Should the PA Pay Monthly Salaries to Teachers or Terrorists?
by Maurice Hirsch
The teachers in the Palestinian Authority (PA) went on strike this year, because the PA was not paying their full wages and reneged on promises it made to them in 2022. As a result, according to different reports, more than a million Palestinian children have not had school since the strike started on February 5, 2023.
Instead of paying the salaries of the teachers, the PA prioritizes paying hundreds of millions of shekels to terrorists. As PA President Mahmoud Abbas says, time after time: “Even if I’m left with one penny, I’ll pay it to the families of the Martyrs, to the prisoners, and to the wounded.”
Referring to the strike, Muwaffaq Matar, a Fatah Revolutionary Council member and regular columnist for the official PA daily, summarized the PA approach: Blame Israel!
According to Matar, the teachers’ strike is due to the implementation of the Israeli Anti-Pay-for-Slay law, which penalizes the PA for paying huge monthly cash rewards to terrorists:
The wheels of educational life are put on strike now and then, under the headline of “the right to strike” or abstaining from providing services to the citizens for particular periods of time until the realization of material (monetary) demands [parentheses in source]. This is even though everyone knows that all the public sector (PA government) employees are suffering as a result of how the occupation authorities are stealing the Palestinian tax money, which is the backbone of the PA government employees’ salaries, and as a result of the deduction of hundreds of millions of [Israeli] shekels in order to dissuade the national Palestinian leadership from providing allowances to the prisoners and the Martyrs’ relatives. [emphasis added]
[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Feb. 14, 2023]
Trying to present a positive spin, Matar then added that hardships were caused by Abbas’ “loyalty” to the terrorists: “Out of loyalty to them, [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas has promised that their allowances will be at the top of the table of allowances and salaries, until the last [Jordanian] dinar in the treasury of the PA and the PLO.”
PA Ministry of Education Director-General of Measurement, Evaluation, and Examination, Muhammad Awad, accepted that the demands of the teachers are justified:
All the teachers’ demands are correct and we have no reservations about them. On the contrary, we are fighting and defending the agreement that was signed [with the teachers] in all its aspects, especially everything concerning the monetary aspect.
[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Feb. 15, 2023]
Awad then explained that the non-payment of the teachers’ salaries is due to the general financial hardship of the PA: “Awad emphasized that the monetary and financial blockade that the Palestinian [PA] government is in has prevented the implementation of the agreement until now, and added: ‘Therefore, the government is paying partial salaries to all the employees, and it cannot treat the teachers as exceptional.’”
For approximately two years, the PA has been punishing its law-abiding employees by paying them only partial salaries. To deflect the anger of the employees from the PA to Israel, the PA blames Israel for its alleged financial crisis.
While the PA is peddling its “financial crisis” narrative on a daily basis, an examination of the financial reports published by the PA Ministry of Finance demonstrates the opposite of the PA propaganda. As can be seen in the following table, for the years 2018 — the year Israel passed its Anti-Pay-for-Slay law — through 2022, the overall income of the PA grew by 3.5 billion shekels. The vast majority of that growth — 2.5 billion shekels — actually came from the taxes Israel collects and doesn’t withhold.
As part of its Pay-for-Slay policy, the PA pays monthly salaries to imprisoned terrorists and released terrorists, simply as a reward for their participation in terror. The PA also pays monthly allowances to injured terrorists and to the families of dead terrorists. Cumulatively, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) estimates that in 2022, the PA spent no less than 865 million shekels paying these terror rewards.
In response to these terror payments, and following the work of PMW exposing this practice during the decade starting 2011 through 2021, the international community reduced its foreign aid to the PA by more than 90%. In 2018, the US passed the Taylor Force Act, which conditions US aid to the PA on the abolition of the terror reward policy. Shortly thereafter, Israel passed its Anti-Pay-for-Slay law, which penalizes the PA for the terror payments by deducting the sum the PA spent on the payments in the previous year from the tax income Israel collects and gives to the PA.
If the PA would stop incentivizing terror by rewarding terrorists, the PA and the Palestinian economy would enjoy a four-fold windfall. First, the PA would save the hundreds of millions of shekels it pays annually to terrorists and their families. Next, the US, the Netherlands, Australia and others who cut funding would be able to renew their aid to the PA, bringing in hundreds of millions of additional dollars. Israel could stop implementing its law, thereby inflating the PA coffers by hundreds of millions shekels annually. Finally, if the PA also stopped promoting terror, in the absence of constant violence, investment activity in the PA could potentially boom.
Despite the heavy cost, the PA and its leader Abbas refuse to cease and desist from promoting, inciting, and rewarding terror. As PA Chairman Abbas is repeatedly quoted saying:
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas: “We emphasize that the issue of the families of the Martyrs and the prisoners is at the top of our list of priorities, and any amount [of money] we have will be earmarked for them.”
[Official PA TV, “Stories from Palestine,” March 5, 2022]
This promise — that support for terrorists is more important than anything else — has been repeated recently by a PLO official and a Fatah official:
PLO Executive Committee member [and Palestinian Liberation Front Secretary-General] Wasel Abu Yusuf … emphasized that the Palestinian leadership will continue to stand alongside the prisoners and their families, and that it always emphasizes that it will not neglect their cause, and that even if only one penny is left, it will be given to their families and to the Martyrs’ families.
[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Feb. 20, 2023]
“In the speech he gave … on behalf of Fatah, PLO Executive Committee Secretary and Fatah Central Committee member Hussein Al-Sheikh emphasized the leadership’s permanent and firm commitment, according to which our Martyrs, our prisoners, and their families are a red line – ‘Even if we are left with one penny, it will be paid to the families of the Martyrs and the prisoners.’”
[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 8, 2023]
True to his promise, Abbas has sanctified the PA terror reward payments even if it means punishing the PA’s teachers, the PA’s doctors, or even Palestinian cancer patients.
Maurice Hirsch, Adv. is the Head of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch, where a version of this article first appeared.