For Parents of U.S. Student Killed in Tel Aviv Attack, Debate Over Palestinians' Funding of Terrorists Is Personal

The U.S. Taylor Force Act aims to halt funding to the Palestinian Authority if it continues 'institutional support for terrorism.' Force's parents also hope to see a little remorse.

Taylor Force, the U.S. citizen killed on the March 9, 2015 terror attack in Jaffa.
Facebook screenshot

WASHINGTON - Almost one year ago, in early March 2016, U.S. citizen Taylor Force was murdered in a terror attack along the Jaffa beachfront. Force, a 28-year-old West Point graduate and Army veteran, was stabbed to death by Bashar Masalha, a 21-year-old Palestinian from Qalqilyah, who was shot to death after killing Force and wounding 10 others. The attack took place while then-Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel.

Now, just a week before the exact one-year anniversary, Force’s name is headlining legislation presented by Republican senators and members of the House. The Taylor Force Act calls on the U.S. government to stop all funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it provides financial support to terrorists and their families.

Stuart and Robbi Force, Taylor’s parents, traveled from their home in South Carolina to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to express their support for the effort. In an interview with Haaretz, they confessed they didn’t know the bill would be named after their son until they were already on their way.

“On the way to Washington, in the airport, I got an email from the office of Senator Lindsey Graham,” said Stuart Force, referring to the South Carolina Republican who is one of three co-sponsors of the legislation. “It said that at the press conference today, we will be discussing the Taylor Force Act. We didn’t know his name was going to be on the bill. We are honored and humbled by this gesture, but also saddened by it.”

After their son’s death, the couple started following news from the Middle East regularly; they dived into the controversial issue of Palestinian Authority support for families of terrorists.

“The more we learned about this system of payments to terrorists, the more we realized it’s just a terrible situation,” said Robbi Force. “When we heard that this was being addressed in the Senate, and we were asked if we could be a part of the effort to stop it, we immediately said yes.”

The day after the attack, Biden criticized the Palestinian leadership, saying “the kind of violence we saw yesterday, the failure to condemn it, the rhetoric that incites that violence, the retribution that it generates, has to stop.”

A 2009 photo provided by the United States Military Academy shows Taylor Force.
AP

The Forces hope the bill will win the support of many Democrats, not just Republicans. “I hope we can get them all on the same page,” Stuart Force said. “Maybe that will be an opening to also get them to cooperate on other sensible things. For us this isn’t about liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.”

Previous attempts to cut U.S. funding for the PA on the grounds of support for terrorists and their families have stalled, in part due to opposition from the Israeli government and security officials.

A vast percentage of the PA’s budget goes to the Palestinian security agencies, which coordinate with the Israeli military to prevent terror attacks. Israel has an interest to continue this coordination, so a halt on funding to the PA could put it in danger. Israeli officials also worry that the PA could one day collapse and Israel would have to assume responsibility for the daily lives of over 2 million Palestinians.

Graham said his intention in presenting the bill wasn’t to jeopardize the PA’s very existence, but to stop a specific policy. He said he was aware that Israeli security chiefs had spoken out against this idea, but emphasized that for him the main objective was that U.S. taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to fund what he described as “institutional support for terrorism.”

Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican who is pushing the legislation in the House, expressed a similar notion. “The bill states that once they change the policy, the money will be sent again,” he said. “This is not about causing the Palestinian Authority to collapse this is about causing them to change their ways.”

For Taylor’s parents, these questions are important, but in a way they’re also secondary to the personal aspect. “They interviewed the terrorists’ family on television after the attack,” Robbi Force recalled. “They said that they have no feeling of remorse. They showed no regret on the attack, on their son killing Taylor. That’s simply wrong.”

She said the couple wished “to thank all the people in Israel who offered us their condolences and support” over the past year.

“I spoke to Taylor when he was in the airport on the way to Israel. He was so excited about the trip, really looking forward to it. But terrorism is something you can never plan for. You don’t think – ‘oh, tomorrow there is going to be a terror attack, so I should stay away.’ That’s just the way it is.”