'Racism or assimilation' sprayed on a wall in Abu Ghosh.
'Racism or assimilation' sprayed on a wall in Abu Ghosh, June 18, 2013. Photo by Emil Salman
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Emil Salman
An Abu Ghosh resident replaces his tires after they were slashed. Photo by Emil Salman

Anonymous assailants slashed the tires of 28 cars and sprayed graffiti reading "Arabs out" scrawled on a wall in Abu Ghosh overnight Tuesday. Police opened an investigation into the incident, believed to be the first suspected "price tag" attack in the Israeli-Arab town located just several miles west of Jerusalem. 

Abu Ghosh Mayor Salim Jaber responded to the incident, saying, "There are extremists everywhere, but they don’t reflect the majority opinion."

The mayor lamented the attack in his town, but said, "It won’t change our policy or behavior. We remained in our village in 1948 – our village was the only one to stay put – and no one will drive us out." Abu Ghosh generally enjoys good relations with its Jewish neighbors.

Jaber told Army Radio that some 50 Jewish families live in Abu Ghosh and described them as "good people, peace-seekers." He doesn't believe any of Abu Ghosh's Jewish residents were involved in the crime. "Jewish and Arab neighbors called me and they are encouraging us," he said, "I believe police will find the perpetrators."

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett condemned the attack, calling it "immoral and un-Jewish" on his Facebook page. There is a small group of people who wish to bring about hatred and violence between Arabs and Jews in our country, Bennett said. "This group puts our tools in the hands of our enemies that tarnish our good name. We will not let them succeed," he added.

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) also condemned the incident and lashed out at the government which he said, "approves racist laws and refuses to call the 'price tag' activists a terrorist organization." Tibi said that by doing so, the government shares the responsibility for such hate crimes.

"The government radiates discrimination, racism and hatred toward Arab citizens and that's what every right-wing punk absorbs." Tibi added that it's not only the tires in Abu Ghosh that have been pierced – Israel's legal system has as well.

Peace Now director general Yariv Oppenheimer also drew a connection between recent legislation in Israel and Tuesday's incident, saying, "The day after a law is passed that discriminates against Arabs and does not classify price tag attacks as terror, on the ground people act accordingly."

President Shimon Peres called Jaber on Monday and condemned the act. The incident overnight in Abu Gosh, Peres said, was "a racist behavior which crossed a red line." The president asked to strengthen the residents and said that the people of Abu Gosh are "dear to my heart and are a symbol for coexistence in the State of Israel."

Jaber thanked Peres and asked to convey a clear message of tolerance. "We, the residents of Abu Gosh, love the Jewish people and the state," he said.

Peres also spoke with police commissioner Yohanan Danino earlier on Monday, who gave the president updates on the progress of the investigation. 

Once rare, there has been a steady stream of such incidents recently. Graffiti with the words "price tag" are usually found onsite. The phrase is usually used by a tiny fringe of Jewish extremists to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government's pro-Palestinian policies. The act is widely condemned by Israelis across the political spectrum.

Vandals have targeted mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases in apparent "price tag" attacks.

Israel's security cabinet on Sunday stopped short of declaring price tag attacks "terror," instead deeming them forbidden organizations, similar to groups that funnel money to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The decision waters down the recommendation of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and the Shin Bet security service, who sought to declare price tag perpetrators terrorists.

According to a minister present at the security cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified the decision by saying that price tag attacks cannot be compared to terror organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Netanyahu also said that even if calling price tag activists part of a terror organization was correct from a domestic standpoint, it would be a diplomatic mistake that would damage Israel’s international standing, increase its delegitimization and encourage international groups to compare price tag attacks to rocket fire or Hamas suicide attacks.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said that the decision would allow for greater intelligence gathering, interrogation and law enforcement when it comes to price tag attacks perpetrated against Palestinians in the West Bank and Muslim and Christian institutions within Israel.