Book Excerpt: Terrorism Pays

Edwin Black

This article is adapted from Chapter 11 of Edwin Black’s latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax- Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel.

For convicted Palestinians in Israeli prisons, terrorism pays. The more heinous the act of violence and the longer the sentence, the higher their salariesand the cost is subsidized by American taxpayers.

Israeli Evyatar Borovsky, 31, was a therapeutic clown with a big heart. His life mission was to inject comic diversion into those who needed it most—hospitalized children. In his pocket he always carried two puppet eyes. He'd just slip them on the fingers, show his lustrous smile, and a child would laugh. All the children, including his own five kids, adored him.

Palestinian Salam Zaghal, 21, was a jobless man who had recently spent three years in an Israeli prison for attempting to plant a bomb. His older brother, Abdulfattah, had also been in prison—but a Palestinian prison, for being an Israeli spy. Among Palestinians, "collaboration" with the Zionists is considered the worst of crimes. But after a year in jail, Palestinian authorities paroled Abdulfattah so he could return to the West Bank village of Shuka to help his poverty-stricken family.[1]

On April 30, 2013, Salam, carrying a blue plastic bag, boarded a bus to Tapuach Junction,[2] a major highway crossroads about an hour's ride from Jerusalem and a hitchhiking nexus for both Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinian day laborers and ordinary employees from the West Bank, as well high tech Israeli technocrats and office workers, all gather there to grab a ride. [3] This day, Evyatar was among them.[4]

Salam asked the bus driver to drop him off about 60 meters down the way from the intersection. He lit a cigarette and texted Abdulfattah: "My dear brother, take care of dad, mom, and my sister, and keep your head up." He then sent a second text to his family: "Forgive me in life, in death, and in the end of days."[5]

Minutes later, Salam reached into his bag, pulled out a kitchen knife almost eight inches long, and screamed, "Allahu Akbar—God is greater!" as he plunged the metal blade directly into Evyatar's stomach and then again deep into his chest. The clown with the big heart lay dying on the asphalt. Salam then grabbed Evyatar's gun, but before he could inflict more damage, was shot in the leg and rushed to an Israeli hospital. [6]

The Zaghal family expressed joy at their son's act. Surrounded by a circle of comforting villagers, Salam's elderly father Assad declared, "It was a destiny, and we take pride in him as a family. What he [Salam] did is a duty for all Palestinians living with the aggression of the army and settlers." [7]

The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the militant wing of the Fatah party, claimed full responsibility for the killing and declared it a "heroic operation…carried out by the liberated prisoner—the hero, Salam Assad Zaghal." The proclamation added that such "quality operations" were "a gift to all prisoners in the occupation prisons."[8]

At Evyatar's funeral, his widow, Tzovia, bent over her husband in lamentation. Waving five fingers, she declared, "Five orphans he left behind! Five orphans! Five orphans!"[9]

For the medical clown, engraved plaques will be laid. For the unemployed killer and his family, their money problems will be a thing of the past. Salam awaits sentencing and will subsequently enjoy a salary of thousands per year.

Terrorism has become a salient industry in the Palestinian economy, with high governmental salaries awarded to those who carry out attacks on Israelis.

Convicted terrorists are cherished as heroes in Palestinian society. They are honored every April 17 on "Prisoners Day," a national Palestinian observance. [10]

From its beginnings, the Palestinian Authority (PA), created in 1993 in conjunction with the Oslo Accords, has treated terrorists imprisoned in Israel as "employees." Palestinians who have perpetrated crimes of terror against Israeli civilians or infrastructure receive monthly payments officially and openly allocated by the PA. Two national bodies administer these salaries and other benefits: the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners Affairs, which dispenses the salaries; and the semi-official Prisoners Club, which lobbies for ever greater prisoner payments and benefits. The payments, amounting to millions of dollars each month, constitute the highest levels of personal compensation and family benefits awarded anywhere in the Palestinian Territory, often dwarfing payments to civil servants.

Salaries to prisoners follow a sliding scale based on "quality"—the more heinous the act of terrorism, and the longer the Israeli prison sentence, the higher the salary.[11] According to a 2011 report produced by the Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), an Israeli-based NGO and media watchdog group, Palestinians in detention for acts of terrorism fetch a salary of about $400/month. Prisoners incarcerated between three and five years receive about $560/monthly—more than what many ordinary West Bank workers earn. Those who are incarcerated for between five and 10 years, for having committed more serious acts receive more than $1,100/month, and so it goes with salaries set for 10-15 years, 15-20 years, 20-25 years, and 25-30 years, until the highest level of $3,400/month to terrorists sentenced to 30 years or more. [12]

When payments to prisoners are not forthcoming, during periodic financial crunches, the Prisoners Club takes action. On July 10, 2004, for example, the Prisoners Club delivered two memos to Salam Fayyad, then PA Finance Minister, demanding additional funding despite what Fayyad described as "our lack of resources." In a speech, Fayyad retorted, "We are facing a financial crisis, of which everybody is aware, but there are those that choose not to listen….The Palestinian Authority has always positioned the issue of prisoners on the top of its list of priorities." [13] Nonetheless, just four days after the memos, the PA transmitted a check of $175,000 to cover overdue Prisoners Club expenses, and did so "at a time when no ministry or PA institution received a payment," Fayyad later complained. [14]

Later that year, in December 2004, the PA codified the paying of terrorists in its Law of Prisoners, also known as Resolution 2004/19, narrowing the definition of a salaried prisoner to "Anyone imprisoned in the occupation's [Israel's] prisons as a result of his participation in the struggle against the occupation,"[15] thereby differentiating those considered as national heroes, by virtue of their attacks, from common criminals.

Six years later, in 2010, the PA enacted additional prisoner regulations, resolutions, policies, and special benefits, which were published on April 13, 2011 in Volume 90 of Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the official gazette of the Palestinian Authority.[16] Palestinian Media Watch then began scrutinizing, digesting, translating, and publishing the Al-Hayat Al-Jadida references pertaining to prisoner benefits, including the following:

Government Resolution #19: "A released prisoner will be exempt from tuition fees at government schools and universities if he served a period of five years or more in prison….These prisoners are entitled to transfer the exemption to one of their children, or to their spouse….A prisoner's children will be exempt from 80 percent of university tuition fees if the prisoner was sentenced to at least 20 years and has been in prison for at least five years. Children of female prisoners will be exempt from 80 percent of university tuition fees if the prisoner was sentenced to at least 10 years, and has served at least three years."[17]

Government Resolution #21: "Every prisoner will be paid a uniform sum linked to the cost of living index, as a monthly expenditure. Additionally, every prisoner will be paid a uniform sum of 400 [Israeli] shekels for clothing. The sum will be paid twice a year, and will be added to the prisoner's salary." [18]

Government Resolution #23: "Every prisoner will be granted a monthly salary, to be paid to him or to his family, on condition that he does not receive a salary from a [different] governmental or semi-governmental body or official institution….The salary will be paid to the prisoner from the date of his arrest, and a special supplement will be paid to prisoners from Jerusalem and from the Interior [i.e., Israeli Arabs]; a spousal supplement will be paid, and a special supplement for children up to the age of 18.[19]

All references to salaries use the Arabic word "ratib," the same word utilized by official Palestinian budget documents to describe the regular compensation granted its civil servants and other employees.[20]

The 2011 Palestinian Media Watch reports triggered reactions in the United Kingdom and Norway, both major donor countries to the PA. Citing PMW's disclosures, British MP Robert Halfon wrote to Britain's Foreign Office and its Department for International Development demanding answers as to whether or not taxpayer money was being utilized for terrorist salaries. International Development Minister Alan Duncan defended the expenditures, saying, "The PA operates two social assistance programs to provide welfare payments to households who have lost their main breadwinner…dependent spouses or children should not be held responsible for the crimes of family members, or forced to live in poverty as a consequence." [21] Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide justified the PA payments to his parliament by explaining that they were merely family welfare stipends.[22]

The United States has also continued to finance imprisoned Palestinian terrorists, even though on September 23, 2001—just 12 days after 9/11—President George W. Bush issued an executive order prohibiting the support of any organizations or individuals designated as terrorists.

Long before 9/11, several elaborate "vetting procedures" attached to various forms of budgetary financial assistance to the PA had been written into U.S. laws, but these had not stopped the payments through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). In 2006 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on this situation titled "Recent Improvements Made, but USAID Should Do More to Help Ensure Aid Is Not Provided for Terrorist Activities in West Bank and Gaza." Calling for greater scrutiny and vetting, [23] the report concluded, "The timing of the…financial audits and certain other issues limited their usefulness to the mission for determining whether awardees had complied with the antiterrorism requirements….Until recently, the mission's vetting of individuals associated with awardees was limited by the mission's decision not to collect certain identifying information for key individuals." [24] A subsequent 2009 GAO report titled "Measures to Prevent Inadvertent Payments to Terrorists under Palestinian Aid Programs Have Been Strengthened, But Some Weaknesses Remain" explained that the GAO found incomplete compliance with even minimal paperwork requirements for vetting procedures.[25] Most tellingly, it made no reference to either a Ministry of Prisoners Affairs or the Prisoners Club.

More recently, a GAO official who spoke on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak to the press, asserted, "Following the 2009 report, we were confident that the agencies made the changes we asked them to make. As of 2012, we closed our recommendations as implemented."[26]

As a cautionary move to make sure payments from donor nations would continue, in December 2012 the PA began replacing its term ratib—Arabic for "salary"—with words connoting "social welfare," asserting that the recipients of payment were actually the prisoners' wives and children—not the prisoners themselves.

Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Affairs Issa Karake and Prisoners Club chairman Qadura Fares took umbrage at the PA's change of language. On December 27, 2012, WAFA, the official Palestinian Authority news agency, reported that "Karake denies rumors about changing salaries [rawatib is used] into social assistance," adding that, according to Karake, the PA had recognized that "the prisoners' cause is central, and has authorized regulations to support and protect them out of esteem for their sacrifice and struggle."

In fact, the moneys are not paid to families for humanitarian purposes, but as salaries to individual prisoners. The mechanism of payment involves a wakil—that is, a power of attorney. The Palestinian Law of Prisoners makes clear that the prisoner himself decides who will have the power of attorney to receive and administer the salary in his place (Regulation #18, paragraph 1).[27] Paragraph 5 states: "If the prisoner is married, his wife will be his authorized agent," but the law provides personalized exemption language, specifying, "Unless the prisoner appoints someone else instead of her." The text goes on: "If the prisoner is not married, one of his parents will be the authorized agent. The prisoner determines which one of them or any other person [will be the authorized agent] in the event of a dispute." [28]

Nor is compensation based on family need. Nearly two thirds of current prisoners are unmarried without children and not the head of households, according to a Ministry of Prisoners summary reported by the al-Quds newspaper on January 3, 2010.[29] Payment is gauged strictly on the severity of the Israeli prison sentence.

The Palestinian tax code also specifies that prisoners will pay "income taxes" and typical "income tax withholding" because their PA monies are considered ordinary salary. On June 19, 2011, the official Palestinian Authority gazette Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported: "The tax rate is graduated, reaching at most only 10 percent of prisoners' salaries."

Another piece to this startling puzzle is the reality that, sometimes sooner rather than later, Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons will come home to a hero's welcome.

Because prisoner releases have become a bargaining chip in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations efforts, Palestinian prisoners can be viewed as diplo-economic currency. The 1994 Agreement on Gaza Strip and Jericho Area, for example, included this stipulation: "Upon the signing of this Agreement, Israel will release, or turn over, to the Palestinian Authority within a period of 5 weeks, about 5,000 Palestinian detainees and prisoners, residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Those released will be free to return to their homes anywhere in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Prisoners turned over to the Palestinian Authority shall be obliged to remain in the Gaza Strip or the Jericho Area for the remainder of their sentence." [30]

In 2011, the ransom for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit required the release of 1,027 terrorists, including numerous murderers of innocent civilians. In 2013, Israel agreed to Palestinian demands to release 104 security prisoners, many with blood on their hands, in exchange for a resumption of peace talks.

This periodic political ritual heightens the grief of many Israeli victim families, whose protests are held in Israel's public squares and posted to the Internet, to no avail.[31]

That is why, in a court hearing, Tzovia Borovsky said of her husband Evyatar's killer: "It is really useless to put him in jail, when one takes into account that he will be released in one swap or another….The continued court proceedings and jailing of the murderer until the next release of murderers, which will take place sooner or later, creates a false impression of justice, when the reality is that of a circus." [32]

In Palestinian society, becoming a terrorist offers a good wage sponsored by foreign-country taxes, plus a nice pension, good family benefits, local celebrity, and the seemingly sure prospect of early release to a local fireworks reception as soon as politics make it "your turn."

And the system works because of ample outside funding from Western governments, including our own.


Editors’ Postscript

Reform Judaism magazine was first to break this story in its November 2013 online edition, hours after the release of author Edwin Black’s new book, Financing the Flames, from which the article is adapted. (To receive future notifications of breaking, exclusive RJ magazine content, email a request to

Legislators in the U.S. and Europe have responded to the revelations by calling for immediate action to end or curtail aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Representative James Gerlach (Pennsylvania) wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry: “U.S. foreign aid...must not be used by the PA directly or indirectly to compensate convicted terrorists and/or their families.” The Dutch parliament passed a resolution calling upon the “government in its bilateral contacts with the Palestinian Authority to demand it stop its support, as it can be interpreted as encouragement for crime.” Four Norwegian parties, on the eve of winning the nation’s elections, issued a statement saying they “find it unacceptable that Norwegian money goes directly or indirectly to fund financial aid for terrorists.” In Denmark, MP Soren Espersen demanded of Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal: “What will [you] do to ensure us that our money is spent on [the intended] purpose, and not on terrorists?” In the Swedish parliament, a bill calling for “suspending aid to the PA” was introduced but defeated.

As international awareness of the PA’s rewarding of terrorists with foreign contributions mounts, additional governments and bodies are sounding the alarm. Black appeared before the European Parliament, the Israeli Knesset, and the United Kingdom House of Commons this past February.

Investigative journalist Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust (for which he received the American Society of Journalists and Authors' Best Book of the Year award), War Against the Weak (for which he received the World Affairs Council's International Human Rights Award), and The Transfer Agreement (for which he received the Carl Sandburg and two Folio awards), among other books. His articles are syndicated worldwide by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post Syndicate, JTA, and Feature Group News Service. This article is adapted from Chapter 11 of his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax- Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel, Dialog Press, October 2013.



[3] Joshua 12:17. Efrat Forsher, "Father of Five Killed in Terror Attack at Tapuach Junction," Israel Hayom, Apr 30, 2013, (8/26/2013). See Joshua Mitnick, "Mixed Signs on West Bank after Spike in Violence," Jewish Week, Dec 30, 2009, (8/26/2013). Tapuach Junction, author's photo.

[5] "Palestinian Family Says Son who Stabbed Israeli 'Did his Duty.'" "Settler Stabbed to Death near Nablus." "Tapuach Junction Murder," Reporter's Notebook, April-August, 2013.

[6] Hartman, Lappin, and Lazaroff, "Israeli Man Killed." "Evening News."

[10] Akiva Eldar, "Abbas Should Change his Locks before Next Wave of Palestinian Prisoners Freed," Ha'aretz, Dec. 6, 2011, (8/22/2013). Israel Prison Service, "Report," June 2008, (8/22/2013). "Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories," Amnesty International, May 24, 2013, (8/13/2013). Christa Case Bryant, "Palestinian Prisoners' Day: Breaking Down the Controversy," CS Monitor, Apr 18, 2013, (8/22/2013). "Palestinians Mark Prisoners Day," Al-J English, Apr 17, 2013, (8/22/2013). See Philip Jacobson, "Two Faces of Freedom," Daily Mail, Oct 19, 2011, (8/22/2013). See Charles Levinson, "Israel Allows Journalists to Tour Ofer Prison," WSJ, Apr 16, 2013, (8/22/2013). See Linda Gradstein, "What's Daily Life Like for Palestinians in Israeli Prisons?," JTA, Dec 18, 2012, (8/22/2013).

[11] Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, "PA to Pay Salaries to All Terrorists in Israeli Prisons," PMW, May 20, 2011, (8/22/2013).

[12] Marcus and Zilberdik, "PA to Pay Salaries."

[13] Salem Fayyad, "A Settlement for the Prisoners," Jerusalem Times, Jul 22, 2004, via PALDEV archives.

[14] Fayyad, "A Settlement."

[15] Issa Qaraka, Interviews and notes, Reporter's Notebook, April - August 2013. "Prisoners Act," Prisoners' Centre for Studies (al-Asra), Aug 25, 2006, (8/23/2013), Google translation.

[16] Markus and Zilberdik, "PA to Pay Salaries."

[17] Markus and Zilberdik, "PA to Pay Salaries."

[18] Markus and Zilberdik, "PA to Pay Salaries."

[19] Markus and Zilberdik, "PA to Pay Salaries."

[20] Markus and Zilberdik, "PA to Pay Salaries." 2. Markus and Zilberdik, "Special Report to Members of British Parliament," PMW, Oct 30, 2011, (8/22/2013)

[21] Jonny Paul, "Palestinian Prisoners Are Handed Millions in British Aid with Some Being Paid More Than Average UK Worker," Daily Mail, Oct 28, 2012, (8.18.2013). Sahar Zivan, "UK Money Pays for Palestinians Jailed in Israel," JChron, Oct 18, 2012, (8/19/2013). Maya Shwayder, "Salaries for Suicide Bombers: Western States Unwittingly Fund Terrorist Activities in Palestine, Says Report," International Business Times, Feb 14, 2013, (8/19/2013).

[22] Markus and Zilberdik, "Special Report to Members of British Parliament," PMW, Oct 30, 2012, (8/24/2013). Marcus and Zilberdik, "Debate in Norway Continues over PMW Reports on PA Salaries to Terrorists," PMW, Apr 2, 2013, (8/24/2013). Douglas Murray, "Palestinian Terrorists on the Payroll," WSJ, Oct 25, 2012, (8/24/2013). See also "Israel/Palestinian Authority," House of Commons Debates, Feb 26, 2013, (8/24/2013), cols. 51WH-58WH.

[24] Foreign Assistance: Recent Improvements Made, 12, 14, 23.

[26] Foreign Assistance: Measures to Prevent Inadvertent Payments to Terrorists. "GAO," Reporter's Notebook, April - August 2013.

[27] Marcus and Zilberdik, "Special Report to Members of British Parliament."

[28] Marcus and Zilberdik, "Special Report to Members of British Parliament."

[29] Marcus and Zilberdik, "Special Report to Members of British Parliament."