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‘Price tag’ settler argues in court that revenge isn’t a crime

You would think that sentencing a group of Israelis for setting fire to a Palestinian cafe is a positive development. But a closer look shows that the culture of minimizing the seriousness of price tag attacks is alive and strong. 

Illustrative photo of a man being arrested. (Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of a man being arrested. (Shutterstock.com)

Were people’s lives and livelihoods not at stake, it would have been an almost sublime piece of parody. During the trial of four teenage Israeli settlers who set fire to a Palestinian-owned cafe in the West Bank town of Dura, which concluded on Monday, the defendants’ attorneys – as reported by Ynet – brought forth the claim that because the arson was an act of revenge, their clients were not guilty of breaking the law.

Let’s think about that for a moment. The arson was investigated by the Israel Police’s Nationalistic Crimes Unit in the Samaria and Judea (SJ) District. This body was set up as a response to settler violence, which frequently manifests as price tag attacks – i.e. acts of violent revenge by Israelis against Palestinians and their property.

This act of arson was indeed an act of revenge, against the setting alight of an entertainment complex in the Beit El settlement, a fact that the boys helpfully spelled out on a wall adjacent to the cafe they tried to burn down [Heb].

As one would expect, in court the prosecution highlighted the vengeful nature of the act, as well as the mortal risk it presented. At which point, the defense countered with its declaration that the boys were no criminals, but rather, “simply teens that had their hangout spot burned and decided to get revenge by burning a similar hangout spot in the village which the accused thought the original arsonists came from” (quoted in Ynet [Heb]).

Or in other words, the biblical admonition of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” was produced as a legitimate mitigating factor by the settlers’ attorney, something that would seem to undermine the entire raison d’être of the Nationalistic Crimes Unit. (The convicted arsonists’ lawyers mostly work for Honenu, a self-proclaimed “Israeli Zionist legal aid organization which offers legal assistance to [those] … in legal entanglements due to defending themselves against Arab aggression, or due to their love for Israel.” Honenu has a tendency to take on cases defending Jewish Israelis accused of aggression against Palestinians.)

Aside from the bizarre spectacle of both sides citing the same motive as the reason why their side should win, a few other points about this case are worth noting. Firstly, it is an extremely rare example of a conviction against Israeli Jews indicted for ideological (i.e. nationalistic or hate) crimes.

As per the recent findings of Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, the rate of indictment for nationalistic crimes is remarkably low; a survey of SJ District Police files investigating attacks against Palestinians and/or their property by Israeli civilians showed that between 2005 and 2014, only 7.4 percent of such cases ended with indictments. Furthermore, since the establishment of the Nationalistic Crimes Unit, the performance of the Israel Police’s SJ District has actually worsened.

In that context, the very fact that there was a conviction at all in the Dura price tag case is significant. The sentence of three months of community service, along with a year of probation and a NIS 500 fine, however, merely reinforces the tired suspicion that when justice is served in hate crimes against Palestinians, it is of a token nature (leaving aside the anomalous 30-month prison sentence for another price tag arson attack handed down to two settlers last December, the first sentence of its kind).

In a plea bargain, the initial indictment for racially motivated arson and damage to property was whittled down to a single charge of arson and the nationalistic aspect of the crime was stricken from the record. So in spite of the rarity of such a conviction, which should be applauded, the culture of minimizing the seriousness of price tag attacks lives on. Not only that, but in terms of deterrence, the negligible sentence will surely serve as an encouragement to those inclined to commit further price tag attacks.

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    1. Pedro X

      972mag journalistic credo: the facts do not matter, the law does not matter, what matters is to present an anti-Zionist story line each and every day.

      972mag “You would think that sentencing a group of Israelis for burning down a Palestinian cafe is a positive development.”

      Maannews:

      “the four teens, who had pre-planned the attack, arrived at the cafe with their faces covered and set fire to couches and armchairs.”

      So the facts are that they did not burn down the cafe. No one was hurt. They were not found in possession of knives, guns or other instruments of attack showing an intent to injure people. The charges were reduced to arson and the other charges involving racial motivation were dropped.

      The same could not be said of Israeli men sentenced in December 2014 and February 2015 to three years for an arson attack on Palestinians. Landsberg and Sabir were convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime motivated by racism, arson in a group, and corrupting land in a group motivated by racism. Times of Israel reported that among other things found during the raid, police found knives, saws, flammable liquids, tear gas canisters, face masks.

      Other serious crimes against Palestinians by Israelis have also drawn heavy sentences. In 2011 Zvi Struk, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison for assaulting a Palestinian.

      In the teens case here, defence counsel was right in presenting the act as one of revenge in answer to a Palestinian attack on their entertainment complex. Provocation is a well known legal concept which might not exonerate a person’s acts but might lessen the penalty that an unprovoked crime might attract. The court was also right to point out to the teens’ clean criminal record in sentencing and their admission to the offences.

      The judge’s ruling and sentencing of the teens is what one would expect in any court in Canada or the United States when the racial motivation is not proved. For instance, in Winnipeg, Manitoba a teenager was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation for setting a Jewish classmate’s hair on fire in a high school hallway. In that case the racial motivation hate crime aspects was dropped by the crown in a plea deal. In that case the 15 year old Jewish girl did not provoke her attacker. Even though the crime appeared to be motivated by anti-Semitism the judge ruled on the charge before him and sentenced the teen accordingly. The Israeli judge did the same.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        Pedro’s credo: always ignore the essence of an article:

        “..the trial of four teenage Israeli settlers who set fire to a Palestinian-owned cafe in the West Bank town of Dura, which concluded on Monday, the defendants’ attorneys – as reported by Ynet – brought forth the claim that because the arson was an act of revenge, their clients were not guilty of breaking the law.”

        It is astonishing that an Israeli attorney would claim that revenge is a mitigating factor. And while there have been convictions for crimes of this nature, the Israeli legal system doesn’t take them all that seriously:

        “As per the recent findings of Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, the rate of indictment for nationalistic crimes is remarkably low; a survey of SJ District Police files investigating attacks against Palestinians and/or their property by Israeli civilians showed that between 2005 and 2014, only 7.4 percent of such cases ended with indictments.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Whiplash

          There is a important law of which both Ms. Roth and Mr. Gould are totally ignorant. A lawyer cannot enter a guilty plea for his client and then argue that his client did not Break the law. A great jurist once said you cannot suck and blow at the same time. Thus Ms. Roth’s assertion that the teens’ lawyer argued that revenge is not a crime is totally nonsensical and inaccurate. The lawyer pled his clients guilty to breaking the law of arson and did not advance that an act of revenge was a defence to the charge. What he asked the judge to do was to view their actions in the context of a series events in which they responded inappropriately to Palestinian attacks on their recreational center.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Too funny!!! They set fire to the couches and the armchairs but they didn’t “burn down” the cafe. Everything’s cool. What’s the fuss?
        Hey Pedro X I suggest you take a child’s course in the physics of combustion and the behavior of fire and its dangers.
        Really does anything better encapsulate the conceits and double standards of hard right wing Zionists (other than Gustav’s umbrage taking at the official’s characterization of the Israeli in the Veep’s bathroom and his compatriots)?

        Reply to Comment
      • Phil

        Quintessential Pedro.. boys will be boys and anyway, no-one was hurt, and of course the classic, they started it first

        Of course, if these boys had been Palestinian he would have called them terrorists and cried out for their blood

        What a pointless waste of space he is

        Reply to Comment
      • While provocation can be used as a mitigating factor, its value declines with delay from the purported prior act. If I am hit and hit back, that can be called “human revenge,” the first hit placed before the court to attenuate punishment. If I am hit, leave, then return to my assailant and execute a plan to do harm, forethought erases the provocation; that is, I could have as well used the delay to not return aggressively. As the consequences of the provocation expand, so does the possible scope of mitigation after guilt. The present case seems something of a vague gang-like quid pro quo where mitigation as personal struggle after harm has less impact. That is, the court can punish to deter such group action in the future.

        The plea bargain removed “racially motivated” from the charge, which means that the State didn’t want to go there either. In a country which has been in a low level war all of its life, for whatever reasons, this is not surprising, especially when applied to youth who otherwise in the near future will be subject to conscription in defense of the nation.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kevin Dixler

          An interesting discourse about how hate crimes are handled, post conviction. Three months community service for the destruction of a thriving business. Perhaps, they can start by helping clean up the smoke damage and re-apholster the furniture?that they destroyed?

          Reply to Comment
    2. Weiss

      Wow… 3 months community service for Arson & attempted murder…

      One would expect that in the dee south of the U.S.

      Reply to Comment