The Israeli defense minister has raised the idea of using administrative detention against violent settlers. But there are more interests at play than meets the eye.
As I wrote here last week, “price tag” – attacks by fringe settler groups perpetrated against (mostly) Palestinian property and civilians – finally hit the national news in Israel. The reason was the object of (one) of the latest attacks: a small IDF post near Yitzhar that settlers stormed, and the tires of the regional commander’s jeep, which were slashed when he visited the same settlement.
The honor of the general’s tires worked where the beating of a farmer with metal rods failed to get a response, and “mainstream” speakers, mostly from the Right, competed with each other in condemning the vandals. Today, Haaretz reported that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is considering using the country’s emergency laws against price tag suspects – namely administrative detention and other methods that bypass the rule of law and are usually reserved for Palestinians. Haaretz’s story said that in the IDF, security establishment and cabinet, there is growing support for using special measures against extreme right-wing activists.
But is it really necessary? Many price tag attacks are carried out in broad daylight, and some of them are even caught on video (recent examples: here, here, here, here, here). Israeli law already provides law enforcement with enough tools not only to catch the attackers, but also to convict them.
The real reason for the demand is twofold. Firstly, the Israeli government, like most governments, is using the current public outrage in order to seize for itself the ability and legitimacy to use measures that diverge from from norms of democratic rule of law (administrative detention allows jailing someone even when no crime has been committed – only on the basis of the “suspect’s” potential to commit a crime).
Second, and probably more importantly, is the image the very idea of those measures creates: as if “price tag” offenders are Al Capone-like criminals who are so difficult to track down that special measures are necessary in order to put them behind bars. In reality, the failure to protect the lives and property of Palestinians under Israeli rule is not a matter of resources or ability, but that of a policy – one which views the civilian population in the occupied territories through an ethnic prism, and which considers each and every Palestinian as part of the enemy and not much else.