(Lubbock Lights) — This story at a glance
- A law named in honor of a Lubbock man is meant to stop American aid from funding terrorism in Israel.
- Taylor Force was stabbed and killed in Israel in 2016.
- A lawsuit says President Biden is breaking the law known as the Taylor Force Act.
- The Biden Administration claims it’s not in violation of the law.
- A federal judge made note of the recent violence in Israel in ruling how evidence is to be collected.
- Taylor’s dad, Stuart Force, spoke with Lubbock Lights. So did the Force family’s co-plaintiff, who was on an Israeli bus when it was attacked by a suicide bomber.
A mother and father with Lubbock ties asked a judge to keep the Biden Administration from sending money to the Palestinian Authority and follow the intent of the Taylor Force Act – named for their son who was stabbed to death in Israel seven years ago.
After his death, Congress passed the law to stop “pay to slay.”
“Under pay to slay, the Palestinian Authority rewards terrorists and/or their families,” claims the lawsuit filed by Force’s parents, Stuart and Robbi. Other plaintiffs are Sarri Singer, who spoke to Lubbock Lights about surviving a terrorist attack, and Congressman Ronny Jackson, who claims he is at higher risk when traveling to Israel.
President Donald Trump signed the bill into law in March 2018 and later that year cut off American funding to the Palestinian Authority.
Joe Biden became president in 2020.
The lawsuit claims roughly half a billion dollars in U.S. aid was “laundered” to benefit the group since Biden took office. The U.S. sent aid to different organizations ultimately benefitting the Palestinian Authority, it said.
“The Palestinian Authority has paid, and continues to pay, a pay-to-slay bounty to the family of Taylor Force’s murderer,” the suit claims.
The suit was filed last December, but recent violence in Israel and Gaza impacted the collection of evidence in the case.
On October 7, Hamas, which the U.S. government calls a terrorist organization, attacked Israeli citizens killing more than 1,400 and taking 240 hostages. Israel has since invaded Gaza with the goal of eliminating Hamas.
The Force family moved to Lubbock in 1998. Taylor attended Smith Elementary School and Irons Junior High.
“Lubbock was always his hometown,” Taylor’s dad Stuart told Lubbock Lights. “He always considered himself Texan right down to the Ford F-150 pickup.”
Taylor rose to the rank of Eagle Scout in Lubbock’s Troop 505 of the Boy Scouts. He graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute’s high school program in 2006.
Taylor earned a nomination to the United States Military Academy at West Point from then-Lubbock Congressman Randy Neugebauer. He graduated and was commissioned an Army 2nd lieutenant in 2009.
Some of Taylor’s family still lives in Lubbock, while his parents are in the Austin area.
“We go through Lubbock every chance we get,” Stuart said.
A war veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Taylor was in Israel as part of a Vanderbilt University graduate program when, on March 8, 2016, he was stabbed and killed by Bashar Masalha. Israeli police shot and killed Masalha.
How the Taylor Force Act came about
“We found out that the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, has a program called pay for slay,” Stuart said.
“The United States would send roughly $200 to $300 million a year to the Palestinian Authority, which coincidentally amounted to what the Palestinian Authority would spend on this pay-for-slay program,” Stuart said.
He and Robbi lived in South Carolina at the time and Senator Lindsey Graham reached out to them.
“Senator Graham said he wanted to do something and asked if we wanted to join him in his effort, and my wife and I were brought in. I immediately said, ‘yes,’” Stuart said. “So, we started a 30-day mission of talking to senators and congressmen, civic groups, Jewish groups, Christian groups – anybody that would listen.”
The family had no desire to stop legitimate aid but wanted to stop American money from going to terrorism, Stuart said.
For example, there were exceptions in the Taylor Force Act for water projects, childhood vaccinations and the East Jerusalem Hospital Network.
“We received bipartisan support,” Stuart said. “That’s how it came to be.”
Stuart, Singer and other observers said it worked.
A report from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said, “According to former and current Israeli officials, congressional pressure has ensured that the PA has not added new names to the pay-for-slay registry in recent years.”
FDD describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank and lobbying organization.
The silence of death all around
Singer overslept on the morning of September 11, 2001. Otherwise, she would have been at work just two blocks from the World Trade Center towers in New York.
“So, I quit my job in December 2001, and I went to Israel to volunteer with organizations that were working with victims of terrorism,” Singer said.
She had been in Israel for a year-and-a-half when she got onto a bus. She was leaning over to put away her cell phone in her knapsack when an 18-year-old suicide bomber detonated a device.
“I felt this huge shock wave hit me,” she said. There was silence – not like the silence of being in an empty field or something like that.
“It’s the silence of death all around you.”
“Over 100 of us were injured and 17 innocent people were murdered, including everyone seated and standing around me,” Singer continued.
She remembered a girl and her boyfriend near her on the bus. They didn’t make it.
The bomber was not a man, she insisted. He was just a boy who had been recruited to play for the Palestinian soccer team. But he was also recruited by Hamas to carry out an attack. To this day, Singer said, his family gets pay-to-slay money.
“The Taylor Force Act is supposed to stop the U.S. government from sending over foreign aid to the PA. It was stopped for a while, and the terrorism has lessened. And then as soon as that money had started up again, the attacks started happening more and more rapidly,” Singer said.
“President Biden and Secretary Blinken are violating this law,” she said.
“We, in essence, U.S. taxpayer dollars are contributing toward the terrorism and the murder and injury of innocent civilians, men, women, children,” Singer said.
Singer is convinced the money gets redirected to help terrorism instead of the actual people of Gaza or the West Bank. She wants it stopped.
The judge weighs in
In August, the Force family and Singer asked a judge to speed up access to certain government records – specifically, those related to the increased risk of terrorism because of U.S. spending in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“These records are direct evidence that the Department of State knew that its ESF funding and related activities in the ‘West Bank’ and Gaza benefit Palestinian terrorist organizations and violate U.S. anti-terrorism laws and regulations, thereby increasing the risk of terrorist attacks,” the request said.
Three days after the attacks of October 7, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo gave the Force family and other plaintiffs a quicker timeline for getting evidence from the federal government.
“… A recent production of records shows that the Government knew its ESF funding in the West Bank and Gaza was benefitting Palestinian terrorists,” the judge explained. “… The Government’s ‘admission that its activities in the West Bank and Gaza benefit Hamas suggests … the possible existence of other facts …”
“These reasons, in concert with Hamas’s recent attack on Israel that killed fourteen Americans and resulted in others being held hostage, provide a sufficient basis for Plaintiffs’ request,” the judge ruled, granting their request.
More about pay to slay
Under the Taylor Force Act, the U.S. is required to stop payments to the Palestinian Authority unless the PA takes “credible steps” to stop violence against Americans and Israelis.
“In the Taylor Force Act, Congress made it clear that the Palestinian Authority could directly benefit from U.S. taxpayer-funded projects in the West Bank or Gaza, or operate the pay to slay program, but not both,” the lawsuit said. “The Palestinian Authority chose pay to slay.”
The federal government admitted in court records, that the PA still pays the families of terrorists who have killed Israelis or Americans. But the aid can continue on a legal technicality, it said.
What does ‘directly’ mean?
“The TFA does not restrict all assistance to the people of the West Bank and Gaza,” lawyers for the federal government said.
The Taylor Force Act only restricts money that “directly benefits” the PA. The Secretary of State gets to determine what is direct and what is not.
The purpose of the law was to pressure the PA to stop paying the families of terrorists. It was not meant to stop all humanitarian aid.
“The funds would be provided to third parties for assistance in particular areas for the benefit of Palestinians, and that no funding would be provided directly for the PA,” the Biden Administration said in court records.
The aid helped with public health, water, sanitation, workforce development, disaster readiness and other such programs.
Even after the Taylor Force Act, Congress appropriated money for people in the West Bank and Gaza. By law, it had to go there. It just couldn’t go directly to the PA, and the administration gets to decide what “directly” means.
Lawyers for the administration propose the lawsuit be handled as a legal question, not moral.
“The United States condemns acts of terrorism, including those that killed Taylor Force and injured Plaintiff Sarri Singer,” court records said.
“The Government expresses its deep sympathy to the Forces for the tragic loss of their son, and to Ms. Singer for the injuries she suffers,” the federal government also said. “The United States is committed to fighting terrorism and is committed to ending the practice of prisoner payments that the TFA targets.”
The lawsuit, as of Monday, remained pending in the Amarillo Division of the federal court system.
“It’s a rotten situation and sending any money that might help perpetuate the horror – it’s not right,” Stuart said. He hoped a judge would order President Biden to honor the intent of the Taylor Force Act and stop payments benefitting the Palestinian Authority.
“It was effective. And then once the money started flowing again, the number of innocent victims started to rise,” he said.
It worked once, he added. He thinks it would work again if it were properly enforced.
This story was originally published on LubbockLights.com.