When a child is murdered by terrorists, thrusting a family into the public eye, there is no guidebook for a parent’s response. Stuart and Robbi Force’s son Taylor, 28, was stabbed to death in Tel Aviv by a Palestinian in 2016. After attending to the paperwork and logistics that accompany the end of a life, the parents, a Christian family, thought the headlines and spotlight were over. Taylor was not living in Israel but visiting with a group, sponsored by his business master’s program at Vanderbilt University, meeting with Israeli entrepreneurs. “When the opportunity came up to go to Israel, he leapt at it,” Stuart told us this week. “None of us had been to Israel. Taylor was the first one. We were curious.
“We were still in shock, about two months after,” said Stuart. He and Robbi were retired, living on Kiawah Island on the South Carolina coast. Then his daughter Kristen, living in New York, heard about the Palestinian “Martyr’s Fund,” popularly known as “Pay for Slay,” from Sander Gerber, a New York financial executive, who is also on the board of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “I called him back for information,” said Stuart, “and to thank him for his condolences. He told us that he didn’t like the idea of terrorists being rewarded.”
Gerber, said Force’s father, “was a good friend of Sen. Lindsay Graham [R-S.C.], one of our senators, who called us, offering to set things in motion.” Graham introduced the “Taylor Force Act” in the Senate, and Rep. Doug Lambone (R-Colo.) sponsored it in the House, requiring the State Department to confirm that the Palestinian Authority is not using American foreign aid to subsidize terrorist attacks in Israel. The Forces told the senator that they wanted “to help, however we could.” The bill was signed into law by the president in March.
Terrorists in Israeli prisons or their surviving families get monthly payments of as much as $3,120 from the PA, more than the annual salary of most Palestinian civil servants. Yediot Ahronot reports that the terrorist payouts totaled 1.2 billion shekels annually, a budget item comparable to the 1.8 billion allocated by the PA to health care and medical facilities.
“I have to say, from the get-go, the support of the Jewish community throughout has really been a source of strength, helping us through,” said Stuart, who, along with Gerber, will be honored on May 9 by New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council.
Lobbying for the “Taylor Force Act,” said the father, “helped us focus instead of just walking around the house looking at pictures.” Speaking by phone from South Carolina, he added, “We were very appreciative of the opportunity to focus our thoughts and our actions on something that would honor our son and his memory. The whole [Palestinian] environment, glorifying martyrs, dedicating summer camps and tennis tournaments to terrorists, it’s all out there in the public. It just breaks my heart.”
Stuart remembers a son who “did so much in his 28 years. Taylor grew up in Houston, then moved with the family to Ruidoso, N.M., “6,000 feet above sea level,” said Stuart. “They had good snow for skiing. We wanted a small-town environment for our kids.” He could envision Taylor playing guitar; loving country music; his years as an Eagle Scout; riding horses; running track and cross-country, and becoming president of the National Honor Society. Taylor was “very patriotic, very disciplined, proudly graduating West Point, as did his grandfather,” serving as a captain in Afghanistan and Iraq. “What hurts the most is that he didn’t have the chance to carry on and become an even better part of the United States.” Stuart remembered Taylor attending a summer camp in central Texas, where one of the mottos was “Don’t wait to be a great man, be a great boy.” That “made an impression on him, setting him off on the right track.” He did so much, his father said, and even in death his son is doing more, inspiring a bill to end subsidies to terrorists.
The bill met resistance in Congress. Sen. Charles Schumer gave the bill a Democratic boost by co-sponsoring the legislation, but other Democrats, such as New York’s other senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, declined to co-sponsor, and Sen. Cory Booker, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, voted against it. Opponents to the bill said they weren’t for subsidizing terrorism but were concerned about how cutting off American aid might harm Palestinian civilians. The resulting compromises allow the United States to continue foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority if the American money is earmarked for non-terrorist activities such as security cooperation with Israel; refugee assistance; hospitals; and electric bills to Israeli utilities. The Zionist Organization of America, which reluctantly supported the compromised bill, noted that the exemptions cover “roughly half of the assistance under threat, amounting to only about $130 million,” and it regretted a “sunset” provision that requires the Taylor Force Act to end in five years. The New York Sun’s editorial noted that if the Palestinians continue the subsidies, the penalty is bupkis.”
That some senators and House members didn’t support the bill had Force “sort of surprised,” he said. “I’m not naïve about politics; some will always disagree with what the other side proposes. But we didn’t approach it as something political, just as something that just wasn’t right; you don’t pay people to do atrocities like this. You don’t have the right to get American money to hurt and kill people.”
Stuart acknowledged, “I know, some of the money will be carved out, but I think the real impact of the bill is the fact that we are addressing the situation. The actual money is not as important as the United States finally making a statement.” Choking up, he added, “It’s important for people to know that American money intended for humanitarian purposes was instead being diverted by the Palestinians to enrich and promote terrorism.”
Asked if it was difficult to mourn even as the name “Taylor Force” was in headlines and broadcasts, “Boy, you hit the nail on the head,” said Stuart. “It’s still really difficult.” He swallows to stop his tears. “It’s been emotionally very, very difficult but we think it necessary. My wife, my daughter and I still cannot comprehend it. I’m just grateful that there are people that want to address this horror.”
According to the Israeli-based Palestinian Media Watch, after passage of the bill, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA, said on PA television, “Until the last day of my life, we won’t stop this support [for martyrs]. … The family of every Palestinian prisoner receives social aid. We’re proud of this, not ashamed of it, and we say this openly, because it’s our national, human, and moral obligation, and the obligation of the struggle.” The PA Ministry of Information added, “The freedom martyrs and our brave prisoners are not highway robbers or gang members, but rather one of the elements of the legitimate resistance.” On Palestinian TV, the killer’s funeral was compared to “a large national wedding befitting of martyrs.”
Stuart Force said that he and his wife were taken aback by the hero’s acclaim given by the Palestinian Authority to their son’s killer. “There were some videos that we weren’t aware of, showing the celebration in Palestine. It was so horrendous … .”
He remembered, “after we returned home from closing up Taylor’s apartment, the neighbors along our street collected money and dedicated a bench” by a beautiful place near the coast, “with a plaque saying, ‘From your loving friends on Kiawah Island, in memory of Taylor Allen Force.’ They’ve all been very supportive. We’ve had to educate them about the [Palestinian terrorist subsidies]. Nobody was aware of the situation. To a person, they’re appalled by it. We still wake up and can’t understand it. We meet a lot of people, here and in Israel,” a community of mourners, “who have lost their kids and relatives through the same kind of senseless act.” He hopes “that this community will not get any bigger.”