Following a protracted investigation by a new police unit dedicated to
nationalistically motivated crimes in the capital, 14 Orthodox Jewish teenagers
were arrested for participating in over 20 hate crimes, or “price-tag attacks,”
against Israeli Arabs in east Jerusalem, police said Sunday.
took place over the past two weeks, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Sunday
afternoon, after a gag order involving the case was lifted by the court. Due to
the ages of the suspects, their identities are being withheld.
to Rosenfeld, suspects are all between the ages of 13 and 16 and have appeared
before Jerusalem’s Magistrate court, which has remanded all of them except for
four, who were granted a conditional release based on their young
Rosenfeld said the suspects were apprehended following an extended
undercover operation by the newly formed unit.
To date, Rosenfeld said,
the teens confessed to planning and engaging in at least 20 crimes.
of the suspects arrested and being charged were involved in, and have admitted
to, crimes against Arab Israelis that have taken place in east Jerusalem –
including stone throwing, attempting to attack them, and a breadth of
vandalism,” said Rosenfeld.
He added that the teens confessed to hurling
rocks at Egged buses on Highway 1 driven by drivers whom they identified as
Arab, setting cars alight in Sheikh Jarrah, slashing and vandalizing dozens of
tires, and indiscriminately throwing rocks at, and harassing, Arab
“The officers working in this special unit will continue its
important operation to prevent and respond to any types of [nationalistically
motivated] incidents now and in the future,” Rosenfeld said. In response to the
arrests, Meretz councilman Meir Margalit, who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio
– and has been critical of police responses to pricetag crimes – praised the
arrests, but noted that more needs to be done institutionally to prevent future
“First of all, I want to say a good word for the police for
arresting them,” he said Sunday evening. “Even though the arrests came late, I
prefer late to nothing.”
Margalit said he did not blame the juveniles
arrested as much as the rabbis at the yeshivas where they study, whom he said
engender and condone such criminal behavior.
“What the government should
do is find out who these rabbis are who condone these activities and charge them
as accessories,” he said.
“Unless this is done, the problem will
The arrests came amid calls for a stronger police presence
throughout the capital following a spate of nationalistically motivated crimes
over the past several months.
There have been at least three incidents of
vandalism against Arab and Christian targets since September 29, resulting in
the destruction of more than a dozen gravestones at a Christian cemetery in the
Old City as well as the defacement of 15 Arab-owned vehicles.
incident occurred on October 1, when five cars were vandalized on the outskirts
of the Old City, with the words “price tag” graffitied with spray paint on one
of the vehicles.
On September 29, four ultra- Orthodox youths were
arrested in Jerusalem after destroying 15 gravestones in the Christian cemetery,
following a foot race with police through the Old City when they attempted to
flee the scene.
Also on September 29, police arrested two Jewish
teenagers for allegedly vandalizing 10 cars in the east Jerusalem neighborhood
of Shimon Hatzadik. According to Rosenfeld, since then a total of eight arrests
have been made in that case.
“Israeli police patrols have been stepped up
to prevent and respond to these serious incidents, which have caused tremendous
damage not only to the intended targets, but also to the communities where they
took place,” Rosenfeld said. In May, Army Radio reported a sharp increase in
cases of harassment by Jews against Arabs, citing over 180 incidents since
January, compared to 200 in all of 2012.
In response, Justice Minister
Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Attorney- General
Yehuda Weinstein held a meeting that same month to discuss the growing problem,
along with representatives from the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency)
and the State Attorney’s Office.
A statement issued by Livni’s and
Aharonovitch’s offices said that they and Weinstein “see eye to eye on the need
for more serious steps to be taken [against perpetrators] of such attacks,”
adding that they “see the severity of price-tag attacks seeping into Israel, and
the danger inherent in damaging relations with
Participants at the meeting discussed harsher steps to
deter such incidents, including legally defining “price-tag” crimes as acts of
terror, according to sources.
In the past, Weinstein opposed such a legal
definition, but according to sources, he is weighing the option of shifting that
opinion, given that the legal deterrents available to police have not been
sufficient to halt these crimes.
In June, shortly after an attack in Beit
Hanina, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the phenomenon, stating that
the government will “act with a strong hand against” such crimes in the future.