Police arrest 14 Jewish teens for alleged ‘price-tag’ attacks

Teens admit to targeting residents of east Jerusalem in at least 20 incidents over past several months.

Tag Mehir graffiti 370 (photo credit: Iyad Hadad, B'tselem)
Tag Mehir graffiti 370
(photo credit: Iyad Hadad, B'tselem)
Following a protracted investigation by a new police unit dedicated to nationalistically motivated crimes in the capital, 14 Orthodox Jewish teenagers were arrested for participating in over 20 hate crimes, or “price-tag attacks,” against Israeli Arabs in east Jerusalem, police said Sunday.
The arrests took place over the past two weeks, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Sunday afternoon, after a gag order involving the case was lifted by the court. Due to the ages of the suspects, their identities are being withheld.
According to Rosenfeld, suspects are all between the ages of 13 and 16 and have appeared before Jerusalem’s Magistrate court, which has remanded all of them except for four, who were granted a conditional release based on their young age.
Rosenfeld said the suspects were apprehended following an extended undercover operation by the newly formed unit.
To date, Rosenfeld said, the teens confessed to planning and engaging in at least 20 crimes.
“All of the suspects arrested and being charged were involved in, and have admitted to, crimes against Arab Israelis that have taken place in east Jerusalem – including stone throwing, attempting to attack them, and a breadth of vandalism,” said Rosenfeld.
He added that the teens confessed to hurling rocks at Egged buses on Highway 1 driven by drivers whom they identified as Arab, setting cars alight in Sheikh Jarrah, slashing and vandalizing dozens of tires, and indiscriminately throwing rocks at, and harassing, Arab residents.
“The officers working in this special unit will continue its important operation to prevent and respond to any types of [nationalistically motivated] incidents now and in the future,” Rosenfeld said. In response to the arrests, Meretz councilman Meir Margalit, who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio – and has been critical of police responses to pricetag crimes – praised the arrests, but noted that more needs to be done institutionally to prevent future such attacks.
“First of all, I want to say a good word for the police for arresting them,” he said Sunday evening. “Even though the arrests came late, I prefer late to nothing.”
Margalit said he did not blame the juveniles arrested as much as the rabbis at the yeshivas where they study, whom he said engender and condone such criminal behavior.
“What the government should do is find out who these rabbis are who condone these activities and charge them as accessories,” he said.
“Unless this is done, the problem will continue.”
The arrests came amid calls for a stronger police presence throughout the capital following a spate of nationalistically motivated crimes over the past several months.
There have been at least three incidents of vandalism against Arab and Christian targets since September 29, resulting in the destruction of more than a dozen gravestones at a Christian cemetery in the Old City as well as the defacement of 15 Arab-owned vehicles.
The latest incident occurred on October 1, when five cars were vandalized on the outskirts of the Old City, with the words “price tag” graffitied with spray paint on one of the vehicles.
On September 29, four ultra- Orthodox youths were arrested in Jerusalem after destroying 15 gravestones in the Christian cemetery, following a foot race with police through the Old City when they attempted to flee the scene.
Also on September 29, police arrested two Jewish teenagers for allegedly vandalizing 10 cars in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Shimon Hatzadik. According to Rosenfeld, since then a total of eight arrests have been made in that case.
“Israeli police patrols have been stepped up to prevent and respond to these serious incidents, which have caused tremendous damage not only to the intended targets, but also to the communities where they took place,” Rosenfeld said. In May, Army Radio reported a sharp increase in cases of harassment by Jews against Arabs, citing over 180 incidents since January, compared to 200 in all of 2012.
In response, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein held a meeting that same month to discuss the growing problem, along with representatives from the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the State Attorney’s Office.
A statement issued by Livni’s and Aharonovitch’s offices said that they and Weinstein “see eye to eye on the need for more serious steps to be taken [against perpetrators] of such attacks,” adding that they “see the severity of price-tag attacks seeping into Israel, and the danger inherent in damaging relations with Arab-Israelis.”
Participants at the meeting discussed harsher steps to deter such incidents, including legally defining “price-tag” crimes as acts of terror, according to sources.
In the past, Weinstein opposed such a legal definition, but according to sources, he is weighing the option of shifting that opinion, given that the legal deterrents available to police have not been sufficient to halt these crimes.
In June, shortly after an attack in Beit Hanina, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the phenomenon, stating that the government will “act with a strong hand against” such crimes in the future.