Palestinians are both scared and skeptical of the prospect of Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman going through with his threat to seize money from the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Palestinian National Fund (PNF), which delivers money to the families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed or injured by Israel under political circumstances.
Liberman on Thursday denounced the fund as a terrorist organization using Article 3 of the Israeli 2016 Fight Against Terrorism Law.
According to Liberman, the funds provide “massive support” to terrorism against Israel.
“The decision to declare the fund a terrorist organization stems from its continuing and ongoing activity in providing massive support for elements responsible for committing severe acts of terrorism against Israel,” a Defense Ministry spokesperson said in a statement.
“The fund serves – inter alia – as a significant financial pipeline for tens of millions of shekels that are transferred on a monthly basis to security prisoners held in Israel for committing acts of terrorism and to members of their families. In effect, the longer the sentence, the greater the payments to the prisoner and his family,” the spokesperson added.
Palestinians find the statement ironic, because on average families estimated that around three-fourths of the money sent to them is given to their loved ones in prison, who spend the money on commissary items within Israeli government prisons, essentially meaning the money is funneled into the Israeli government.
In the Defense Ministry’s statement, that fact was acknowledged.
“The fund has a vital role in the financial support for Palestinian terrorist operatives imprisoned in Israel, and it is used as the most significant route for transferring funds,” the statement read, meaning most of the money Palestinians have to spend within the prison on Israeli goods comes from the PNF.
Ahmad Riziq, head of the Counseling Department at the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), told Mondoweiss that prices within the Israeli prisoners are highly inflated, since the prisoners are a captive market.
The PNF has been under fire for the last several years. In 2014, the program was transferred from being a PA body, to a PLO body, due to pressure from the international community, which funds much of the PA, and did not want money being sent to the PA to go toward the fund.
The change was really just a way to get around the criticism, as during the move from being a body subordinate to the PA to one under the PLO, nothing about the fund’s function changed.
Fed up with the fund and the aesthetics of Palestinians being paid after committing crimes under Israeli law, Liberman has promised that under the new terrorist designation, “necessary steps will be taken…to seize and forfeit” the money in the fund.
However Riziq and Palestinians are skeptical, not just because so much of the money goes toward Israeli goods inside prisons, but also because most of the money going into the fund is provided by other Arab countries.
“This isn’t money coming from the U.S. or Europe,” Riziq said. “This is money coming from Arab countries, so even if Israel truly wanted to stop the funds from coming through, they would have a hard time doing so.”
Ashraf Abu Srour, a Palestinian prisoner from Aida refugee camp in the occupied West Bank has spent 15 years in jail, serving a life sentence for shooting dead an Israeli soldier.
Ashraf’s uncle told Mondoweiss that Israeli prison is run like a business in respect to the commissaries.
“The Israeli government is running the prisons like a company,” the uncle said. “Cigarettes, food, clothes, blankets, everything they need they buy from Israel because they don’t have much choice otherwise and they aren’t normal prices, everything is very expensive in prison.”
“Even medical care — Ashraf had his teeth smashed in, they destroyed his teeth and it was like two months salary to fix his teeth, which the Israeli guards broke,” he said.
Ashraf’s uncle said the family probably would not have been able to afford the medical care if not for they money provided through the PNF.
While Ashraf’s wife, Izdihar Abu Srour, has two teenage boys at home, the majority of the money sent to her from the PLO fund goes to her husband in jail.
“My sons work and my family helps support us and we take a little bit of money from the money sent to us [from the PNF], but for the most part, most of the money goes to Ashraf,” Izdihar told Mondoweiss, “he buys books and clothes and cigarettes and whatever else he needs to try and be more comfortable in prison because things are so expensive inside.”
Izdihar said that if the PNF money were seized and the payments stopped coming through, it would be “disastrous.”
“We use a little of that money, and Ashraf needs that money to live,” Izdihar said. “I didn’t study, I don’t work, I have no skills, I couldn’t support us on my own.”
Nida Raja Abu Akir, 24, was married for two years before her husband, Mohammed Saleh Abu Srour was arrested for allegedly throwing rocks at Israeli forces during clashes, according to his wife.
Nida and Mohammed were both students at a local university, but Nida dropped out when her husband was arrested because she could no longer afford her tuition and rent without her husband’s salary.
The PNF sends the couple around 2,000 NIS a month ($550), most of which is sent to Mohammed to live off of in prison.
“To be honest, I can’t imagine how we would live without the salary we are sent, because without it our family would have to provide for him and we would all suffer a lot,” she said.
In 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that the amount of money sent to Palestinians from the PNF be deducted from the tax revenues sent from Israel to the Palestinian Authority in an attempt to stop PNF payments.
The Government Press Office said in a statement at the time that “Israel believes that the encouragement of terrorism by the Palestinian leadership – in the form of both incitement and payments to terrorists and their families – constitutes incentive for murder.”
Nida said the notion that Palestinians were carrying out attack or political actions deemed illegal by Israel because they hoped to get money from the PNF was laughable.
“This idea that people would do things to go to prison so that their family can receive money from the fund is stupid,” Nida told Mondoweiss, pointing out that most of the money goes towards normal life needs in prison, such as personal hygiene products, clothes, food and cigarettes.
Ashraf’s uncle said deducing what he called “resistance actions” to an issue of money was to belittle the Palestinian cause.
“If you’re living in prison, or dead, money is nothing,” he said. “Palestinians fight for freedom, not for money.”
Riziq also told Mondoweiss that it is important to note that the PNF fund also pays for prisoners to study within Israeli prisons, where they are offered a chance to receive higher education degrees through Israel’s Hebrew University. The fund also pays for former prisoners to study in university or trade school after they are released and pays for courses for former prisoners to study for their drivers license, get counseling and other medical care.
Mayzuna Abu Srour, 75, and a distant relative of Ashraf mentioned earlier, told Mondoweiss that through the fund her son, Nassir Abu Srour studied through Hebrew University while inside prison and received a Bachelors and Masters degree.
Nassir has been serving a life sentence in Israeli prison for the past 25 years for shooting and killing an Israeli officer in 1993.
“Without that money no way could Nassir have studied the way he has, we couldn’t have afforded it,” Mayzuna told Mondoweiss.
For the first three years that Nassir was imprisoned by Israel, the family was not provided with funds from the PNF, which took a huge toll on the family.
“At the time we had to pay for his lawyer, for his clothes, for everything, it was very hard,” she said.
“Inside the jail a small bottle of olive oil is 50 shekels ($13), more than double from outside the prison,” she said. “I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have that money, I don’t want to think about it, I just hope for his release.”