this month across prisons in Israel.

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.

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 Israel 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.

The allowances are now managed by a PLO committee supported by the Palestinian National Fund, an institution which Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman designated as a “terrorist” organization last month.

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, with Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli prisons for more than 10 years receiving allowances around 10,000 shekels ($2,735).

Last month, a bill was reintroduced to the US Congress aiming to eliminate funding to the PA unless it ceased providing funds to families of slain Palestinians and prisoners.

Last year, the Israeli prime minister’s office also 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. However, the decision was not implemented.

Palestinians have often argued that the compensation program does not have anything to do with “funding terrorism,” as Stern has claimed to justify his bill, 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.

Last month Israeli rights group B’Tselem released a report detailing how Israel has purposefully introduced legislation over the past 20 years to avoid paying compensation to Palestinians who have been injured by Israeli forces.

While both international and Israeli civil law hold the state responsible for damages or injuries caused by its security forces as a result of “negligence,” B’Tselem stated that Israel had begun a legislative process in the mid-1990s to both expand legal exemptions and to discourage Palestinians from filing claims.

The amount of money paid by the state of Israel in compensation to Palestinians has drastically decreased, with Israeli payments going from 21.6 million shekels ($5.8 million) on average each year between 1997 and 2001, to only 3.8 million shekels ($1.03 million) yearly between 2012 and 2016.

B’Tselem highlighted the dishonesty of Israel arguing that the PA should bear the costs of damage incurred by its civilians, as is customary in other armed conflicts between two nations, due to the extremely limited powers granted to the PA under the Oslo Accords.

“Israel cannot reassign responsibility for the injuries it causes and act as though the Palestinian Authority were a sovereign state,” the report stated. “Israel is well aware of the reality of occupation which it created and continues to maintain… However, to justify evading payment of compensation, the state is willing to change its tune and declare the Palestinian Authority has state-like status -- all the while changing nothing in its actual treatment of the Palestinian Authority or its residents.”

Israel has used the payments distributed by the PLO to wounded Palestinians and Palestinians killed by Israeli forces to justify forgoing compensating Palestinians, revealing a clear double standard as the Israeli government routinely voices its opposition to the same social program.

“One of (Israel’s) main claims is that ‘we pay for ours and they pay for theirs,’ which of course is not a valid claim, you cannot talk here about two equal sides,” Stein told Ma’an last month. “But actually, Israel is withholding all the money that the PA is giving to the injured. So they use it in order to justify this legislation, then say that the PA is giving all this money to terrorists… Israel is playing both ways here.”
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