The riots and attacks on security forces this week in Yitzhar, including the slashing of tires of the jeep of Samaria Brigade Commander Col. Yoav Yarom, have spurred a new wave of public condemnations at the highest levels.
But the fact is that these acts of terror – and there is no better name for them – have been going on too long, and the price we are paying for not punishing the perpetrators is climbing. In the absence of a clear law-enforcement policy that should have been dictated by the Israeli government when Palestinians were the target we are now witnessing outright violence toward Israeli soldiers.
Two decades ago, Israel laid the groundwork for the emergence of the despicable phenomena now known as “price tag.” In the midst of negotiations leading up to the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Serving as head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria at the time, I vividly remember the feeling of shock among IDF officers and soldiers of all ranks, and the atmosphere of panic on the Palestinian street.
All eyes were turned to the Israeli government, with the expectation that the response would be immediate, and the message both loud and clear. Prime minister Yitzchak Rabin’s initial inclination was to dismantle the Jewish settlement of Tel Rumeida, but he later changed his mind, either because of political pressure or perhaps because he did not want to be the one to set a precedent of removing settlements while negotiations between the two sides were in progress.
Tel Rumeida still stands, and the Jewish settlement in Hebron has meanwhile grown, posing serious limitations on Palestinian movement in the city. Additional policy decisions came later, signaling further encouragement of fanatic nationalism. For example, the Israeli government approved Goldstein’s burial in Kiryat Arba, therefore enabling his grave to become a pilgrimage site for Jewish extremists.
Kach founder Meir Kahane had a park and city square named after him. These significant milestones were set in spite of personal convictions of policy makers, and probably as a result of political pressures and considerations.
The same questionable path has been adopted, together with a deafening silence, by the rabbis and members of the Yesha Council with regard to price tag attacks. Leniency has prepared the ground for organized criminal actions which at first glance seem anarchistic and spontaneous.
In fact, “price tag” operations are carried out by a meticulously organized network of cells devoted to the sole purpose of threatening the government so that it will desist from harming the settlement enterprise in any way. This network closely resembles terrorist organizations both in structure and mode of operation and it succeeds in veiling its headquarters and any internal communications between cells.
Unlike the Jewish underground that was active three decades ago, “price tag” activists act boldly in broad daylight. But policy makers still turn a blind eye, and legislators have followed suit. 84 percent of the cases are closed because the authorities fail to identify the perpetrators.
Only 8.5% of the cases make it to court. For some unfathomable reason, “price tag” activity is not defined as terror and those who engage in it are not considered terrorists, making it extremely difficult for the Shin Bet, the IDF and the police to implement certain interrogation and enforcement methods.
Criminal law enforcement is not enough of a deterrent, and these criminals dodge the authorities as skillfully as gangsters in the organized crime world. The majority of “price tag” lawbreakers go unpunished.
This week, the Council for Peace and Security, which represents hundreds of veterans of the Israeli security establishment, submitted a signed petition to the Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff expressing concern regarding the escalation of attacks against soldiers and security personnel and calling for a clear law enforcement policy to prevent further deterioration of the civil order.
Indeed, 20 years after the horrendous actions of Baruch Goldstein, it is time that the Israeli government regains control – not over the Palestinians but over these Jewish hooligans that take the law into their own hands while exhibiting complete disdain for IDF soldiers and any form of authority. The time has come to reinforce the law, and restore social order as is befitting in a modern and enlightened society.
The author, a brigadier general (res.) in the IDF, is chairman of the Council for Peace and Security and former head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria.