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How Much Is a Dead Jew Worth?

A new book shows that a ‘reformed’ and ‘revitalized’ Palestinian Authority would still teach and pay for the murder of Jews

Gadi Taub
April 04, 2024
Herzl’s Children
Gadi Taub reports on the two ongoing wars that will shape Israel's future: the military and diplomatic conflict between Israel and her enemies, and the struggle between Israel's Western-oriented elites and her democratic institutions.
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Photos of victims at the Nova festival site in Re'im, Jan. 3, 2024

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

This article is part of Hamas’ War on Israel.
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Lital Shemesh, a TV news anchor on Israel’s Channel 14, knows terror almost first hand. Last August, her life was suddenly transformed. “I was at home when messages about two murder victims began circulating on the WhatsApp groups of media people,” Shemesh recounts in her new book (in Hebrew). “Shockingly, the Palestinians on the ground snapped photos of the ID cards of the victims, and those pictures were also widely circulated. That is how, on the sofa in my living room, I suddenly saw the beloved faces of my uncle, Silas, and his son Aviad. A terrorist arrived at the workshop where they were having their car repaired, shot them at close range and murdered them.” The next day, Shemesh continues, another terrorist murdered her kindergarten teacher.

The title of the book poses the question: How Much Is a Dead Jew Worth? It is not only a political, but also an accounting question, with an approximate numerical answer: The Palestinian Authority compensates the families of terrorists on a monthly basis, in proportion to the amount of harm they inflict on Jews. As Shemesh explains, the sum is calculated by the intermediary variable—the length of their prison sentence.

The salaries are paid so long as the perpetrator is held in jail, and stop when they’re freed, which is why one terrorist released in last November’s round of hostage exchanges with Hamas asked to remain in jail. (Israel refused.) Those who are killed while committing terror attacks gain "shahid" (martyr) status and their families receive stipends for life.

This commitment to terrorists’ families conveys a clear message: Killing Jews is not just a religious calling that can grant you the status of "shahid" and guarantee you a place in heaven with 72 virgins; it is not only an ideological and political mission in the war to ethnically cleanse the land of Israel from Jewish presence. It is also a way to make a living, and the basis of the PA’s welfare state.

The PA, the White House maintains, is a crucial partner in the fight against terrorism—the same PA that, in reality, glorifies and incentivizes terrorism.

The official minimum wage in the PA is 1,450 shekels (NIS), almost $400, per month. The average wage is 2,987 NIS ($800). As Shemesh lays out, you can get the minimum wage for lesser crimes that could also land you up to three years in prison. But if you’re looking for a more comfortable life for your family, you have to do more harm to Jews. If you get 10 years, you make four times the minimum wage, and twice the average wage. If you get upwards of 30 years, it doubles to eight times the minimum and four times the average wage. While Israelis dream of higher salaries in the high-tech sector, Shemesh comments sarcastically, the Palestinians aspire to higher wages in the terrorism sector.

Pay-for-slay is a huge financial burden on the PA, which spends 7% of its budget on the scheme. Nevertheless, according to the PA’s own testimony, these payments are also the most important item in the budget, and any attempt by foreign countries and organizations to condition aid on the discontinuation of pay-for-slay, would be futile. As PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas put it in 2018:

By Allah, even if we have only a penny left it will only be spent on the families of the Martyrs and the prisoners, and only afterwards will it be spent on the rest of the people. This is a group that we appreciate and respect, and we consider it the one paving the way to Palestine’s independence for the future generations. … We view the Martyrs and prisoners as stars in the sky of the Palestinian people …

The pay-for-slay program, as Shemesh documents, is just one thread in the whole fabric of Palestinian national culture that has woven the idea of jihad against the Jews into all aspects of life. Terrorists dominate the gallery of national heroes to the exclusion of all others. Streets, squares, schools, institutions, and even sporting events are named after them. They are a ubiquitous presence, and, in truth, they are essentially the only role model for Palestinian youth.

Schools are a critical part of the socialization of Palestinian children into this culture. Not only do Palestinian school books contain direct incitement in the form of explicit murderous antisemitic ideology, but also every subject, including grammar and math, drills the same message into children’s brains. Take the following exam questions that Shemesh cites (p. 20):

“Hamas shoots a rocket which weighs 50 kilos in the direction of occupied Tel Rabia [Tel Aviv], which is 90.25 kilometers away. What speed does it need to fly, what would be the maximum height, and how long will it take it get there?”


“Two people are carrying on their shoulders a coffin weighing 200 Newton in the funeral of a martyr weighing 800 Newton.” The students are asked to calculate the strength the two men would need.

In a grammar exercise, students are asked to apply Arabic diacritics to this sentence: “Don’t think of the occupier as human.” (p. 26)

In other words, the cult of death reigns everywhere you turn. Regardless of how much well-meaning Israelis tried desperately to imagine otherwise over the years, the Palestinian national ethos is built around a genocidal war to ethnically cleanse Palestine, from the river to the sea, of Jewish presence.

Our security establishment, Shemesh concludes, clings to the argument that the PA is at least better than any alternative, and so we do not hold it fully accountable. We’ve become accustomed to the PA’s encouragement of terrorism and learned to just bite our lips.

After Oct. 7, this is no longer a viable position. I recently interviewed Itamar Marcus, founder of Palestinian Media Watch, the NGO that has exposed the pay-for-slay program. He said Oct. 7 was not the result of Hamas indoctrination, but the product of PA indoctrination. For one, Hamas hasn’t been at it for very long. Its rule in Gaza is only 17 years old. The PA on the other hand has been around for three decades, and to this day, both in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian children are still being instructed in books produced by the PA. These PA-produced and regulated books ceaselessly pump into young minds the poison of the same death cult—of suicide and genocide—that animates the pay-for-slay program. These books planted the ideological seeds, Marcus said, which bore the poisoned fruits that Hamas reaped on Oct. 7. They provided the breeding ground that produced the hate that fuels support for Hamas.

PA salaries for terrorists based on the length of their prison sentence. 1 NIS = 0.27 USD
PA salaries for terrorists based on the length of their prison sentence. 1 NIS = 0.27 USD

Source: Lital Shemesh, How Much Is a Dead Jew Worth? p. 60. Translation by the author.

Shemesh also cites sources, such as Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who concur that PA indoctrination is a greater source than Hamas of this genocidal hate. The idea that the way forward in Gaza is for Hamas to be replaced by the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority—which would somehow be “revitalized,” and then sign a peace deal with Israel—is therefore a risible exercise in wishful thinking.

The Oslo process, and the so-called two-state solution which it was supposed to produce, was always premised on the idea that Israel would arm a Palestinian police force under the PA, and then outsource Israel’s security to it. The test of its success was supposed to be the suppression of terrorism. The result was simply more terrorism.

Regardless of this bloody track record, the White House and the State Department, along with pro-Democratic Party Israeli think tanks, former IDF generals nurtured on a woke ideological diet in American universities, and the Israeli press, are careful to maintain a conceptual barrier between Hamas as a terror organization, and the PA. The latter, they maintain, is a crucial partner in the fight against terrorism—the same PA that, in reality, glorifies and incentivizes terrorism.

By now, moreover, we know that PA security forces personnel are directly involved in terror attacks. In fact, even as the press in Israel and in the West tries to ignore it, PA officials brag about their complicity in terrorism in Arabic to their own people. They cannot stand to lose their competition with Hamas in the national Jew-killing contest.

A Palestinian Media Watch report published in February, titled “Terrorists in Uniform,” quoted a PA spokesperson bragging that “roughly 63-65% of the number of Martyrs in the West Bank … are members of the Fatah Movement. And most of them are members of the [PA] Security Forces or their sons.” The police forces Israel armed and the U.S. military trains are active participants in the terror they were supposed to stop. Using the guns we gave them to stop terror, they instead kill Jews—in the process securing the livelihoods of their families.

According to another report released by the Israeli NGO Regavim Movement titled “Officers by Day Terrorists by Night,” a spokesman for the PA security apparatus says there are more than 300 security servicemen in Israeli prisons, and that in the last three decades 2,000 additional members of these forces fell as “martyrs” in the struggle against Israel—that is, died while committing terrorism. The report itself, which is limited to the period from 2020 through 2024, was able to identify positively, using open sources, only 78 PA security servicemen, 46 of whom died while committing terror attacks and are therefore considered martyrs. The full data is difficult to collect. The IDF refuses to release numbers because it is invested in its traditional pro-PA stance, while the PA likely inflates the numbers. But this in itself should tell us all we need to know: While its defenders in the West bend over backward to describe the PA as a partner against terrorism and a force of peace and moderation, the PA itself showcases and even aggrandizes its own complicity in terrorism, because this is how it expects to secure its legitimacy in the eyes of its own people. And if Palestinian polls are to be believed—that more than 70% of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria support the Oct. 7 massacre—then, by showboating, the PA is acting in accordance to its own interests. Killing Jews has more than a pecuniary reward. It carries with it prestige, legitimacy, popularity, and acclaim.

Less than two weeks after the Oct. 7 attack, the PA’s Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs included an infamous Hadith—a saying attributed in the tradition to the messenger of Islam—in its official guidelines that provided imams with talking points to use in their Oct. 20 Friday sermon in Palestinian mosques. The Hadith says that judgment day will only come after the believers have exterminated the Jews. On that day, it says, even rocks and trees will help in the cause of jihad. They will say, “Oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew hiding behind me; come and kill him.”

This horrific image, nature itself partaking in ridding the world of the unnatural Jewish scourge, is even more jarring against the backdrop of the Oct. 7 attack on the Nova nature festival, where partygoers attempted to hide behind rocks and bushes in the Negev desert to escape the slaughter.

The PA, the U.S. partner that Washington wants to put in charge of Gaza, has since added the families of the “martyrs,” the terrorists who were killed while committing the horrors of that terrible Shabbat morning, to the list of pay-for-slay beneficiaries.

Gadi Taub is an author, historian, and op-ed columnist. He is co-host of Tablet’s Israel Update podcast.