Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas this weekend vowed to continue payments to the families of those Palestinians languishing in Israeli prisons.
In a speech to mark the 14th anniversary of the death of former president Yasser Arafat, Abbas said that Palestinians were capable of facing “all liquidationist schemes and conspiracies that are being concocted against their national cause”. He stressed that despite international attempts to prevent the policy, the PA will pay prisoners stipends “even if that’s the last thing we own,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
The PA has faced consistent international pressure to halt its payments – which amount to $3,500 a month – to prisoners’ families or the families of those Palestinians killed by Israel. In July, Australia stopped all direct aid to the PA in criticism of this policy, which it labelled as “martyr payments”. Although Australia previously provided ten million Australian dollars ($7.4 million) of funding annually to the World Bank’s Palestinian Recovery and Development Trust Fund to support the PA’s national policy agenda, in July it re-routed its funds to the United Nations’ Humanitarian Fund for the Palestinian Territories in order to bypass the PA.
In June, the US also froze its financial assistance to the PA in a bid to stop it paying the stipends. The US demanded that the PA cancel laws which guarantee these salaries, take “credible” measures to fight “terror” and condemn “Palestinian terror and violence” before assistance would be resumed. Despite the freeze, in August it was revealed that the US had continued to provide some financial assistance to the PA, but only for security coordination with Israel.
Also in June, the Israeli Knesset approved a bill to deduct tax revenue from the PA equal to the amount it paid in stipends. According to the bill, the PA transfers seven per cent of its budget – estimated at 1.1 billion shekels ($300 million) – to pay the stipends and so the tax revenue deduction would equal that amount.
The conditions facing those Palestinians held in Israeli prisons are dire. In September it emerged that as many as 17 ill Palestinian prisoners face a slow death due to medical negligence in Israel’s Ramla Prison hospital, south of Tel Aviv. According to rights group The Commission of Palestinian Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners, these Palestinian patients suffer from what it alleges is “deliberate medical negligence”, including a lack of medical and health services, diagnostic tests and treatment.
Israel has also sought to transfer the financial burden of its prison system to the PA, in October discussing a bill which would force the Authority to pay the expenses of treating Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails. If passed, the bill would see the Israeli government deduct the cost of medical care from PA taxes – which are collected by Israeli customs under the terms of the Oslo Accords – if it refuses to foot the bill.
According to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, as of the end of August 2018 “there were 5,493 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners being held in Israel Prison Service (IPS) facilities”. Of these prisoners, 239 are minors under the age of 18. Many of these prisoners are being held in administrative detention, under which Palestinians can be held indefinitely without charge or access to legal proceedings.