Government Must Act Against 'Price Tag' Phenomenon

The 'price tag' people are knowingly playing with matches next to a barrel of explosives in order to threaten the government. They are not only criminals - they are a threat to Israel's security and must be treated as such.

How many people are sitting in prison today for "price tag" acts? I don't know the precise number, but the general picture is clear - and bleak: The state is not fulfilling its obligation to protect those living under its jurisdiction from this kind of violent crime, which has become systematic. Clearly, there are many difficulties in enforcing the law, but it is also clear that this is fundamentally a question of priorities.

The security establishment has a lot on its plate. It is not obvious that a few Arabs beaten up here and there, and a few West Bank mosques set on fire, are high on its list of priorities. The upshot is that shamefully, these incidents have become routine.

The term "price tag" refers to harm inflicted on Palestinians in response to government actions deemed hazardous to the settlement project. For the most part, this is not revenge for Arab terror, which might be considered legitimate by people who embrace the barbaric principle of taking revenge on innocent bystanders.

After the terrible murder of the Fogel family in Itamar, there were those who must have breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that for the meantime, the "price tag" people had sufficed with an attack by eight bullies on an Arab worker at the settlement of Shiloh, spraying him with tear gas and beating him up with bats and bricks. Responding to this attack, the commander of the Judea and Samaria Regional Division said the following: "The price tag incidents do not embody values, contrary to our values as Israelis and Jews. The settlement heads . . . understand full well that the extremist margins are damaging the settlements. [But] I am not always satisfied with the level of condemnation."

The officer undoubtedly had good intentions. But there is something problematic in the didactic tone of his remarks - as though he were leading an activity in a Scouts troop. The authorities do not usually define incidents of rape, bank robbery or attacks on old women as "events that do not embody values." Rather, they call them crimes. The "price tag" acts are crimes. Moreover, they jeopardize Israel's security. These are not ordinary acts of bullying, however ugly they may be. Directed and organized violence against Palestinians in the territories threatens to ignite a huge conflagration and cause escalation which will claim many lives. Preventing violence of this sort - violence for which Jewish extremists are to blame - is clearly an Israeli diplomatic and security interest. The "price tag" people are knowingly playing with matches next to a barrel of explosives in order to threaten the government. They are not only criminals - they are a threat to Israel's security and must be treated as such.

The government must act against this phenomenon with the legal tools at its disposal in order to protect the well-being of the public and the security of the state. I am not among those who turn up their noses every time the phrase "security considerations" is cited. We must not discount real threats because that ultimately means discounting human lives. By the same token, we must not "discriminate" among threats on the basis of the religion and nationality of the perpetrator or victim.

Of course there is always a risk because far-reaching security powers, such as administrative detention, can be abused. To prevent that, there is judicial review when such powers are exercised, and that is a good thing. The courts have proved they are not rubber stamps in this context. This does not mean the danger of abuse is eliminated. But sometimes a point is reached when not using drastic means to protect the victims of violence violates human rights more than using them would.