Workers clean price tag from Muslim cemetary, J'lem_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
A few months ago, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi met with a group of
judges from courts in the center of the country.
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His goal was to try to
explain what was happening in the West Bank, why it was difficult to collect
concrete evidence on settlers and why, in the case of perpetrators of so-called
“price-tag” attacks who walk out of court with barely a slap on the wrist, there
was effectively zero deterrence.
In the months since those meetings,
Mizrahi and the entire Israeli law enforcement system have faced an apparently
dramatic increase in the number of attacks against Palestinians and IDF troops
throughout the West Bank – and occasionally within Israel.
In the past
three months alone, incidents included the infiltration and subsequent vandalism
of the Binyamin Regional Brigade base, the firebombing of a mosque in the
Israeli-Beduin village of Tuba-Zanghariya and the burning of a mosque last week
near the Ariel settlement.
None of this was enough to shake up the
system, even though it should have.Only on Tuesday
, after settlers and
right-wing activists allegedly crossed the border fence
between Israel and
Jordan, threw stones at a group of Palestinians, attacked IDF officers
vandalized the Efraim Regional Brigade base did Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak slam their fists on the table and
The problem is that their “enough” is not going to be enough
to stop the far-right extremists who are suspected of being behind the series of
attacks. One key reason is that the group is extremely determined, and the
defense and legal establishments are not.
What first needs to be
understood is that these settlers and far-right activists largely do not fear
the police or the courts.
Past experience has also shown that punishments
tend to be minor, and that’s in the rare instance where the case actually makes
it to court.
The group, which consists mostly of “Hilltop Youth” who live
in illegal outposts and some of the more extreme settlements in Samaria, also
has a clear objective – to deter the Israeli government from taking action to
evacuate these locales.
So far this strategy has worked. Just last month,
Barak asked the High Court of Justice for a delay in carrying out a series of
court-ordered evacuations to prevent an escalation of violence in the West
While Netanyahu and Barak do not sanction the “price tag” attacks,
these incidents are somewhat convenient.
Neither politician wants to rock
the boat with settlers and enter months of social infighting, which would
distract them from focusing on the more pressing challenges Israel faces, such
as the threats posed by Iran, Egypt and Syria.
Moreover, Netanyahu and
Barak use the violence as a justification during talks with the Americans, to
explain why they are dragging their feet in evacuating the illegal
They claim it does not make sense to evacuate the outposts now,
face a civil war within Israel and then never be able to move forward with a
full evacuation under a peace deal with the Palestinians. Instead, they argue,
it makes more sense to wait and evacuate all areas at once.
is that these delays are what empower the extremists who are behind the attacks.
Instead of showing them that despite their activities, the IDF, police and
Justice Ministry still know how to enforce the law, the attackers are walking
away with a different conclusion – that violence pays.