Danish newspaper article on PMW report
about PA salaries to terrorists
Headline: “Fraud for billions”
By Klaus Wivel
“It is an open secret: Convicted Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails - or their families if they themselves were killed - have received a monthly amount from the Palestinian authorities for years. This fact has caused remarkably little commotion in the EU and the US, although Western countries have assisted the Palestinian Authority with billions of kroner since the beginning of the peace process in 1993. Several EU countries and the United States have, however, insisted that western funding does not go to these salaries. A few years ago, the PA guaranteed that this was not the case.
The Danish Foreign Ministry also issues this guarantee when confronted with allegations that Danish taxpayers' money is going to reward the perpetrators of the terror that we, in our part of the world, have claimed to be at war with for years.
The advisors of the [Danish] Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen state that he [the minister] has been unable to find time to talk about the issue, but in a statement he writes: ‘Danish development funds do not go to Palestinian prisoners or their families. Danish development funds to Palestine either go through multilateral organizations or are earmarked for specific projects. This includes, for example, state-building, economic development and human rights.’
Kristian Jensen adds that ‘it is widely known that the PLO pays subsidies to families of Palestinians who serve prison sentences in Israeli prisons. This is not financed by EU funding. The EU delegation has an ongoing dialogue with the Palestinian Authority on the subject to clarify the issue of payment for prisoners and ex-prisoners and to ensure that [European] aid is not used for this.'
Thus, the Authority declared in August 2014, following criticism from, among others, the American, Norwegian, British and Dutch governments, that it would separate the prisoner amounts (i.e., salaries –Ed.) from the money it [the PA] received from Western donors. That year, the Authority closed down the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs, which was paying the [salary] payments and instead created the Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs under the PLO. [The Commission] would be handling the payments to prisoners convicted of terror and their families, the PA stated. [The payments] would be made with money that did not come from Western donors. Reportedly, these funds were to come from, among others, Arab donors and the Palestinian taxpayers instead.
But the difference between the PA Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs and the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs is merely 'cosmetic', claims a new report by the Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch. PMW monitors and translates statements from the Palestinian media. [The report] will soon be released and Weekendavisen has received a copy. Should this charge be true, [Danish Foreign Minister] Kristian Jensen is wrong when he states that Danish development aid is not at any risk of going to ‘the Palestinian prisoners or their families.’
‘This is a scam worth billions,’ says PMW’s director Itamar Marcus. ‘The international community has been deceived.’
In the report, Marcus writes that the new Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs under the PLO is identical to the old Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs and that it has just been given a new name. The former minister of prisoners’ affairs, Issa Karake, is still the director [of the Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs], and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also remains in charge of the newcommission. The website remains the same as it was until 2014, when it was called the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs in the PA - now it is only equipped with a new name. The link is still called: www.freedom.ps.
The gravest discovery Itamar Marcus' media monitoring [research] institute has made in the new report, according to the NGO director, is found in documents from the Palestinian Ministry of Finance, which PMW has obtained. From his [Marcus’] report, it appears that the PA in 2014 had budgeted to spend approximately 700 million Danish kroner in support of the prisoners in Israeli jails, which the Israeli judicial system has categorized as terrorists. At the same time, PMW understands from the documents of the [PA] Ministry of Finance that the PLO budget in 2015 was increased by 150 percent (through the Palestine National Fund PNL, which finances PLO).
The year after [the PA] closed down the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs, the equivalent to 760 million Danish kroner was transferred from the PA to the PLO. As PMW writes, it is [an amount] ‘almost identical to the Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs’ budget in 2014 (700 million), plus ten percent normal growth.’ This indicates that the PA funds, much of which comes from Western countries, is simply moved from one coffer to another.
Weekendavisen has not had access to the documents from the Palestinian Ministry of Finance. It should also be noted that critics of PMW have linked the media monitoring organization to the Israeli right wing. But the organization is often quoted in Western media outlets and in the past its work led governments like the Norwegian and Dutch governments to demand a guarantee from the PA that Western aid does not go to Palestinian prisoners.
PMW has found numerous indications that the PA prisoner coffers and the PLO coffers are identical, when one senior Palestinian after another states to the press that the PA still is paying for salaries.
Thus, on January 6, 2015, the [PA] Ministry of Finance explained to the PA's official daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, that the ministry paid 47 percent of its budget to Gaza, which also included 'salaries to prisoners, to the released [prisoners] and the martyrs' families.'
On March 6, 2015, Issa Karake, the former minister for prisoners’ affairs, now the director of the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs, complained to the Ajyal radio station that PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah had not paid 'the Commission's staff in Gaza', i.e., the former prisoners who are on Karake’s payroll. In December 2015, Karake was angry again about the lack of payment from the PA to some of his prisoners. The news agency Ma'an explained on December 8, 2008, that Karake 'stressed that it is the government's responsibility to take care of them.’ According to PMW, these statements show that Karake and others still view the PA as the authority which is ultimately responsible for paying the aid [to prisoners].
Issa Karake himself responded only in brief to Weekendavisen's inquiry: "It is a problem with the government when it comes to money. But the money comes directly from the PLO, not from the government. The PLO has its own budget because the European Union and the United States were afraid to give money to terrorists – that’s how they call them. Therefore, it was divided.’
- Is the money sent by Western countries to the PA being transferred via the PLO to the prisoners?
‘Anything that concerns the financial [aspects], you should go directly to the [PA] Minister of Finance. It is one of the complicated issues. The EU and the US will not pay for the prisoners. But I refuse to talk more about the subject.’
Weekendavisen has not succeeded contacting the Palestinian Minister of Finance.
The West's discomfort
It is too early to say whether PMW’s documentation will be seen as damning or not in the EU and the United States. It will require that the countries initiate their own investigation into whether or not the PA is just moving money around.
But the international community’s agonizing paradox is easy to see. In both the EU and the US State Department offices, it must be unsettling that the Palestinian Authority pays salaries to prisoners convicted of terror, regardless of whether it can be proven that Western money is being transferred directly to them or not. The purpose of the aid funds to Palestine, which in Denmark annually amounts to a quarter of a billion Danish kroner, is not, after all, to reward people who have blown up cafes and buses, and who have killed hundreds of civilians. The Danish development aid is awarded by Danida, which in its English-language report explains that the Danish aid funds should 'support the creation of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will consist of the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security. "
Western governments want to help the more than four million Palestinians who live under harsh conditions in the Israeli-occupied territories - their hopes of living in their own viable state may not happen for a long time to come. Over the past six months, Palestinians have attacked Israeli civilians with knives and killed dozens, while over 200 have been injured. Few Western politicians will declare that these methods encourage ‘peace and security’ or bring an ‘independent, democratic, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state’ any closer. Nevertheless, the perpetrators, including those from the past six months, can expect support from Palestinian coffers if Israeli authorities have imprisoned them, and their families will be supported on a monthly basis if the perpetrators were killed by Israeli forces during their attack.
Terrorist or freedom fighter
The dilemma is about the classic distinction: In one country a man is defined as a terrorist, while in another he is regarded as a resistance fighter. Palestinian sources with whom Weekendavisen has been in touch, say that the tradition of paying prisoners who have fought against Israel's occupation goes back more than 50 years. Rayed Amer, who manages the West Bank branch of the PLO’s Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs, states: ‘It is very important not to describe these prisoners as terrorists like in the West. They are leaders of our society.’ Amer too denied that the PA finances the Palestinian prisoners and their families through the PLO.
Among Palestinians and all the way up to the Palestinian leadership, it is mainstream to consider [prisoners] in Israeli prisons convicted of terror as freedom fighters and to consider the dead as martyrs.
This is a fact that can also be inferred from a wide range of statements made to Palestinian press by senior Palestinian politicians in Mahmoud Abbas' own Fatah party. Palestinian Media Watch, PMW, quotes for example Issa Karake for the following: ‘The Europeans want their money that we receive, to remain clean – that they do not go to the families of those they claim are terrorists,’ he said to the official PA TV channel on November 4, 2013. But the prisoners ‘are heroes, self-sacrificing fighters, and fighters who have fought so that we can live with dignity,' continued the now former minister for prisoners’s affairs.
PMW has collected several other, more recent quotes in an open letter in March 2016, which the media monitoring [research] institute sent to the Danish Foreign Minister.
PMW’s open letter was prompted by an answer Kristian Jensen gave in parliament on Jan. 22, 2016. The reason was that the Danish People's Party’s foreign policy spokesman Søren Espersen had asked ‘the foreign minister to comment on the New Year's greeting, which member of Fatah's leadership, Abbas Zaki, released on Dec. 29, 2015 on official PA TV.’ Here, Zaki spoke about confronting ‘the occupation without fear.’ Zaki also spoke about the ‘sacrifices now being made by our youth with stones and knives.’ Support for them ‘is great,’ Zaki said on the PA's official TV station. Søren Espersen wanted to know if, in light of statements like this, the Danish government still perceives Fatah as a ‘moderate movement’ [the government] should work with.
In his reply, the foreign minister distanced himself from Zaki's statement, but Kristian Jensen pointed out that it was made by ‘a Fatah member residing in Lebanon, who is not considered to have spoken on behalf of Fatah, the PLO, the Palestinian Authority or the Palestinian government. The statement does not give the government any reason to reconsider the assessment of Fatah and the movement's leader, President Abbas.’
The Israeli NGO [PMW] [researched] the matter and corrected the foreign minister: Abbas Zaki is not ‘a Fatah member residing in Lebanon,’ but part of Fatah's Central Committee residing in the West Bank.
A new open letter was sent to the Danish Foreign Minister, in which PMW presented additional quotes showing that Abbas Zaki does not stand alone with his views within the Fatah party. The Israeli NGO mentions Jibril Rajoub, deputy secretary of Fatah's Central Committee, chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee and chairman of the country's football federation. On Jan. 2, 2016, on the PA's official TV station, Rajoub spoke about 17 Palestinians who were to be buried in Hebron after the Israeli authorities had handed over their bodies to the PA. According to the Israelis, the 17 had been killed while they were attacking civilians and soldiers during the current so-called Knife Intifada. Rajoub told the TV station that the 17 ‘martyrs’ are ‘a source of pride for all of us. I say that we in Fatah bless and encourage whoever carried out these individual acts of heroism.’
Another member of Fatah's Central Committee, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, who is considered close to [PA Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas, has on his Facebook page urged young Fatah members to ‘continue the attacks.’ On Nov. 16, 2015, President Abbas himself called the then escalating stabbing attacks 'a peaceful uprising.' Several other Fatah politicians have even boasted about how many of the men and women who have attacked Israeli civilians are members of Fatah.
The open letter, which PMW sent to the Danish Foreign Minister, was met with a reply that the Foreign Ministry had nothing further to add. However, to Weekendavisen, [minister] Kristian Jensen, did write that the [Danish] government ‘condemns inflammatory rhetoric, no matter who formulates it, and that is something we and the EU also say to the Palestinians. Moreover, this was also a central message when EU foreign ministers adopted conclusions on the Middle East peace process in January this year.’
More dead, more pay
The many [statements] encouraging violent uprising against the Israelis [expressed] from circles in President Abbas' own party has not prevented Western aid from flowing to the Palestinian areas. Also, nothing changed last year after the PA and the PLO were ordered to pay damages of nearly five billion Danish kroner to US victims' relatives at the district court in New York. They [the PA and the PLO] were brought to trial because of a [US] anti-terror law from the 1990s that makes it possible for an American court to conduct a case when US citizens are killed or injured in terrorist attacks outside the United States. Several US citizens have died as a result of Palestinian terrorism in Israel over the past 15 years.
During the trial in New York, which was initiated by the Israeli legal organization Shurat Hadin, it became clear that the convicted terrorists who had murdered Americans were not only employees of the PA when they carried out the attack, but that they also continued to receive public support after they had been put in Israeli jails - or that their families did, if the terrorists themselves had been killed. Weekendavisen is in possession of salary documents, which the district court in New York has declared authentic and which show the public monthly salary payments to terror convicted prisoners in Israeli prisons until 2012. It appears that the prisoners' salaries increased fourfold in less than ten years.
The amount that the PA spends on its prisoners is not small change. In 2004, the Authority drafted the circular ‘The Prisoners and Released Prisoners Law' and revised it in 2013. Here it appears that the public services (i.e., salaries –Ed.) must be given to 'all the prisoners in the occupation’s [Israel, -Ed.] prisons, whose sentence is a result of their participation in the struggle against the occupation.’ It appears from the circular that the amounts are determined, depending on how severe a punishment they have received.
The pay scale that Weekendavisen is in possession of dates back to 2013. Back then, the salary was considerable, not least in light of the fact that the average salary of a public servant in the West Bank, according to a report made by the EU Agency ETF in 2014 on the Palestinian labor market, in those years was around 3,700 [Danish] kroner a month.
In 2013, prisoners serving sentences less than five years were paid 1,700 kr. a month. Those serving between five and 10 years imprisonment: 2,300 kr. a month. Between 10 and 15 years: 3,500 a month. Between 15 and 17 years: 4,300 kr. a month. 17 to 20 years: 5,200 kr. 20 to 25 years: 6,000 kr. a month. Over 25 years: 7.000 kr. a month. Additionally, there are extra allowances for married prisoners (500 kr. a month) and for those with children under 18 (87 kr. per child a month) and for those living in East Jerusalem (500 kr. a month). In other words, a single, unmarried prisoner serving a life sentence - or a prisoner sentenced to more than 25 years in prison - in 2013 earned almost twice as much as a public employee without a criminal record received on average. Rayed Amer, head of the West Bank branch of the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs, tells Weekendavisen that now the salary has increased to 9,900 kr. a month for prisoners serving life sentences.
The American journalist Edwin Black, who investigated the payments in his book Financing the Flames from 2013, told Weekendavisen last year: ‘As soon as they had committed an act of terrorism against Israeli civilians and were in prison, they received a monthly salary that was dependent on how many people perished. The more killed, the higher the salary,’ he concluded.
Black has been summoned to both US Congress and European Parliament to speak about the issue.
In one of its reports, PMW brings a quote from June 11, 2014, in which Ahmad Assad, spokesman for Fatah, says that the now closed Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs then had the 'third highest monthly budget in the PA.’ On the PA's official TV channel, he mentioned that they used what in Danish money is equivalent to over 750 million kroner a year on the prisoners. According to the Jerusalem Post, that year the PA had a total budget of about 23 billion kroner. This means that over three percent of the PA's finances in 2014 were used to pay salaries to prisoners convicted of terror, serving sentences in Israeli prisons or to their families.
For example: According to the salary documents that Weekendavisen is in possession of, the wife of one of the militant movement Hamas' most legendary bomb-makers, Abdallah Barghouti, has received up to 450,000 kroner over the period from 2003 to 2012. The monthly salaries are put into her account in Ramallah by the Ministry of Prisoners Affairs in the Palestinian Authority.
Barghouti is behind several huge attacks, which together have claimed 67 lives and injured more than 600. They led to 67 life terms for him in Israeli prison. One of the attacks he planned took place at the Frank Sinatra cafeteria at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on July 31, 2002, in which nine people were killed and 81 wounded. Danish student Thomas Estrup was there, about 12 meters from the bomb. He was later told that it was a miracle that he survived without a scratch.
‘Nothing can justify an act such as this where innocents are killed,’ said Thomas Estrup, who today is project coordinator of Ærø Municipality. ‘People who carry out such a deed should be punished. It violates all norms and conventions if Palestinian authorities reward terrorists who took the lives of students at a university.’
That the Danish foreign minister assures that Danish money is not used directly for these payments ‘is not worth a thing,’ the former student at the Hebrew University puts it.
The international community ought to put pressure on the Palestinians to completely stop the prisoners' salaries. ‘When you come with a bag of money, it's okay to say that this sort of thing is not in order.’”
[Weekendavisen (Denmark), April 15, 2016]