A high price tag for ‘Price Tags’

We must take the appropriate measures to fight and eradicate these acts perpetrated by rotten apples from among us, by using a coordinated perceptional and physical campaign.

"Price tag" graffiti in Beit Ummar 370 (photo credit: Manal Jabari/ B'Tselem)
"Price tag" graffiti in Beit Ummar 370
(photo credit: Manal Jabari/ B'Tselem)
In Israel, graffiti are a guaranteed method for public messaging. Write any inscription on a wall, and headlines will render it a “Price Tag” act, along with a photograph of your artwork.
It doesn’t have to be smart or meaningful.
Even “Donald Duck revenge!” will work, but you should also blaspheme Islam, add a right-wing- related term, or simply end with the words “Price Tag.” It is customary to add a personal touch, such as naming a settlement or commemorating a friend’s birthday.
If you really want to be effective, spray-paint the door of a mosque and slash the tires of a nearby car. Frowning and sighing in dismay and disgust, Yonit Levy on Channel 2 will announce it as if World War III has broken out.
The term “Price Tag” (Tag Mechir) was coined by settlers, describing actions aimed at Israeli authorities, meant to express that there was a price to pay for every eviction or demolition of settlements or outposts. It eventually assumed a broader context, referring to retaliatory actions by Jewish “hilltop youth” extremists, as a price Arabs will pay for attacking Jews.
Contrary to the term’s literal meaning, the acts are far from being “An eye for an eye,” and mostly involve damage to property and harassment, but there have also been physical attacks, arson, and desecration of holy sites.
The problem is that media coverage overrates, inflates and even encourages this phenomenon.
Attaching a title to criminal activity is, in essence, acting as an instigator and accelerator for more such crimes, and serves the perpetrators’ goals. It grants them the publicity they desire and attaches meaning and justification to what should have been portrayed and perceived as despicable and cowardly actions.
I do not argue for a media blackout when vandalism takes place, but there should be restraint and control on the level of exposure and interpretation.
There is absolutely no need to offer free PR to these scoundrels. Imagine their disappointment if the following headline appeared: “Despicable vandalism was committed. Due to the cowardly and childish nature of the acts, we will not show or quote what was written.” With such poor impact, why go to all the trouble of doing it again? Here’s the absurdity: Every kid who spray-paints the words “Price Tag,” automatically makes it a “Price Tag,” and any other act with apparent characteristics of Jewish extremism, is automatically granted this title.
It’s not a defined entity assuming responsibility for these actions, but the media shaping the image and scope of the problem.
The media are allowing sporadic actions of extremist kids to manipulate public agenda and opinion.
It’s the same mistake as attributing every far-flung terror act to al-Qaida, and the reckless habit of attaching Hollywood-style names to criminals, such as “The Dark Night Shooter.”
Some acts of vandalism, such as uprooting trees, have been proven to be self-inflicted by Palestinians, aiming to smear settlers and undermine coexistence. I’m no linguistic expert, but from what I’ve seen, I bet some of the inscriptions were not written by a native Hebrew speaker. This is yet another reason not to tag every incident as a “Price Tag,” for we don’t always know who is behind them.
Of course, the media do not serve national interests, for their compass is maximizing profit.
“Price Tag” reaps more rating than “vandalism.”
But journalism ethics and standards should be upheld, and I believe they are currently significantly violated. The media fans the flame of incitement, promotes conspiracy theories, and never misses an opportunity to enhance drama. They are not only reporting facts, but shaping public consciousness.
There are few cases of violence toward Palestinians, in contrast with the daily terror threat to Israelis, but this is no comfort. We cannot accept any form of violence toward Palestinians.
First and foremost, because it is morally wrong. Second, because we have a legal obligation to maintain public order and protect the property and well-being of all residents. And third, because every case of Jewish violence diverts and distorts public opinion about Israel.
Disgraceful acts of desecration against religious sites, such as the recent vandalism at the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem, stain the remarkable achievement of freedom of worship in Israel. We have seen how reality can be twisted, such as in a 60 Minutes documentary, which strangely blamed Israeli actions for the dwindling Christian population in Bethlehem.
Palestinian leaders manage to bring “settler violence” to international attention and even call it “terrorism.” Yes – terrorism. What chutzpah! But it’s not only Palestinians. Israeli media have recently called an insulting graffiti “Jewish terrorism.” Even former IDF chief Dan Halutz stated in an interview that “Price Tag” acts were “retaliatory terrorism,” although he labeled them “less violent.”
We should not misuse this sensitive term.
Killing innocent civilians to promote political goals is terrorism. Scrawling slogans on a wall is despicable, but certainly not terrorism.
Israel has established a dedicated taskforce to counter these acts of extremism, but I believe that the results are far from sufficient to eliminate this shameful phenomenon.
Law enforcement agencies must initiate more proactive and preemptive actions, such as allocating forces when such acts are anticipated.
More investigative resources, such as intelligence and forensics, should be utilized in order to apprehend the perpetrators. The full cycle of arrest, indictment and conviction should be visible, leading to substantial and burdensome punishments serving as a deterring factor.
“Price Tag” has become a shameful term of our times. We must take the appropriate measures to fight and eradicate these acts perpetrated by rotten apples from among us, by using a coordinated perceptional and physical campaign.
So far, we have failed in both tracks, for we exaggerate and bolster their significance but fight them ineffectively as if they were childish vandalism. We should invert image and action, by diminishing their resonance, but countering them forcefully.
The writer is a former Israel Air Force pilot and founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd. [email protected]