A mourner reacts next to the body of 18-month-old Palestinian baby Ali Dawabsha, who was killed after his family's house was set to fire in a suspected attack by Jewish extremists in Duma.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When it comes to looking at how best Israel can rein in far-right violence, it is worthwhile to map out the threat zone to gain a clearer idea of what security forces are facing.
There is a group of far-right operatives engaging in indiscriminate, brutal attacks on Palestinian civilians and their property in the territories. This is an inner circle of dangerous individuals, violent and secretive that forms the main focus of the Israel Security Agency’s (Shin Bet) Jewish Division, which is tasked with thwarting attacks and capturing perpetrators.
This inner circle is surrounded by a larger ring of far-right members who hold an extremist, Kahanist-like ideology, and who operate around the fringes of the violent group.
A third outer group also exists, which consists of people who provide an ideological tailwind in support of so called “price tag” incidents. The Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency is focused only on the inner group – dealing with extreme ideological concepts is not its role.
The Shin Bet’s efforts over 2014 and 2015 against far-right violence has resulted in a decrease in the number of these types of attacks. However, those that still occur have become more severe, as was tragically illustrated on Friday, when a Palestinian toddler was murdered in a terrorist arson attack.
The problem is generally not one of a lack of intelligence. While there is no such thing as a 100 percent intelligence success rate, the Shin Bet has become adept at gathering data on the inner circle, which is often made up of minors.
These improved intelligence capabilities can be seen in the recent charging of two suspects with the June arson attack on the Church of Loaves and Fishes in the North.
However, security forces often encounter difficulties in converting intelligence data into evidence for a trial. The Shin Bet questioned five people over the church attack, but they remained silent during questioning. Three suspects were released, despite being considered dangerous by security forces.
This is where the controversial tool of administrative detention kicks in.
The idea is not to use it as a punishment for past actions, but to prevent future attacks by suspects who cannot be reined in by other measures, such as restraining orders keeping them away from their intended targets. Such measures will always draw criticism because they do not require a trial to carry out. Far-right operatives, just like Palestinian terrorism suspects, can be kept in administrative detention for up to six months without access to lawyers, and a judge can renew the detention after seeing intelligence, thanks to a 2013 declaration by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon declaring price tag operatives to be members of an illegal association.
Defense officials believe this kind of preventative measure can deter potential attackers, thereby saving lives and preventing the risk of a wider security deterioration. Ya’alon’s call on Sunday for security forces to activate administrative detention will result in these kinds of arrests.
But other limitations still stand in the way of the war against far-right violence – obstacles that are tied to the legal process.
Members of the defense establishment now expect the legislature and courts to pull their weight in the crackdown on price tag violence.
This would include the changing of lax laws.
When attackers hurl firebombs at a Palestinian home that turned out to be empty at the time, under current laws, they, at most, face damage of property charges and end up with suspended sentences.
They should, in fact, be charged with attempted murder.