Special police task force probes rash of ‘price tag’ crimes

"This would never happen in Jewish neighborhoods," says Arab east J'lem resident after five cars vandalized near Old City.

price tag border police watches 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
price tag border police watches 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amid calls for a stronger police presence throughout the capital following a spate of nationalistically motivated “price-tag” crimes over the past week, authorities created a special task force to aggressively address the growing problem.
There have been at least three incidents of defacement against Arab and Christian targets since Sunday – resulting in the destruction of over 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 Tuesday morning, 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, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
On Sunday afternoon, four ultra-Orthodox youths were arrested in Jerusalem after destroying 15 gravestones in the Christian cemetery, following a protracted foot race with police through the Old City when they attempted to flee the scene.
Also on Sunday night, two Jewish teenagers were arrested 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 the case.
Rosenfeld added that the special task force was also implemented in each district in the country, coordinated with police headquarters, to address the spike in “price tag” crimes.
“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.
Still, Arab residents of east Jerusalem expressed exacerbation Tuesday due to the ongoing trend of nationalistically- motivated vandalism against them.
“This would never happen in a Jewish neighborhood,” said one Arab woman Tuesday, who requested anonymity. “Because we are not Jews we do not get the same protection.”
“It’s just going to get worse,” added a middle-aged man, who also asked that his name not be published.
“I can’t remember when this has happened more [frequently].
It’s a big problem.”
In May, Army Radio reported a sharp increase in cases of harassment by Jews against Arabs, citing 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.
In a statement issued by Livni and Aharonovitch’s offices, the ministries said Aharonovitch, Livni and Weinstein “see eye to eye on the need for more serious steps to be taken [against perpetrators] of such attacks.”
They added 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” incidents as acts of terror, according to sources.
In the past, Weinstein opposed such a legal definition, but according to sources, he is weighing shifting that opinion, given that the legal deterrents currently available to police have not been sufficient to halt these crimes.
Meretz councilman Meir Margalit, who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, said last month that he and his constituents are dissatisfied with the response of both the government and the police.
“This is something that happens every day in Jerusalem, even if the news doesn’t cover it,” he said.
“It has become routine in Jerusalem, especially in the Christian Quarter.”
According to Margalit, police reaction to such crimes has been selective and decidedly ineffective.
He added that his primary concern is that leaders within the capital’s security establishment are not making substantive efforts to curtail the pattern, despite rhetoric indicating otherwise.
“The fact is that this happens again and again, many times in the same places,” he said. “Something more needs to be done.”