On Price Tag attacks, tough talk and weak suggestions



Carmi Gillon is not impressed. Following a series of “Price Tag” attacks (acts of vandalism or violence directed at Arabs, often in response to Israeli government policy in the Palestinian Territories) within the Green Line, the former Shin Bet Chief said Israel could stop the attacks if the authorities really wanted to and that like the agency dealt with the Jewish underground when he was in charge, they could do the same if they just had the willpower.

Graffiti spray-painted on a mosque in Fureidis last week. (Israel Police) Graffiti spray-painted on a mosque in Fureidis last week. (Israel Police) “We don’t see results because we don’t have the intention to,” Gillon said, adding that in the Shin Bet “there’s no such thing as can’t, there’s don’t want to.”
Gillon added that the whole problem could be solved quickly and that “if the head of the Shin Bet [ISA] decides to deal with a certain issue there would be results just like there was with the Jewish underground. Back then we dealt with them like terror groups.”
Forget the irony here, that Gillon is remembered largely for heading the agency responsible for personal protection of senior government officials at the time a Jewish terrorist managed to murder a prime minister. That was twenty years ago, and anyway, as a former Shin Bet head, his words are guaranteed to strike a chord.
His comments bear a strong resemblance to ones senior law enforcement officials make regarding the mob shootings and car bombs carried out by Israeli gangsters. That is, if we believe these are terror attacks then they must be dealt with like we deal with terrorists. Or, more often, the question asked is if the Shin Bet could defeat (insert terrorist adversary here), then why can’t they [police and/or the Shin Bet] handle this small group of criminals? Did anybody ask Gillon what Shin Bet anti-terror tactics he suggests for dealing with Price Tags? A drone strike on the settlement of Yitzhar? Demolishing the homes of the Hilltop youth? Maybe a personal security fence surrounding each right-wing activist? The anti-terror tool that law enforcement officers tend to advocate for use against organized crime is administrative detention. That is, just like the Army and Shin Bet hold Palestinian terror suspects – including minors – indefinitely without charge and without the ability to see the charges against them, so should we deal with our own domestic terrorists.
How does that play out though in the field? Take last week for instance. A husband and wife from Yitzhar were arrested on suspicion of being somehow involved in the vandalism and attempted torching of a mosque in Umm al-Fahm last month. In court at their remand hearing the only evidence mentioned was that there is suspicion a car that matches the description of the family car (a Suzuki Baleno, very popular in Israel) was seen near the scene of the crime.
It sounds flimsy, but in the war against terror, that would probably be more than enough. If the couple were to be dealt with like terror suspects, they probably would not even have appeared in court, nor would there be an arrest warrant or charges filed. The couple may have simply vanished from Yitzhar for six months, maybe more, until they cracked and confessed, some other evidence turned up, or the authorities decided to release them.
Is this what Gillon suggests for dealing with Price Tags, especially when so many of the suspects are minors? Maybe he suggests using the “moderate physical pressure” and later the “increased physical pressure” the Shin Bet used against detainees under his tenure. One can imagine the fallout if Israeli secret police began rounding up right-wing activists – especially minors – and began using these tactics on them. Furthermore, where does this slippery slope bottom out? The potential erosion of suspects rights would be immense as ultimately all the police would have to do in order to hold you indefinitely would be to label you a terror suspect. Lawsuits against Israeli authorities would be filed in legion and the abuse of detainees would be one of the greatest recruiting tools the extreme right has ever had.
So what’s to be done? Unlike organized crime violence, Price Tags are a form of terrorism. Still, the solutions should be similar. You need witnesses, you need evidence, you need more officers in the field at all times, and you need the budget to supply those man hours. You also need judges willing to give sentences that deter future offenders.
For the most part price tags are difficult crimes to police. There is little to no forensic evidence or witnesses, suspects almost never crack under questioning, and most of the people brought in are minors. Nonetheless, with more resources there should be more results.
Such resources would require willpower and public outrage that may be lacking. In that sense, Gillon might be right, though next time a former Shin Bet Chief starts giving advice, someone should ask what they’re actually suggesting.