Defense Minister: 'Price tag' attackers do not represent Jewish, Israeli values

Ya'alon pledges "total war and zero tolerance" on perpetrators.

July 2, 2013 00:39
3 minute read.
A border policeman watches man wash away price tag graffiti in east Jerusalem.

price tag border police watches 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In line with a cabinet decision taken last month, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon declared price-tag attacks – in which far-right activists vandalize Arab property and assault Arab civilians – as instances of an unlawful gathering on Monday, in a bid to provide security forces with a greater range of legal tools to combat the phenomenon.

The new legal classification will in certain circumstances allow law enforcement to imprison suspects for longer, deny them access to lawyers for longer periods of an investigation, allow authorities to keep suspects in custody until the end of legal proceedings, and seize property.

The new measures will be at the disposal of law enforcement and security services in Israel and the West Bank.

“We must wage total war and display zero tolerance, while utilizing a maximum of means, as they [the attackers] do not represent the Jewish religion and the values of the State of Israel, and their actions are criminal in every way,” Ya’alon said.

The defense minister held a meeting in Tel Aviv on Monday with representatives from the Israel Police, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, and officials from the legal system.

During the meeting, officials compared price-tag activities to those of modern terrorist organizations, saying that like terrorists, the attackers are driven by ideology, act secretly, and aim to “prevent the legitimate Israeli government from carrying out political steps involving the enforcement of the law.”

Far-right activists are also seeking to spread fear among politicians and prevent them from taking decisions on removing outposts, the officials said during the meeting.

“This is a grave issue, in which indiscriminate violence is directed towards Arabs, while their property is harmed and lives are endangered,” Ya’alon said.

“I rule that this is an illegal association, with all of the legal implications that stem from that,” the defense minister added.

“These steps will be directed not only against those perpetuating the acts on the ground, but also against those initiating, spreading, and funding the ideology,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The IDF Central Command is set to receive new instructions in the coming days on how to respond to far-right attacks, Ya’alon said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has become increasingly concerned by escalating price-tag vandalism.

The prime minister recently signaled a significant crackdown on price-tag attacks by empowering Israeli security forces to investigate, detain and interrogate suspects more aggressively, using measures akin to the handling of Palestinian terrorists.

Following last month’s cabinet decision, the Prime Minister’s Office said the changes “will significantly strengthen the ability to fight ‘price-tag’ phenomena.” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni would continue to advance other legislation that would also deal with the issue, the office said.

Livni, along with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, have in the last few months advocated for classifying price-tag attacks as acts of terror, a decision the cabinet has refrained from taking.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said in June that better investigatory police work was needed, and not extra legislation.

Meanwhile, an ultra-Orthodox man was arrested Sunday for a September 2012 price-tag attack on a 19th-century Christian monastery in the West Bank, allegedly carried out in solidarity with other nationalistic Jewish settlers, police said Monday.

Graffiti allegedly left on the Latrun Monastery by the suspect referred to Migron, an unauthorized settler outpost evacuated by the Israeli government last year. The words “Jesus is a monkey” were also painted in Hebrew on a wall, and the monastery’s doors were then set ablaze.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the unidentified 22-year-old from Bnei Brak, a predominantly Orthodox town near Tel Aviv, was arrested on Sunday, and was scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

The crime was promptly condemned by Netanyahu, who said the perpetrators had threatened freedom of religion and must be punished.

Sunday’s arrest came in the wake of numerous attacks in Arab communities in recent months, including two major incidents within the past couple weeks where dozens of cars were vandalized in Abu Ghosh, west of the capital, and Beit Hanina, in northern Jerusalem.

Price-tag attacks have mostly focused on Palestinian property, including vehicles, homes and mosques, but have occasionally targeted Christian churches and Arab sites in the country, resulting in some fearing a third intifada.

Yonah Jeremy Bob and Reuters contributed to this report.

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