Israel's State Prosecutor: No Real Benefit in Saying 'Price Tag' Perpetrators Are Terrorists

Settlers' 'revenge' attacks against Palestinians and leftists represent an idea, not a centralized group, says prosecutor.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The State Prosecutor’s Office has come out against a proposal to label the perpetrators of “price tag” attacks - generally carried out by extreme right-wing activists against Palestinians and leftists - as terrorists.

The State Prosecutor believe that using such a definition is not an effective way of combating such acts, due to the fact that the perpetrators of the attack lack of a centralized office or chain of command. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is in favor of the proposal and soon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have to decide which side he's on.

The initiative to declare the perpetrators of “price tag” attacks a terrorist organization was first discussed in December 2011 after the attack on the Ephraim Brigade. In that incident, a group of settlers broke into a military base at the entrance to the settlement of Kedumim and damaged several vehicles to prevent the evacuation of a nearby outpost.

In response to the public outcry, Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch and former justice minister Yaakov Neeman suggested several measures, including declaring the rioters terrorists. Netanyahu rejected the idea.

The proposal returned when Livni became justice minister, as the frequency of the attacks increased. Livni advocates adopting the measure, with support from the police and the Shin Bet security service. The advantages and disadvantages of doing so have been submitted to the prime minister, but he has not yet made a decision.

The State Prosecutor’s Office questions the practical advantages in declaring these perpetrators terrorist groups. The main problem, they point out, is that “price tag” itself is not a group, but an idea.

Though the settlement of Yitzhar has been particularly active in instigating such attacks, the pattern and style of these crimes has spread to other groups in the West Bank and other places in Israel.

The State Prosecutor’s opinion claims that the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance provides several tools for dealing with terrorist groups — specifically, their money and their offices.

But the perpetrators of “price tag” attacks have no offices, and their financial investment comprises about two liters of gasoline and a can of spray paint. As far as anyone knows, they have no chain of command, so perpetrators cannot be defined as holding a position in a terrorist organization.

Defining the perpetrators as terrorists would provide the Shin Bet and the police with excessive powers against those suspected of security offences. The General Security Service Law gives the head of the Shin Bet power to search people’s homes without their knowledge and tap their phones without a warrant. The detentions law allows the Shin Bet to hold a suspect without access to an attorney and delay his appearance in court.

“Legally, there’s no way such a proposal can be passed," says Adi Kedar, the legal consultant for the non-profit organization Honenu, which represents dozens of right-wing activists. "This is a collection of political statements whose purpose is to appease the world, with nothing behind them.”

No other Jewish group has been declared a terrorist organization since 1994, when Kach, the political party founded by Meir Kahane, and its affiliated movements were declared as such after the Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron that year.

A Palestinian mosque vandalized in a 'price-tag' attack in the West Bank village of Jaba, June 19, 2012.Credit: Shirat Granot
"A good Arab is a dead Arab" and "Kahane lives," reads the graffiti sprayed on a Jerusalem mosque.Credit: Reuters

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