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A modest proposal for stopping settler violence

For years, Israeli police and the Shin Bet have complained that they can’t deal with ‘price tag’ attacks. Here’s a simple proposition.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinians as soldiers stand on the side. Settlers attacked the West Bank village of Asira al Qibliya, burned fields and threw stones at houses after an Israeli settler was stabbed to death by a Palestinian man. April 30, 2013 (Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

The phenomenon of “price tag” attacks has been with us for some seven years now, and during this period, Israeli authorities have failed utterly in dealing with them. Time and time again, we are told by the police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) that we’re dealing with an ultra-sophisticated group, which cannot be penetrated.

A new report in this genre was broadcast on Tuesday on Channel 10 (Hebrew). The police and Shin Bet seem to have made a great effort, if not in getting their hands on the terrorists, then at least in massaging their image: the reporter, the very able and honest Roey Sharon, received a copy of an internal Shin Bet document, as well as footage of detectives capturing “price tag” attackers red-handed.

No Shin Bet or police representative was quoted, but former General Avi Mizrahi spoke at length, saying you simply cannot recruit these guys as informers. Mizrahi bemoaned the fact that price taggers are irresponsible people who can easily set the entire sector on fire. You don’t say. Maybe Mizrahi ought to have thought about that when, as commander of the Central Command, he agreed to attend a ceremony honoring Dov Lior (the latter is considered to be one of the most extreme rabbis around, and at the time was wanted by the police for failing to show up for interrogation). If Mizrahi – a uniformed officer, and in fact the “stand-in for the sovereign” of the West Bank – decided to honor the man who penned his agreement with the Torat Ha’Melekh book, how seriously should his commitment to fighting price tag terror be taken?

We are told that the Shin Bet and the police have a hard time gathering human intelligence (HUMINT) among price taggers. That’s probably true. Then again, it’s hard to believe the price taggers are a band of particularly hardened veterans of the KGB-school of dirty tricks who also graduated from the Spetznatz. The Shin Bet says a document written by Noam Federman exposed all its tricks a decade ago. Well, that was a decade ago; come up with new ones.

But, given that the Shin Bet finds it hard to get HUMINT on Price Taggers, we at Yesh Din are happy to aid them, and ask them to kindly watch the short video below. It was taken by Yesh Din investigator, Munir Qadus, during Tuesday’s pogrom. (Watch more videos of the events here.)

As can be seen, a group of hooded settlers is briskly marching home from yet another successful pogrom, while a group of tired-looking IDF soldiers waddles behind, obviously there to make certain the hoodlums don’t get into too much trouble. The price taggers, how do I put it, do not operate as a particularly secretive military unit.

We suggest the Shin Bet adopt the following operational plan:

1. In the future, the IDF troops should not accompany the rioters, but rather detain them. This is innovative, true, and will force the IDF’s command to update its thinking, but for that same reason will be very surprising to the rioters. The element of surprise, as is well known, is the main ingredient in military success.

2. Furthermore, as the IDF does when it encounters left-wing demonstrators, it should diligently document the incident in video and photographs.

3. As the rioters are detained, their veils should be removed and they should be photographed. The investigators can then cross-reference the pictures of the suspects with hoods on and off.

4. As soon as they are photographed, the detainees should be sent separately to different interrogation facilities, where they can be interrogated according to legal procedures.

5. In addition, the security forces should use the revolutionary method of getting search and seizure orders for the settlements, in order to look for illegal weapons, as well as stolen Palestinian property.

We would further inform the Shin Bet that the report mentions the fact that IDF troops repeatedly inform the price taggers about plans to evacuate outposts. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not new. These soldiers ought to be identified (which shouldn’t be at all difficult), tried, imprisoned and drummed out of the army, as befitting armed men who betrayed their oath of service.

There are just two problems with this nice plan: אhe first is that the settler political establishment would rise on its hindquarters to prevent it. We are certain that the Shin Bet, which is dedicated to an apolitical battle against terrorism, would not be perturbed. Even so, it’s important to remember that the former Shin Bet chiefs interviewed in the movie The Gatekeepers have already testified that the political will to fight Jewish terrorism is basically non-existent. As our latest report, “The Road to Dispossession,” shows, Jewish terrorism manages to accomplish what it sets out to accomplish: the continuation of the land grab in the West Bank.

The second, more severe problem, is that I find it hard to believe that anything written here is actually news to the police and Shin Bet. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the Shin Bet – despite all the high-minded words about the strategic dangers of price tag terrorism – still invests much more energy, and much more thought, into detaining Palestinian political activists than it does in thwarting Jewish terrorism.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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    1. XYZ

      If you will notice, the column points out that the “price tag” problem started seven years ago. This coincides with Sharon’s destruction of Gush Katif. Sharon’s repeated breaking of promises (first not to do it at all as he promised before the 2003 election, then his broken promise to honor the results of the Likud referendum on the issue which, to his surprise, he lost) led to a massive breakdown in confidence in the government and security authorities by a group of radicalized youth. Sharon’s basic spitting in the face of people who had been his biggest supporters was a very damaging thing. I hope the powers-that-be have learned the lesson and will not carry out controversial policies without clear backing from the public, unlike Sharon’s Gush Katif fiasco.
      These “price-tag” actions are grist for the mill for Palestinian radicals as well as for the anti-settlement Left and so it is in interest of the Right in Israel, as well as the Left to put an end to it.

      Reply to Comment
      • William Burns

        If it were “in the interest of the Right” to put an end to price tag attacks, they would put an end to them.

        Reply to Comment
      • The genesis of a crime does not remove the crime. You seem to be saying that retaliation against the State can proceed by harming third parties–which is a bit strange, as there is little evidence that the State views such retaliation as harm to itself. Rather, price tags appear to be a method of forcing the State’s hand by provoking Palestinian residents. That is, price tags are a way of trying to direct policy in the Bank. Since such acts generalize to acts outside of direct retribution, the strategy seem to be working.

        Objectively, there is no doubt that escorting settlers to a place where they throw stones attaches this violence to the State. What we saw was pampering which allowed settlers to express frustration through property damage but prevented escalation to possible loss of life. Similar pampering prevents real investigation and justice on other Bank violence.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      Here is my proposal to stop price tag attacks: The U.N., E.U., with possible silent approval of the U.S. declare ALL settlers to be CRIMINALS wanted on multiple violations of multiple U.N. accords. This will, in effect prevent free travel to these people (many of whom are landed immigrants with families in the U.S. and Europe who they would very much like to continue to visit).

      Simple, efficient and just response to continued settlement crimes. I’d like to see AIPAC and ADL raise up a stir about that (Derschowitz: It’s every Jews’ inalienable right to steal Arab land!! It says so in the bible!)

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        I think your opinion is insane and it signifies *all* that is wrong with the world’s treatment of the conflict. The hysteria and lack of proportion is astounding.

        It turns out that Chemical weapons are OK, voting for Hamas is OK, people who think stabbing a bystander because he is Jewish to “restore the family honour” is OK, glorifying death and suicide bombings are OK. But what is the REAL problem that the UN should handle? What is the offence that should warrant an ENTIRE population be labelled CRIMINALS? Throwing stones?! Cutting a tree!? Painting a graffiti!? Building a new synagogue? Shouting at a cameraman!? It turns out some people think so.

        This is how your post looks like to me –


        By the way, movie clips like this are why Yesh Din are not taken seriously. A 50 seconds “documentation” of nothing, with a nice explanation that they actually “briskly” return from a Pogrom (How many were killed? How many were injured?). This is not evidence, this is crap.

        Reply to Comment
        • Piotr Berman

          Settlements are illegal, so settlers engage in illegal activity. So it should be OK to ask Israeli travelers to show their e-mail accounts and prove that they do not have any e-mails indicating that they are settlers or support settlers.

          Similarly, people who finance settlements should be prosecuted. That should include the personel of Finance Ministry of GoI, including the minister himself. And so on.

          Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            I don’t agree with your statement about the legality of the settlements but that is not what I wanted to talk about.

            Let me see if I understand you – the Hamas is a terror organization with a known record of crimes. It is illegal in any sense of the word. So it should be OK to prosecute people who are working for Hamas, voted for Hamas, donate to Hamas? Should we ask Arab travelers to show their email accounts and prove they do not have any emails indicating they are part of the Hamas or support Hamas?

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Designation of “terror organization” is only loosely related to “known record of crimes”. Hamas indeed has this status in USA with all consequences that you have listed (voting is still not regarded as a crime, though so I did not mention sanctions on people who voted for Lapid, just himself and those who work for him).

            However, in other cases the mere fact that you are blowing cars on street cities on a regular bases is sanctions as follows “we will give you 250 millions USD in non-lethal aid only”, and “who cares if crates of ammunition stamped with shipping labels to our allies turned out in your possession, it is too complicated for us to figure out and to do anything about it” and “just do not brag to much about the violence on an international conference, just stick to whining”.

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Sorry, I was hasty, and my reply to you, Vadim, requires a lot of corrections to be properly understood. I hope that you can do it, given your superior intelligence. E.g. “though so I did not mention” should be “therefore I did not mention”. I apologize and thanks for understanding. Простите меня!

            Reply to Comment
    3. The settlers are like guerillas – front line sabateurs who are the cutting edge of the theft and fear that works away at the margins… taking land, intimidating, setting fires, harassing as the need arises. Many of them are psychopathic, hardened, mono-minded extremists.

      The only way you can alter this pathology is for the state to have the will to crack down on it hard. This will is not present. So all the talk about doing this and that amounts to nothing. They will continue to find avenues to commit their outrages and continue to supply a catalog of justification for the justice to come… and it will come.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Victor

      The disconnect between this article (and most of the comments) from the reality on the ground, the perspective of the “settlers” (as if they are some monolithic entity, and not 500,000 unique individuals spread across 100+ communities), is staggering.

      People in places like Yitzhar feel besieged. They are not out to conquer Arab land or intimidate their Arab neighbors. Those (very very few) who carry out these “price tags” feel they are fighting back to protect their families. Every “right wing” rabbi has condemned the acts of vengeance and retaliation.

      We saw a big response after the brazen murder of a Yitzhar resident because the people of Yitzhar and surrounding Jewish communities know that if their Arab neighbors do not feel a price then the murders will not stop with just one Jewish father of five. Frankly, they have ZERO trust in the authorities to protect them from constant Arab harassment, theft, aggression against their lands, families and communities, most of which is not reported in outlets like 972mag.

      From their perspective, if the Army will not protect the Jewish residents of the region, then the residents will take their lives into their hands and make it clear to the Arab communities responsible for spawning the violence and sheltering the violent that there is a price for Jewish blood. This is done in self-defense and out of desperation at the inaction of authorities, not to rout the Arabs from the land.

      There are hundreds of thousands of able-bodied Jewish men in the territories, most with military experience and many (tens of thousands) from elite units. If they wanted to drive the Arabs from the land, they would have done it already, but we do not see such things on even a small scale. There is not a single Arab village depopulated by the “settlers” in the last 50 years. There are disputes over this well or that field, yes, but nothing like the “ethnic cleansing” that certain hysterical people claim is happening.

      The Jewish residents of this region want peace, many of them work and develop the region for the benefit of all its residents, including their Arab neighbors. However, a small but sizable minority has decided that they will not allow themselves to be harassed and slaughtered while the IDF looks on with shrugged shoulders.

      These few are misguided and they do a disservice to their own communities, but I can understand their frustration, their attempt to deal with a difficult reality by “doing something”.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Victor your commentary is undermined by one difficult and unassailable fact. The settlers you laud are already in violation of international law by virtue of encroaching on Palestinian land… so in the eyes of the vast majority of the world’s civil society they are already criminals.

      As for the settlers always acting in a defensive capacity… please this is delusional.

      Read some Gideon Levy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        About delusional: Victor arguments are also “too good”. Look at this:

        “However, a small but sizable minority has decided that they will not allow themselves to be harassed and slaughtered while the IDF looks on with shrugged shoulders.

        These few are misguided…”

        Sensible majority of settlers would allow themselves to be harassed and slaughtered, only a misguided minority is against it. “First they torture logic, then people.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Victor

          Piotr, I was merely relaying the perspective of that minority. I thought it was clear from the context, but I’ll be happy to clarify further, should you need me to. I apologize; English is not my first language, but if you make a good faith effort, I’m sure we can understand one another.

          Clearly, the overwhelming majority within Jewish communities in the territories prefers to work within the established bounds of Israeli law and the framework of state security. Because if 500,000 people, a good proportion of them with military experience, suddenly chose not to be peaceful, some anti-Arab graffiti and the occasional thrown stone would be the least of it.

          Reply to Comment
      • Victor

        J777, as you know, the State of Israel does not agree with your interpretation of international law. Similarly, Turkey disagrees with the opinion of a majority of the international community regarding international law as it applies to northern Cyprus. China disagrees… Tibet. Morocco… Western Sahara. Lebanon/Hezbollah/Syria… Sheba Farms. And so on and so forth.

        There would seem to be no shortage of nations seemingly in defiance of a majority opinion regarding some local application of international law. Is there any nation not in defiance of the full spectrum of international law on every conceivable issue? I wonder.

        Your use of the term “criminals” is emotionally loaded, but of no legal significance. No “settler” – much less “the settlers”, as a group – has been tried in any court and proven to have violated “international law”, as you have so cavalierly asserted. Of course, not only would such a person or persons have to be tried and convicted, but the court itself must have standing and jurisdiction to bring about such a trial, much less conclude it with a ruling, and finally have the authority to implement the judgement. It would seem that international law, or law itself, in civilized society, is quite a complicated and regulated process, not easily given to sloganeering or emotional outbursts.

        All that complexity may trouble good people such as yourself, but that’s the point – there is “street justice”, and there is law, and we should be mindful which is which.

        Jewish residents of communities in the territories are generally in full compliance with Israeli law, which has standing, jurisdiction, authority to implement, etc. Anyone who feels otherwise can bring a challenge through the Israeli courts, and thus bring those communities and their residents into compliance, if they are not already.

        Reply to Comment