Terrorists Versus Symbols Of Freedom: Israel Freezes Fund For Families Of Palestinian Martyrs And Prisoners

This Monday, the Israeli Parliament passed a bill that freezes funds allocated to Palestinian attackers’ families. According to the Washington Post, the Martyrs’ Fund, as it is called, sent a monthly stipend to families who had lost a relative to violent demonstrations against Israel such as riots or suicide bombings, those with a loved one imprisoned in Israel for ordinary crimes, as well as relatives of innocent Palestinian bystanders who died during violent demonstrations.

With 87 of the 120 legislators of Parliament voting in favor of this bill on Monday, the $330 million going towards these Palestinian families has now been frozen. The approved version of the bill states that once the Palestinian Authority (PA) confirms it is no longer sending stipends to the families, the collected funds will be frozen and transferred back to the PA, according to Haaretz.

While supporters of the law believe the Martyrs’ Fund was a “reward and encouragement for the prisoners’ actions”, according to Reuters, Palestinians argue that the funds were “welfare payments to support [the prisoners] and their families.” The decision on Monday was driven by a harsh reduction in U.S. aid earlier this year which required Israel to severely cut their budget, according to Al Jazeera. The co-sponsor of the law, Avi Dichter believed that Palestinian families had too much access to these funds, stating “the only thing you have to do [to get the stipend] is to kill Israelis, to get arrested or killed.”

Despite the harsh criticism stating that the Martyrs’ Fund promotes terrorism, others are outraged by the Monday decision and argue that the fund is rather a nod of respect to national heroes. Youssef Al-Mahmoud, a spokesperson for the PA referred to these prisoners and martyrs as “symbols of freedom for us [Palestinians].” Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi argued “this is nothing short of highway robbery, this is real piracy, they are stealing Palestinian funds, it’s not theirs to decide what to do with it, if we were free we wouldn’t need Israel to collect customs.” Ashrawi refers to the fact that the Martyrs’ Fund comes out of taxes that Israel collects “on behalf of the Palestinian Authority” according to Al Jazeer. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for the PA president states, “we condemn the law to offset the prisoners’ benefits, it crosses a red line.” Abu Rudeineh goes on to argue that the law was “a declaration of war on the Palestinian people.”

Based on the growing violence in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, the termination of the Martyrs’ Fund will only further increase tensions and chip away at an already minuscule support system for the victims of this political violence. Thus the fund must be reestablished to prevent further violence. While Israel argues against the Martyrs’ Fund as a “promotion of terrorism”, Palestine argues for it as a form of “welfare” and a “symbol of freedom.” Thus Israel and Palestine stand at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what they believe the Martyrs’ Fund accomplishes, but the polarizing effect of this argument impacts one group more than any other—the family members who lost a loved one to violent crimes. Whether they were an innocent bystander at a protest or a suicide bomber, their families are still the victims of political violence, left more vulnerable than ever because of their loss. They should not be punished, both socially and more than anything financially, for something that the Israeli and Palestinian governments cannot compromise on. Furthermore, they are being wrongly penalized over an idealistic disagreement on what martyrdom is. As a result of this Monday decision, 35,000 Palestinian families are losing their monthly stipends because the status of their loved one’s potential heroism is being contested by a government that fired on their fellow Palestinian people for peacefully protesting not even two months ago.

Palestinians strive to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital, according to Reuters. Palestinian rule is limited in the West Bank and the desired Gaza Strip is currently under the control of the Islamist Hamas group. Many feel that this Monday decision will only further boost Hamas’ agenda, according to Haaretz. Tensions are growing in these areas, especially after a peaceful protest against the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem ended in sixty Palestinians dead and 3,000 injured in May. For more detail on the history of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, see our timeline https://theowp.org/israel-palestine-conflict-2/.

If the Martyrs’ Fund is not reestablished, these rising tensions in violence will only be further aggravated. The Monday decision did not address the issue of violence at its source but rather targeted passive participants caught up in a larger issue. The vulnerability of these families based off of their loved ones politically and violently charged actions are simply a product of the greater Israel-Palestine Conflict.