Israeli Settlers Continue ‘Price-Tag’ Rampage

JERUSALEM — “On Saturday, we as a nation atoned for our sins. I as a Jew feel ashamed of myself. I’m asking for forgiveness,” declared Ron Hulday, mayor of this mixed city, immediately at the closing of the Day of Atonement.

As Jews fasted and prayed to amend for their past behavior, vandals, presumably Jewish, desecrated tombstones in two cemeteries of the Jewish-Arab city, one Muslim, another Christian, with slanderous tags against Arabs and “Russians,” the country’s largest minorities.

One in five Israelis is an Arab; there are more than one-and-a-half million citizens from the former Soviet Union.

Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar. According to tradition, God “seals” the Book of Life into which each person’s fate is inscribed for the coming year in accordance to his or her past deeds.

“The perpetrators are weak-kneed terrorists,” fumed former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, “for the dead cannot defend their name.” Sheikh Ahme Abu Ajwa, president of the Islamic Movement in Jaffa, joined the chorus of unanimous condemnations: “This is an attempt by extremists to incite the Arabs.”

The desecrations weren’t just isolated incidents. They share a common modus operandi.

What’s been labeled by settlers as a “price tag” for “eye-for-eye” retribution against Palestinians collectively accused by them of violent actions perpetrated by isolated Palestinians against Israelis, has become not merely the “plague” of the day, but “policy.”

In just the past fortnight, there were numerous such attacks. In the West Bank, according to police sources, young extreme right-wing settler activists attempted to torch a Palestinian village mosque and sprayed its walls with injurious “death to Arabs” and “price tag” graffiti, their signature.

Alarmingly, the outbreak of assaults has known no respite and no border, national or physical. The door of a left-wing Israeli activist living in Israel proper was sprayed with menacing paint.

But the gravest incident occurred last week in the Bedouin Israeli village Tuba-Zanghariya. A mosque was torched and severely damaged. Copies of the Quran were destroyed in the blaze.

The blackened walls were sprayed with “price tag” graffiti in revenge for the alleged murder, a week earlier, of two settlers, father and son, who were driving on a West Bank road at the time of the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations.

Police investigators had concluded — hastily it seems — that the deaths were the result of a traffic accident. But evidence showed that Palestinian youths had thrown rocks at the car which caused it to overturn. Last week, the suspected rock-throwers were arrested.

Other recent vengeful actions included the defacement of the Tomb of Joseph, a shrine revered by Jews but also by Muslims, located near the West Bank town Nablus.

All politicians and religious figures have stood up united in their condemnation and reprobation: “Jews do not desecrate holy sites, period,” is the mantra.

“Israel … will show no tolerance for those who oppose it,” stated Netanyahu at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. The statement was wide open to interpretation — as in “when” Israel “will show no tolerance.”

For beyond the veneer of moral indignation and making, appropriately, good Kippur resolutions, what’s striking is the double-standard policy with regard to rule of law enforcement against “price tag” assailants. Police are responsible for law and order — including in the settlements.

Whereas a suspected arsonist of the Israeli mosque was quickly apprehended, no one was ever detained, let alone tried, for “price tag” arsons and defacements of Palestinian mosques and for other acts of vandalism against Palestinian property, such as uprooting olive trees, a common settler practice.

When a military jeep was destroyed and tagged two weeks ago in response to the forced evacuation and demolition by police units — the army usually provides only peripheral security to the operation — of an “unauthorized settlement outpost” “illegally” built on “Palestinian-owned” land in the occupied West Bank, the perpetrators were quickly arrested. But the army is sacrosanct, so it would seem.

Other such “outposts” are slated for evacuation at the end of the High Holiday season. Tension between the Israeli military and police and settlers is on the rise. Wednesday, settlers blocked an army vehicle and assaulted its soldiers.

“A Jewish authority has taken shape in the West Bank,” warned political commentator Zvi Barel in the daily Haaretz. “Its goal is to replace the state as sovereign authority, and eventually also supplant the military authority.”

Hence, the ominous warning issued last month by Bar-Ilan University Prof. Hillel Weiss at a settlers’ event marking the creation of a new “Jewish Authority” (as counterweight to the Palestinian Authority) labeled “the rescue of the Jewish people and the land of Israel.”

The notorious far right-wing speaker said: “Instead of a governmental authority which gleefully cracks the skulls of Jewish youths, instead of what the state calls ‘the rule of law,’ there are Jews who stand up. … We Jewish citizens to be abandoned to the authority of an artificial enemy state [a future Palestine] declare that this will never happen.”

Yom Kippur seals the Days of Awe. This holy day presaged more such days to come. In the land ostensibly cursed by its own holiness, each parcel of it is replete with shrines, pilgrimage sites, houses of prayers, places of worship, and cemeteries.

“Price tag” militants not only target places of elemental religious tolerance, which all too often have been misrepresented as ferment of political intolerance.

As the land — who controls it, what stands on it, and who lives in it — is slated for division (at least nominally under U.N. auspices), the “price taggers” also risk turning to ashes any prospect of a two-state solution. 

(Inter Press Service)