Israel Police Officer Tells Haaretz: War on 'Price Tag' Attacks Far From Over

Officer pessimistic about chances of stopping right-wing hate crimes over next few months, citing lack of deterrence and the strong trust and cohesion among the perpetrators.

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The Israel Police is pessimistic about the chances of putting a stop to the hate crimes carried out by extreme right-wing activist with nationalistic motives over the next few months, despite plans to bolster law enforcement in that realm.

“It doesn’t seem there will be significant improvement in the war on ‘price-tag’ attacks over the next few months,” a senior police official told Haaretz on Tuesday, day after 29 cars in the Israeli Arab city of Abu Ghosh had their tires slashed, and racist slogans were spray-painted on nearby walls.

This incident was deemed the latest in a series of attacks against Arabs in Israel and in the West Bank deemed "price tag" attacks.

The officer said that over the next few months, the police’s National Crime Unit of the Judea and Samaria District, which is responsible for the West Bank, would be hiring around 50 new police officers. Police officials are also waiting to see if Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon will declare the perpetrators of “price tag” incidents an outlawed organization. Police hope these two measures will bring greater success in dealing with the phenomenon.

Police officials believe that the main problem is the complete lack of deterrence among young right-wing activists. The officer added that a series of solved crimes would restore the feeling that the rule of law prevailed. He said that in addition to the radical settler youth that grew up in the West Bank, there is also a generation of copycats, mainly teenage dropouts that engage in less sophisticated activity but who draw encouragement and a feeling of immunity because police have failed to track them down.

Shin Bet security service officials, who along with police track these attacks, have deemed 10 incidents in 2013 as “price-tag” attacks. The police report cases that affect public order, while the Shin Bet keeps tracks of crimes that have some form of secret, ideologically-based infrastructure behind them.

In 2012, Shin Bet officials counted 18 nationalistically-motivated hate crimes in which far-right activists (according to the Shin Bet’s definition) were involved, down from 30 in 2011. An analysis of the data shows a decrease in the number of attacks focusing on religious targets: three attacks in 2012 (mosques in Jaba and Urif and the monastery in Latrun) compared with seven in 2011.

Shin Bet officials avoid saying which attacks they define as “price-tag” attacks, but it is likely that the definition includes attacks on mosques, the torching of cars, or larger-scale attacks on Palestinian villages in the West Bank that require the perpetrators to act with secrecy and relative sophistication.

This style of hate crime, which began in the West Bank settlement Yitzhar in 2008, started making headlines in 2009 when right-wing activists torched a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasouf. Shin Bet officials arrested those they believed had torched the mosque, but the detainees did not break under tough interrogation. The Shin Bet took a step back in dealing directly with the phenomenon, and concentrated on doing intelligence work behind the scenes.

The second time the Shin Bet got involved was in December 2011 at the Ephraim military base. Right-wing activists demonstrated at the entrance to the base and vandalized cars. Officials of the legal system drafted several procedures for dealing with the incident, including an attempt to declare the perpetrators of hate crimes a terrorist group. But Netanyahu opposed the move both then and now.

After the incident at the Ephraim army base, Netanyahu increased the police’s budget for dealing with the attackers. Ultimately, 80 police officers will be working in the police’s new National Crime Unit, which was established as part of the West Bank’s investigative branch. In comparison, the criminal investigations department has 40 police officers. The Shin Bet’s Jewish affairs department works alongside the crime unit as well.

The main problem these units encounter is the difficulty in recruiting human intelligence. The perpetrators are quite young, up to 20-years-old. It is almost impossible to plant an agent that age among them. The most radical members study at a single yeshiva; they trust one another, and the chances of finding one willing to collaborate with authorities is very low.

A Catholic monk standing in a doorway of the Latrun Trappist Monastery where vandals spray-painted with anti-Christian and pro-settler graffiti, Sept. 4, 2012.Credit: AP
Graffiti reading 'Arabs out' in the town of Abu Ghosh, Tuesday, June 18, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman

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