European Donations Encourage Palestinians to Seek Imprisonment

The Funding for Peace Coalition reported that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has used tens of millions of dollars annually from its internationally funded budgets to provide salaries and other financial benefits to convicted terrorist held in Israeli jails. This "insurance scheme" provides captured terrorists with an opportunity to leave jail with a small nest-egg. It also secures employment in the Palestinian hierarchy, improved education and a pension from the PA.

The benefits of the "career path" afforded by a stay in an Israeli prison have not been lost on Palestinian youth. There are consistent reports of a growing phenomenon, where Palestinian teenagers deliberately approach Israeli military checkpoints, pretending to be terrorists. The intention? The hope of being captured and incarcerated in an Israeli jail, leading to financial security and an assured livelihood.

Palestinian social workers have expressed concern for the well being of these youth and of their society. The Israeli military are also uneasy. These youngsters put their lives in danger, forcing soldiers to make a split-second distinction between a youngster behaving as a terrorist and the real thing.

Below is a Reuters report on the phenomena, as it has appeared in several English language Arab journals.

In desperation, Palestinians seek prison in Israel

Thu 11 May 2006 12:50:17 BST

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM, May 11 (Reuters) - A growing number of desperate young Palestinian men are deliberately getting themselves arrested at Israeli checkpoints so that they will be sent to Israeli-run prisons, Israeli and Palestinian officials say.

The youths, mostly teenage boys, are taking the dangerous measure in part because they say it is easier to study for exams in an Israeli prison than it is at home in the West Bank. Some also want to escape family hardship and deepening poverty.

Since January, when the phenomenon was first identified, Israeli army officials say at least 80 young men have either turned up at checkpoints and asked to be arrested or else carried knives and other weapons to ensure they are detained.

"It is a growing problem and something that we are concerned about," said a senior officer in the Israeli Defence Force who is dealing with the issue but who asked not to be identified.

"It is a very dangerous phenomenon that we want to stop."

Palestinian civil affairs workers say the number may be far higher than 80 and is on the increase as rumours spread among young men about the potential benefits of being imprisoned.

Hijazi Abdul-Rahman, 18, who lives in a village near Jenin, in the northern West Bank, went to a nearby checkpoint with his friend Malik a month ago in an attempt to be arrested.

Abdul-Rahman carried a small knife and Malik, who would not give his family name, openly carried a badly wired bomb.

They were detained by Israeli security forces and sent to a holding cell but released 25 days later after it emerged under interrogation that they were not a serious security threat.

For Abdul-Rahman it was a grave disappointment.

"I lost my chance," he said, speaking at his home in a village north of Jenin. "I wanted to do my high school exams in prison because it is easier there than at school here."

Abdul-Rahman said his plan had been to go to prison for up to three years, finishing high school and part of university. In Israeli prisons, study groups are provided that allow Palestinians to sit a variety of exams.

Because prisoners usually receive a stipend of around 1,200 shekels ($250) a month, paid by the Palestinian Authority even if detainees are in Israeli prisons, Abdul-Rahman hoped to emerge with a substantial sum of cash to start his own business.

Since the Hamas movement came to power, stipend payments have been frozen, but that wasn't about to stop Abdul-Rahman.

"It's better to spend even your whole life in prison than to be stuck here," he said. "Here we can't even have a sandwich."


Palestinian doctors are concerned. "This phenomenon says a lot about the state in which we find ourselves," said Eyad Sarraj, a psychiatrist and a director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

"It's horrific. It shows that the family structure is not a secure environment for children to pursue their studies. The social fabric and the family itself is breaking up."

Israeli officials say that when questioned many of those arrested not only reveal a desire to study but the need to escape the strictures of their poor, conservative families where the expectation is that young men go out to work, not school.

Some also get arrested because they have been branded collaborators and try to shake the label by going to prison.

The concern for Israeli security forces is not only that prison numbers are growing and a social breakdown is occurring but that some of the youths will end up being shot or even killed if troops really believe they are being attacked.

Israeli soldiers have been stabbed, shot or targeted by Palestinian suicide bombers at checkpoints in the occupied West Bank in the past and are in a near constant state of alert.

"Often these men don't know how much danger they are putting themselves in. There is the risk, if we are really under attack, that we will have to respond," said a commanding officer.

"We know their true intention after only they are caught."

The officer said he had been in contact with Palestinian rights groups, local governors and the Red Cross about the problem, which is concentrated around the towns of Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah. Detentions spiked ahead of Palestinian exams in March and are expected to do so again before exams in June.

(Additional reporting by Wael al-Ahmed in Jenin)

Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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