Israel’s ‘slay-for-play’ practice must be stopped

Sam Bahour

Mondoweiss  /  September 7, 2023

For many Israelis, killing Palestinians with impunity is a state-sponsored sport.

If one did not know better, they would believe that the Palestinian government places public ads on social media trying to recruit Palestinians to kill Jews. The sheer sound of that sentence sounds sick, as it should. 

The reality, of course, is something entirely different. 

In fact, it is Israel which has instilled a culture of “Slay-for-Play” to enable its soldiers and private citizens to shoot first and ask questions — if ever needed to — later. As B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights organization, previously documented, “[Israel’s] open-fire policy — which allows the unjustified use of lethal force — conveys Israel’s deep disregard for the lives of Palestinians and facilitates Israel’s continued violent control over millions of Palestinians.”

Not only are Jewish Israeli settlers on a rampage of pogroms against Palestinian communities, but the Israeli military is engineered and backed up by government policy to undertake the same pogroms, albeit the latter frame it as acting against security threats; a concept that Israel has debunked with their disproportionate and arbitrary use of force. 

Case in point

I often wonder about the Israeli sniper who ended Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s life while she was reporting on yet another Israeli military invasion of the Jenin Refugee Camp in May 2022. As this Israeli sharpshooter set their scope on the tiny opening between Shireen’s protective helmet and the collar of the clearly marked bulletproof media vest, were they smiling? Had they just been given a direct order to assassinate Shireen? Or were they acting on their own, quietly sizing up the target so that a single bullet would be all that would be needed?

Did the sniper keep looking in his scope after the shot was fired? Did they see blood squirt out of Shireen’s neck as his bullet made an impact? Did the Israeli soldier turn to their comrades and give a high-five for successfully killing Shireen, as their comrades did when they shot out the knees of Palestinians demonstrating in Gaza? Did the soldier tell their partner what they did that day? Did they mention to their mom that they just killed an innocent journalist who was just doing her job?

Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder was but one of the dozens of killings that Israelis undertake with full impunity — nearly one Palestinian a day in 2023 alone. So confident is the Israeli government that it will not be held accountable for such acts of murder that it has issued publicly available rules of engagement to its soldiers and guidance to its citizens. The crux of both is the same — feel free to kill Palestinians; we have your back.

This Israeli “Slay-for-Play” practice must be stopped. Killing Palestinians is not a sport. The practice is corrupting an entire generation of Jewish youth. Or should I say, has already corrupted an entire generation of Israelis? Look at the profiles of today’s Israeli ministers or the Israeli state-sanctioned settlement movement with organizations like the Hilltop Youth. Today, settlers from Israel’s settler enterprise have hijacked the entire Israeli political system, and promote violence from their state-funded ministerial chairs. When Israeli warplanes and drones bomb Gaza, as they frequently do, groups of Jewish Israelis watch on from the hilltops around Gaza and enthusiastically cheer on each explosion. It is sick.

The lobbying push behind the “Slay-for-Pay” smear

The pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is a prime propagator of this falsehood that Palestinians are doing the indiscriminate killing. Recently, several U.S. Congresspersons have been repeating the AIPAC and Israeli state talking points, connivingly coining the phrase “pay-for-slay.” Those who mimic this phrase expose how ignorant they are on the issue. There is only one problem: the phrase is a lie, another well-oiled Israeli public relations ploy to dehumanize Palestinians.

In a recent newsletter (Keeping Israel Safe, August 2, 2023) AIPAC noted:

Palestinian leaders continue to pay families of terrorists. 

In recent months, there has been a dramatic increase in terrorism against Israelis from the West Bank. Dozens of Israelis have been killed or injured since January alone.

The Palestinian Authority pays roughly $170 million annually to terrorists and their families through its horrific pay-for-slay program.  

These payments allow terrorists to earn more than double the average salary of a Palestinian in the West Bank.

Note how they repeat the word “terrorist” ad nauseam, blind to the fact that they have distorted its meaning beyond recognition. Reading these words from AIPAC, empty of facts and context, makes it clear. Palestinians are sub-humans that are keen on killing Jews as a hobby. This could not be further from the truth.

The facts of the matter

There is no Palestinian “pay-for-slay” program. This is a figment of Israeli state propaganda. Here are the facts.

Fact: Palestinians are victims of 75 years of dispossession and 56 years of belligerent Israeli military occupation.

Fact: Over the years, as today, a small minority of Palestinians have undertaken violent acts against those who oppress them. When an Israeli civilian is killed, it is wrong. When an Israeli occupying soldier or illegal settler is killed, it is unfortunate but understood under international law as an act of resistance. Although it may be understood, I believe violence is a losing strategy, but Palestinian society is not united in this understanding, especially as an entire generation has lost hope for an end to this nightmare called their daily life.

Fact: Palestinian families of those who are killed by Israel, regardless of whether they were acting violently or were a victim of indiscriminate Israeli aggression, are provided a stipend to compensate for the loss of what, most times, is the household’s breadwinner. The goal here is not to compensate for death but to extract a family from the cycle of violence — to ensure that the family has food on the table, that their children can be educated, and that they have a roof over their heads (especially given Israel’s policy of demolishing homes of perpetrators of violence, a.k.a. collective punishment).

Fact: Ever since the Israeli military occupation started in 1967, Israel has arrested Palestinians, sometimes based on violent acts but many more arbitrarily and without charge. Since 1967, nearly one million persons, thousands with what Israel calls administrative detention, have been arrested without charge or trial.

Fact: Israel profits from the mass incarceration of Palestinians. According to Israeli figures, between 2009 and 2011, the Israel Prison Authority reported a yearly income of $33.82 million from selling food, cleaning products, and other basic items to Palestinian prisoners at prices of up to 140% more than the average market price.*

Fact: The Fourth Geneva Convention obliges Israel, as an occupying power, to provide allowances for Palestinian detainees, as enshrined in Articles 98 and 81 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel does not honor this obligation. Instead, Israel punishes the Palestinian government for providing allowances to the families of Palestinian prisoners by pirating Palestinian tax revenues.*

Fact: Article 98 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the Detaining Power [Israel] should provide allowances for the detainees as part of its responsibility toward them.*

Fact: Article 81 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits any deduction from the salary or income of the detainees. It also ensures that support should be provided for those dependent on the internees.*

Fact: The occupation authorities are responsible for the provision of maintenance for those dependent on the detainees when they are unable to do so themselves.*

Fact: The majority of detainees are the sole financial providers for their families, which means Israel is required to provide for their dependents. It does not.*

All these facts point to one clear point. Israel, being the occupying power, has a responsibility to serve these prisoners financially. They refuse to do so, so the Palestinian government fills the gap, and when they do, they are being unduly held accountable from Tel Aviv to Washington DC.

It is noteworthy to mention that “the [Israeli] Justice Ministry said the funding of Palestinian prisoners was conducted in accordance with the law. All funding for prisoners goes through the Israel Prison Service which acts as their trustee. The contract with the [Israeli] Postal Company had been formalized after careful consideration and authorized by legal authorities.” (Ynet, 2021) This is all done with the full knowledge by Israel that, in addition to prisoner families’ funds, the Palestinian authority contributes to this funding as well, given Israel’s refusal to uphold their obligations under international law.

Do Palestinians seek the death of Jews? No. Do a small number of Palestinians undertake violent acts against their occupier and their dispossessor? Yes. Are the occupiers Jewish? Well, yes, most but not all — the faith of the occupier is irrelevant. Palestinians’ grudge is against a state that was built on their ruins and demands the world view it as Jewish, which it is not.

It is past time to debunk fictitious Israeli talking points. A Palestinian “Slay-for-Pay” program does not exist, while Israel’s well-documented “Slay-for-Play” practice does, and it must be stopped. It only instigates more and more violence.


* PLO’s Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy, April 2019

Sam Bahour is a Youngstown, Ohio-born and raised Palestinian-American business consultant and a frequent commentator on Palestinian affairs, writing from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in Occupied Palestine