International Affairs

Palestinian family support amounts to social safety net

Collective punishment is perhaps one of the most important areas of international humanitarian law. Countries have generally attempted to guarantee that warring parties refrain from using it to accomplish political or other results. One of the most important developments to come from the second world war was a set of agreements among the international community that called for curtailing some of the most egregious violations.

The International Committee for the Red Cross has been the leading body in enforcement of the law and ensuring that it is respected and that countries at war or in conflict abide by minimal moral standards. A search of the ICRC website produces a series of Israeli references that speak clearly and forcefully against collective punishment. Israel’s 1998 Manual on the Laws of War states that “collective punishment” of prisoners of war is absolutely forbidden.

{mosads}Israel’s Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) states, “The disciplinary and punishment rules applicable in the army of the imprisoning country will also apply to the prisoners-of-war. Group punishments … are absolutely forbidden.”


In a 2008 briefing to the Diplomatic Corps on Israel’s operations in Gaza, Israel’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that what he called “collective punishment” went against Israel’s values and justice system.

In a 2009 report on Israeli operations in Gaza between Dec. 27, 2008 and Jan. 18, 2009 (the “Gaza Operation,” also known as “Operation Cast Lead”), Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “Collective punishment is forbidden.”

Yet despite all of these public statements, Israel, and by extension the United States, are demanding that the Palestinian government practice collective punishment against their own people. After this month’s meeting between Presidents Abbas and President Trump, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated the Israeli demand that the Palestinian government stop paying the families of terrorists, saying that Trump had “raised concerns about the payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have committed acts of terror and to their families.”

Unlike the Israeli claims, the “social stipend” is not given to terrorists. It is given to Palestinian families whose breadwinner is killed or incarcerated. It is not a reward for acts of terror, but a natural act of social support that is provided to all Palestinian families. Families of widows, orphans and the disabled all get a stipend to pay for necessary food and housing. 

That social net is provided to individuals from all factions and even to families of confessed Israeli spies or traitors to the Palestinian cause. This is not a political gift for killing Israelis but a humanitarian act of social cohesion that every country provides for its poor. Netanyahu’s claim to Fox’s Sean Hannity that the more Jews a Palestinian kills, the more money they will get, is completely incorrect.

That social safety net is something Israel itself does for all its citizens, including families of convicted criminals as well as those accused by Israel of acts of terror, whether Arab or Jews. The family of Yigal Amir, who killed former Israeli Prime Minister Yitshaq Rabin, continue to get the monthly stipend.

Netanyahu even killed one recent effort to kill the policy. It died as part of a broader eight-point anti-terror plan, which was submitted to the Israeli Knesset in November 2014 at Netanyahu’s behest. Item six called on the department of social affairs to stop giving stipends to prisoners’ families and to prisoners after their release.

Ending the practice in Palestine would amount to a collective punishment for innocent families, who are often also citizens and residents of Israel, even as Netanyahu’s own Likud Party killed the proposal to end that same practice in Israel.

The U.S. and the Trump administration should have nothing to do with the proposal. Demanding that Palestinians collectively punish their own people will exacerbate an already tense political situation.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one about land, borders and security. Muddling up the discussions with issues that are not connected directly to the conflict make little sense. What is worse is that putting pressure on Americans to violate their own values by imposing collective punishment on innocent families makes absolutely no sense. Such diversionary tactics should be rejected, rather than adopted, by the White House and by the Trump administration more broadly.

Daoud Kuttab (@DaoudKuttab) is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and columnist for Almonitor. He was previously a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

International Affairs