Police: Sitting on a powder keg

With every spark having potential to set off an explosion, police are pressured to indict the perpetrators of ‘price tag’ attacks.

Palestinians look at burned tires in mosque 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Palestinians look at burned tires in mosque 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
When “price tag” incidents first appeared several years ago in the West Bank, police took a rather submissive view of the phenomenon.
Initially, far-Right activists pioneered the actions in order to try and deter the state from clearing illegal settlement outposts, declaring that every such demolition would carry a “price.”
The actions were spontaneous and typically involved roaming groups of youths targeting random Palestinian civilians who happened to cross their path, as well as attacks on their properties.
By 2009, the activists grew increasingly bold, including the habitual setting fire to Palestinian fields, throwing rocks at vehicles, and launching violent clashes with the IDF and Border Police.
Two years later and the attacks have only escalated. Today, the police’s lackluster approach to the issue has been replaced with genuine alarm based on the recognition that with the growth of radical forces and the chaos currently engulfing the Middle East, price tag perpetrators are like a pyromaniac playing with a lighter in a gas-filled room. Every spark has the potential to set off an explosion.
The perpetrators have become increasingly organized, calculated and daring, to the point that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) views the far-Right cells behind the attacks as operating like a terror organization whose members gather intelligence on targets before striking.
In the past two months alone, two West Bank mosques were targeted with arson and vandalism attacks and an IDF base was sabotaged by vandals who left behind far-Right graffiti.
This week the phenomenon crossed the Green Line, with an arson and vandalism attack on a Beduin village in the Galilee where many residents serve in the army, sending shock waves throughout the country.
Last month, during a meeting with reporters, Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino expressed the police's new alarm over price tag attacks, saying "These acts are so dangerous, and harmful on a national level. They can result in an escalation, and this is the last thing the country needs.”
Danino also expressed the growing frustration felt by police and the Shin Bet over the fact that not a single indictment has yet to be filed against a suspect for price tag offenses, despite several arrests over the years. “I measure success in indictments.”
As none have so far materialized, a new national task force made up of Judea and Samaria district officers and detectives from the elite Lahav police unit has been formed and ordered to track down the suspects and make charges against them stick. Nevertheless, police are severely limited in their abilities to pursue these objectives.
The Judea and Samaria police district, which operates only in Areas B and C of the West Bank, is made up of approximately 1,000 officers and has 17 patrol cars in service during any given shift – a very small force in comparison with the size of its jurisdiction.
The district also has access to 2,000 Judea and Samaria Border Police who are under IDF command, as well as soldiers from the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division.
In theory, the combined forces work in conjunction with the Shin Bet and the IDF’s Civil Administration, with all agencies working as one organization under a 2007 arrangement by former Judea and Samaria police chief Cmdr. Shlomi Ka'atabi and former IDF OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni.
Yet, as the police learned since putting these arrangements in place, relying on military backup forces is useful for rapid responses to developments on the ground but useless in carrying out proper investigations into price tag incidents that result in charges and convictions.
The Shin Bet’s Jewish Division has been even more frustrated by its failure to provide intelligence leading to indictments.
According to recent media reports, the suspects behind price tag incidents have even learned not to bring their cell phones along to attacks due to their awareness that the devices can be used to track their movements and prove their involvement in incidents.
Nevertheless, police are more confident than ever that the tide is about to change. With increased resources made available toward tackling those behind price tag incidents, and with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu breathing down the necks of security forces to get results, there has never been more motivation to begin stemming the price tag phenomenon.