The Guardian recently reported that the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has removed an eight-month-old baby from a list of people killed by the Israel Defence Forces on the Gaza border last week. Baby Leila al-Ghandour had reportedly died from inhaling tear gas used to disperse the Palestinian crowds at the border on 14 May. However, it was later found that she had multiple pre-existing health conditions, including congenital heart disease, putting in dispute the notion that the actions of Israeli forces caused her death. This revelation caused Hamas to tell the Guardian that she was not ‘listed among the martyrs’ from the events of the previous week. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority use the word ‘martyr’ to refer to an individual who has died either in carrying out terrorism or in conflict with Israel.
The notion that parents would take their unwell infant into such an environment, where fellow protestors were carrying knives and molotov cocktails designed to wage violence, is unthinkable. However, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s monetary incentives for ‘martyrs’ in acts of violence against Israel has sadly driven parents from both Gaza and the West Bank to willingly seek out death for their children.
In the ongoing border protests between Israel and Gaza, Hamas has been paying compensation of 3000 dollars – a big sum of money for many impoverished Gazans – to the families of those killed by Israeli fire. The injured, Hamas officials said, would also receive anything between 200 and 500 dollars in compensation for their role in the protests.
Providing payment as a direct reward for death perverts the sanctity of human life and the role of the ruling parties of the Palestinians. Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority receive millions of dollars of international aid from various sources for the direct amelioration of the evidently challenging livelihood of the Palestinians. Instead, a large proportion of this money is directly used to encourage an end to the lives of many young adults, teenagers and children. Wesal Sheikh Khalil (14) was one such teenager who was driven to death last week on the border fence in Gaza. Her mother explained how ‘she prayed she would be martyred’ because she knew she would be less of a burden to her family, who are very poor.
The Palestinian Authority, ruling over areas of the West Bank, is able to pay even more to the families of ‘martyred’ terrorists. In 2011, the Palestinian Authority paid terrorists and their families more than 347 million dollars in total, with monthly salaries. While the U.S. Congress passed a bill to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority until this practice stops, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas says he does not intend to cease payments any time soon.
The culture of death which prevails in areas under Palestinian control is of course most damaging to Palestinians themselves, whose lives are reduced to paycheques by terrorist entities seeking to maximise on casualties and desperation among the population. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is incredibly complex and challenging. The high Palestinian death toll, especially when Hamas-led conflicts arise in Gaza, is particularly harrowing to the international community. In order for it to stop, we need to challenge the monetary incentives driving death under the banner of ‘martyrdom’.