Accountability and Consequences: the Taylor Force Act

Over many years Presbyterian General Assemblies have been asked to pass resolutions calling for U.S. financial aid to Israel to be contingent on Israel’s human rights policies and military practices in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The same logic has not been applied to the Palestinian governments of Gaza and the West Bank. Indeed, those governments have policies that actually provide cash compensation to the families of Palestinians who commit acts of violence against Israelis.

On March 8, 2016, a 21-year-old West Bank Palestinian man, Bashar Massalha, killed an American tourist, and United States Army veteran, Taylor Force in a stabbing spree in Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv, Israel. The attacker was shot dead by the police after a chase along the beach promenade. The attack was part of the Palestinian “knife intifada” campaign, a “youth uprising” that received a “statement of solidarity” from leadership of the international Israel-targeted Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Movement, a malicious movement that is sadly being supported and promoted by some within the PC(USA).

Had Mr. Massalha survived after murdering Taylor Force, he would have begun receiving monthly income from a Palestinian compensation program for Palestinians who commit such acts. Because he was killed by police, his family became eligible for such payments from the Palestinian Authority Martyr's Fund. The size of the payments increase based on the severity of the crime, with acts of murder receiving the highest payments, which are a multiple of the average Palestinian family’s income.

It is estimated that as much as $300 million dollars is spent annually on this program. As the Palestinian Authority is funded by members of the international community, including the United States as a major sponsor, international donations are being used to fund this program. A bill currently moving through Congress, the Taylor Force Act, will make U.S. financial support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) contingent on ending this “payment for murder” program. Will the PC(USA) support this action going through Congress in the same way church officials have supported legislation aimed at stopping alleged human rights abuses by Israel’s government?

The majority of direct and indirect Palestinian funding in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank comes from the United States and Western Europe, with Saudi Arabia the largest Middle East donor. Palestinian leadership in both Gaza and the West Bank behave as if their actions and words will have no consequences with respect to this financial support, because, for too long, this has in fact been the case. The Palestinian Gaza dictatorship, Hamas, is routinely cited for human rights abuses by groups such as Human Rights Watch. The Gaza government remains consumed by a poisonous obsession to destroy Israel, even as it has created misery and despair for the civilian population of Gaza, who live with only a few hours of electricity per day and a crumbling infrastructure. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank sends mixed signals, officially claiming to support peace through a two-state solution, while at the same time engaging in incitement and compensating Palestinians who murder Israelis through the Palestinian Authority Martyr’s Fund.

As a condition for financial support provided, it is fair and just for the United States to expect both Israeli and Palestinian leadership to work toward peace through coexistence. It is also fair for the additional major Palestinian sponsors to hold Palestinian leadership accountable for the financial support they provide. To the extent either party engages in conduct that works against peace, they must be made aware that such conduct will have consequences and could lead to reductions in support.

Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank deserve a chance to choose new leadership in genuinely free elections. They need new leadership committed to advancing the welfare and dignity of the Palestinian people rather than obsessively trying to destroy Israel. There is no reason the PC(USA) should defend a program that pays Palestinians to murder innocent people and become “martyrs.” This is an outrageous practice that violates our most precious Christian principles and remaining silent is not an option.