Israel’s Defense Minister calls settler attacks on Palestinians “terrorism” – some context.

On Wednesday Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon, termed attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians “terrorism.”

The unacceptable trend known as ‘price tag’ is in my opinion terror in every sense of the word, and we are acting and will act against the perpetrators, firmly and with zero tolerance, in order to eradicate it.

price tagThis is a perfectly accurate description (acts of terrorism being violent acts intended to achieve political ends), and it is particularly interesting given that in the summer, the cabinet in which Yaalon serves took a vote and decided that price tag attacks are not terrorism. The fact that Yaalon is a staunch member of the Likud’s right flank (bearing in mind that the Likud is the core of Israel’s right to begin with) makes his comment more interesting still.

It’s important to remember a few pieces of context, however, starting with the rift within Israel’s far right, which runs largely along generational lines.

The settler movement’s failed efforts to halt Israel’s  2005 withdrawal from Gaza led to marked upheaval in the ranks, with many in the younger generation feeling they had been failed by leaders who’d tried to woo the rest of Israel to their cause, rather than go head-to-head with the government. While Jewish terrorism is not new, the “price tag” phenomenon was a direct response to the failure in Gaza — it’s meant to extract a “price” for government actions with which especially extremist settlers disagree (to learn more about that, click here).

I don’t know this for a fact but I suspect there’s an element of this internal, generational tension at play when Yaalon scolds his movement’s young hotheads. Note also that all of this comes in response to a group of settler vigilantes being caught, detained and beaten on Tuesday by the Palestinians in whose village they were trespassing — and a member of Yaalon’s own party, the even-farther-right Moshe Feiglin, is blaming Yaalon for the treatment afforded the vigilantes.

Furthermore, it’s very important to note Yaalon’s next sentence: “[Price tag terrorism] is a stain on Israel and it undermines the settlement enterprise.” [emphasis mine] Yaalon’s primary concern is and remains the settlement enterprise.

(I’ll digress for a moment to say that while I understand the Palestinians’ actions on Tuesday, that’s still no excuse for the violence. They might have reasonably restrained the settlers, given that heretofore the Israeli military has never taken real action against the price tag phenomenon [never], but the vigilantes should not have been beaten. I will also note that if Israel starts to actually treat settler violence as terrorism because the Defense Minister himself is mad, I’ll be only too happy. But I’ll also be surprised).

And finally: It’s also important to remember that, like many on Israel’s right, Yaalon is, himself, an inciter to hatred and violence. I’m sure he would disagree with that assessment, but bear in mind that he once called Israel’s left “a virus” (a comment that he tried to walk back with a classic non-apology apology) and while still serving in the military he was given to saying that “the politicians brought the dove of peace and the army had to clean up after it.” He once said that Israel should cut off Gaza’s “electricity, water… fruit, vegetables, [and] cash,” adding “we’ve become accustomed to Arabs being allowed to live everywhere… [but] there are areas forbidden to Jews. We’ve ended that.” He maintains that there’s no difference between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (a man who has publicly supported a two-state solution since 1977, well before Israel did) and Hamas, and just last month told a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders working together to promote a two-state peace: “Don’t delude yourselves. We don’t have a partner on the Palestinian side for a two-state solution,” adding that John Kerry’s current proposal

is bad and will destroy the economy, apropos talk of boycotts. If we lose freedom of military action, the West Bank will turn into Hamastan, missiles will be fired at Tel Aviv and the economy will be destroyed.

So what I’m hearing is not “My God, I never noticed before, but this is terrorism!” but rather: “Violence is and will always remain necessary, but only the people in power should decide how and where it’s used.” This is not entirely unlike members of the GOP’s right wing being shocked — shocked — to discover that anyone in the Tea Party would take their words as an encouragement to violence.

And so: Yes. It is good that one of the highest ranking members of Israel’s government has used the T word to describe the violence of Jewish settlers. It’s important that linguistic taboos be broken, and this may yet prove an important moment in Israeli political culture.

But remember the source, and don’t misunderstand or overstate his aims.



What If Israeli would-be-lynchers were Palestinians?

Graffiti reading "death to Arabs," spray-painted on a Jerusalem restaurant on Saturday night. source

Graffiti reading “death to Arabs,” spray-painted on a Jerusalem restaurant on Saturday night. source

Time for another round of a dispiriting little game I call “Swap The Nouns.”

Last August, dozens of Israeli Jews attacked Palestinians in Jerusalem while “hundreds of people watched… without helping the victims,” according to a police representative. Sergeant First Class Shmuel Shenhav called the incident as “a lynch,” and described the condition of one of the victims in stark terms: “[Jamal Julani] lost his consciousness and was thought to be dead,” he told Haaretz. “He was anesthetized and on a respirator in the hospital for days. This was an extremely severe crime. Only a miracle saved him from death.”

Ultimately, seven people were arrested and charged in the wake of those events, three of them minors. On Monday, the minors learned their fate:

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday sentenced three Jewish minors to between one to eight months in prison after finding them guilty in a series of racially motivated attacks against Arabs last summer in the center of the city.

Jamal Julani, then 17, a resident of East Jerusalem, was beaten the most severely. Defendant No. 1, who was 16 years old at the time, kicked Julani in the abdomen after he had fallen to the ground, said Zaban.

… During the trial, it emerged that Julani has not fully recovered and is still under neurological and psychological care.

Now, in light of the above, consider the following story about Palestinian protesters arrested by the military:

The IDF… will hold its first hearing [on Tuesday] in the trial of Nariman Tamimi and Rana Hamadah, two Palestinian women who were arrested on Friday, June 28 at the weekly demonstration against the occupation in Nabi Saleh.

The two women were held in Sharon Prison, in Israel, for more than three days before being brought before a military judge and indicted for entering a “closed military zone.”

…Hamadah told +972 that during her arrest she asked the IDF soldier why she was being handcuffed, to which he replied: “Because I feel like it.” Hamadah said the pair were left handcuffed and blindfolded for nine hours, and were driven around in a vehicle with two male soldiers for seven more hours before being booked in Sharon Prison.

… Two military judges who watched video footage of the women’s arrest stated that they found no evidence of violent or menacing behavior on their part.

It’s true that these reports discuss very different events, at very different stages of very different legal processes. The first describes the outcome of criminal proceedings in the wake of racist violence; the second, the early stages of the prosecution of nonviolent protestors under military law.

But let’s play Swap The Nouns! What if the attackers in the first story had been Palestinian-Israelis, their victims Jews? What if the protesters in the second had been Jews, and the security forces Palestinian?

What kind of sentences would Palestinian-Israelis receive in Jerusalem’s District Court, and how would the world respond to the Palestinian Authority picking up a couple of (female) Israeli protesters, abusing them, and putting them on trial for exercising their universal rights to assemble and protest?  “It was the first time they didn’t beat us while we were arrested,” Nariman Tamimi later reported.

As luck would have it, another incident has come to light in which we’ll be able to watch these disparities play out in real-time: Over the weekend, Jewish assailants targeted a Jerusalem restaurant for its practice of hiring Palestinian employees.

On Friday, attackers threw stones at customers, and on Saturday, the words “Death to Arabs” appeared on the restaurant’s door. According to manager Maor Ventura, it wasn’t the first time his restaurant was so targeted:

Approximately two months ago, on a Friday evening, a group of about eight to 10 religious guys came to the area, as our cooks, mostly Arabs, were sitting outside. One of the teens realized the cook was an Arab and started to curse at him. The cook asked them to leave and then they started to beat him as they were crying out ‘Death to Arabs.’

When we tried to break the fight, but they attacked us too, and vowed to take revenge on us for hiring Arabs.

… The restaurant’s employees said that police were called in at every incident but that each time officers arrived after the assailants had left the scene.

According to the Israeli government, such acts of violence shouldn’t be designated “terrorism,” because doing so “would blur the lines between these extremists, on the one hand, and serious organized terror groups, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, on the other.”

Huh. I wonder what they’d call it if that same restaurant had been attacked by a handful of Palestinian guys.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Call Jewish “Price Tag” attacks what they are.

Graffiti reads "Price Tag," a reference to the fact that these attacks are meant to show Israel's government that any concessions to the Palestinians will be costly on the domestic front.

Graffiti reads “Price Tag,” a reference to the fact that these attacks are meant to show Israel’s government that any concessions to the Palestinians will be costly on the domestic front.

The other day a representative of the Israeli police shared some deeply troubling news:

“It doesn’t seem there will be significant improvement in the war on ‘price-tag’ attacks over the next few months,” a senior police official told Haaretz on Tuesday, a day after 29 cars in the Israeli Arab city of Abu Ghosh had their tires slashed [by Jewish attackers], and racist slogans were spray-painted on nearby walls [including the phrase “Arabs out”]. 

Police officials believe that the main problem is the complete lack of deterrence among young right-wing activists. The officer added that a series of solved crimes would restore the feeling that the rule of law prevailed. He said that in addition to the radical settler youth that grew up in the West Bank, there is also a generation of copycats, mainly teenage dropouts that engage in less sophisticated activity but who draw encouragement and a feeling of immunity because police have failed to track them down.

Given that nearly all cases brought by West Bank Palestinians against Israeli Jews are dismissed (whereas nearly 100 percent of cases against Palestinians end in conviction), it’s fairly easy to understand why there would be “a complete lack of deterrence” for Jewish “price tag” attacks against Palestinians. Reactions in theJewish community and political class to the attack in Abu Ghosh suggest that such acts are taken more seriously when the Palestinians in question are Israeli citizens, but it remains to be seen what this will mean in terms of prosecutions, indictments, or convictions.

What makes the police statement and Abu Ghosh attack even more disturbing, however, is the fact that the government happened to weigh the question of how to categorize price tag attacks just one day before the most recent one occurred. Are price tag attacks terrorism, or aren’t they?

Netanyahu and his cabinet decided that they’re not, though they’re willing to deem the perpetrators members of an ”illegal association,” a legal term which will expand the capacity of law enforcement and security apparatus to respond to perpetrators.

The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement that this decision “will significantly strengthen the ability to fight ‘price-tag’ phenomena,” but, theJerusalem Post reports,

According to an Israeli official, the cabinet feared that classifying price-tag attacks as acts of terror would blur the lines between these extremists, on the one hand, and serious organized terror groups, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, on the other.

It goes without saying that when an individual Palestinian acts on his or her own to damage Israeli property or to injure or kill a Jewish citizen, no one bothers to ask if he or she is part of a “serious organized terror group.” No one has any problem using the ‘T” word in those circumstances.

But it’s also worth noting that when Jews are attacked by Arabs, calling it terrorism (or, in legal terminology, “a hostile act”) allows the victims to claim government compensation, compensation not offered to the victims of other criminal acts. To date, if an Arab happens to fall victim to a Jew, he or she has no such right.

I tend to be a purist when it comes to the word “terror.” Not every terrible act of violence, no matter how bloody or frightening, is an act of terrorism. Mirriam-Webster offers an extended definition of term which fits neatly into my academic training as a political scientist: Terrorism is “[the] systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” Terrorism isn’t a hate crime, and it isn’t going postal. First and foremost, terrorism is an effort to effect political change.

Which is precisely why the recent rash of price tag attacks on both sides of the Green Line is, in fact, terrorism. If you set fire to mosques in a bid to convince your government that making any concessions to Palestinians will be too costly on the domestic front, or if you slash tires and scrawl “Arabs out” on the walls—you’re a terrorist. You’re employing systematic violence to create an atmosphere of fear in order to bring about a particular political objective—and no matter what kind of linguistic somersaults the Israeli government undertakes to convince itself and its citizens otherwise, that’s terrorism. 

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Words Are Good; Action Is Better

Arson at a West Bank mosque.

Last week a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem had to be hospitalized for injuries sustained when he was attacked by a group of Jewish teenagers in Jewish West Jerusalem. Yesterday, his assailants were charged with the crime:

Six Jewish teenagers from Jerusalem have been charged in Jerusalem District Juvenile Court with attacking an East Jerusalem Palestinian and causing him serious injury, including a broken ankle.

Four of the suspects have admitted to assaulting Ibrahim Abu Ta’a, 28, saying they thought he was “taking advantage” of an intoxicated Jewish woman he was accompanying.

…The suspects allegedly choked, pushed, kicked and beat Abu-Ta’a with their fists, as he begged them to stop, saying he hadn’t done anything. At some point he was pushed to the ground, as the suspects kicked him all over his body, “all because of racist motivations, because the complainant is Arab,” the indictment said.

The fact that the Jerusalem police are taking this case seriously is good news, and here’s some more good news—there’s a growing tendency among Israeli government and media figures to call this anti-Palestinian violence what it is:Terrorism.

Under a headline that read, “New police unit to battle Jewish terror,” Yediot Aharonot reported on Monday:

In light of the rise in nationalistically-motivated hate crimes and price tag incidents initiated by Jews, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said Monday that a special police unit will soon be established to combat the phenomenon.

“We must institute a zero tolerance policy against terror, the desecration of religious institutions, attacks on symbols of governance and attacks commonly known as ‘price tag,'” Aharonovitch said.

In the past, “the desecration of religious institutions” has included the destruction of holy books and arson, including Muslim and Christian holy places. This week, it was vandalism at a mosque:

Graffiti reading “Price tag Migron” was found on Monday night on the wall of mosque in a village southwest of Hebron in the West Bank.

“Price tag” attacks are usually carried out by West Bank settlers and their supporters against Palestinian targets, often in retaliation for moves against settlements. Migron is the name of a West Bank outpost that was recently evacuated.

Judea and Samaria District Police claim that residents only informed them of the graffiti on Tuesday evening, and that following this an investigation was opened into the incident.

But the truth is that all of this good news will only really matter if the authorities follow through. The vast majority of such cases are abandoned, and one study found that only 9% of such cases led to indictments.

As Yediot reported last week,

Among the most notable cases are the mosque arson in Beit Fajr in October 2011, the raid on the Binyamin Spatial Brigade and mosque arsons in the villages of Qusra and Burqa earlier last year.

…Similar incidents were also recorded in the past three months in Neve Shalom, Kafr Jaba and Jelazon. No indictments or arrests were made. In fact, only a small number of indictments have been filed in relation to “price tag” incidents in the past few years, in sharp contrast to the growing scope of the phenomenon itself.

Unless all the serious words are followed up by serious action, those words will be worse than meaningless—they will serve to merely strengthen the hands of Jews for whom Palestinian lives and sacred property hold no worth.

And, lest you think it’s just bleeding hearts like me who feel this way, consider the opinions of Danny Dayan, chairman of Yesha, the settlers’ regional council:

It’s unacceptable that the Shin Bet produces zero indictments and 100% failures.

… There have been at least seven cases of mosque arsons, countless car arsons, including those of police cars, the throwing of stones, firebombs and hate messages. It’s inconceivable that our glorified Shin Bet [Israel’s internal security service] cannot handle these groups of thugs.

Inconceivable that the Shin Bet can’t handle it—but not yet inconceivable that they choose not to.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

“Is such the fast I desire?”

On Shabbat and holidays, when Jews gather to pray, in addition to reading a portion from the first five books of the Bible, we also read a section of the Prophets, a section chosen to complement the other reading, or to reflect the Shabbat/holiday in question, or both. Every Yom Kippur, we read the following, from the book of Isaiah. As I look at what Israel and so many of my people are doing right now, I feel a desperate need to trumpet these words directly into their hearts. But I imagine if God hasn’t been able to all these long years, I don’t stand much of a chance.

This is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free.

If you fast, I wish you an easy one, and if you don’t, that’s ok, too. Shana tova, a happy and good year, to us all — amen, amen.

Haftarah for Yom Kippur – Isaiah 57:14–58:14

Chapter 57

14 [The Lord] says:
Build up, build up a highway!
Clear the road!
Remove all obstacles
From the road of My people!
15 For thus said He who high aloft
Forever dwells, whose name is holy;
I dwell on high, in holiness;
Yet with the contrite and the lowly in spirit —
Reviving the spirits of the lowly,
Reviving the hearts of the contrite.
16 For I will not always contend,
I will not be angry forever:
Nay, I who make spirits flag,
Also create the breath of life.
17 For their sinful greed I was angry;
I struck them and turned away in My wrath.
Though stubborn, they follow the way of their hearts,
18 I note how they fare and will heal them:
I will guide them and mete out solace to them,
And to the mourners among them
19 heartening, comforting words:

It shall be well,
Well with the far and the near

— said the Lord —

And I will heal them.
20 But the wicked are like the troubled sea
Which cannot rest,
Whose waters toss up mire and mud.
21 There is no safety

— said my God —

For the wicked.

Chapter 58

1 Cry with full throat, without restraint;
Raise your voice like a ram’s horn!
Declare to My people their transgression,
To the House of Jacob their sin.

2 To be sure, they seek Me daily,
Eager to learn My ways.
Like a nation that does what is right,
That has not abandoned the laws of its God,
They ask Me for the right way,
They are eager for the nearness of God:
3 “Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.

8 Then shall your light burst through like the dawn
And your healing spring up quickly;
Your Vindicator shall march before you,
The Presence of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then, when you call, the Lord will answer;
When you cry, He will say: Here I am.
If you banish the yoke from your midst,
The menacing hand and evil speech,
10 And you offer your compassion to the hungry
And satisfy the famished creature —
The shall your light shine in darkness,
And your gloom shall be like noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
He will slake your thirst in parched places
And give strength to your bones.
You shall be like a watered garden,
Like a spring whose waters do not fail.
12 Men from your midst shall rebuild ancient ruins,
you shall restore foundations laid long ago.
And you shall be called
“Repairer of fallen walls,
Restorer of lanes for habitation.”
13 If you refrian from trampling the sabbath,
From pursuing your affairs on My holy day;
If call the sabbath “delight,”
The Lord’s holy day “honored”;
And if you honor it and go not your ways
Nor look to yours affairs, nor strike bargains —
14 Then you can seek the favor of the Lord.
I will set you astride the heights of the earth,
And let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob —
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

JPS translation

Jewish terrorism, 2011.

"Price Tag"

My friend good friend Ori Nir, spokesman at Americans for Peace Now, has written a positively must-read analysis of the “Price Tag” tactic used by Israeli settlers in an effort to make thwarting their will and working toward peace too untenable, too painful to be contemplated. As he points out, they began by venting their anger on Israeli authorities, but that resulted in real backlash — so now they mostly take it out on Palestinians in the territories. So no one much cares.

As Ori puts it: “Price Tag has so far been a success story.”

On Monday, though, Price Tag crossed the border into northern Israel, where a Bedouin mosque was set alight. One wonders if and how that development will change the authorities’ response to the violence.

Following is an excerpt of Ori’s piece — I highly recommend that you click here to read the rest. For me, the most painful irony is that the State of Israel already revolves around the settlements and the occupation. But apparently, that’s still not enough.

“Price Tag” Terrorism Crosses the Green Line

The extremist settlers call it “Price Tag.” We have always called it by its proper name: Terrorism.

Now, Israel’s Shin Bet, the IDF’s top brass and Israeli Cabinet members agree with us. On Monday, shortly after a mosque was torched in an Israeli-Arab village in the Galilee and “Price Tag” graffiti was found nearby, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, a member of the extreme right wing Yisrael Beitenu Party, told an Israel Radio reporter that he prefers not to use the perpetrators self-serving jargon. “This is an act of terrorism,” he said.

The problem is that largely because of law enforcement negligence, a terror campaign that has been raging in the West Bank for at least three years, has now mushroomed into a widespread phenomenon – both in the West Bank and in Israel proper – that targets not only West Bank Palestinians but also Israeli Arab citizens, Israeli peace activists and Israeli law enforcement officers.

“Price Tag,” also known among its perpetrators as “Arvut Hadadit” (Mutual Responsibility), started out as a violent tactic employed by young militant Israeli settlers in the West Bank to deter Israeli law enforcement authorities from removing illegally-built structures from West Bank settlements and illegal outposts. The tactic includes attacks on Palestinians and their property, as well as attacks on Israeli military and police officers to obstruct and deter law enforcement inside settlements.

This tactic was born out of a sense of frustration among some settlers following their leadership’s inability to stop the Disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. It gradually became a popular – and very effective – low-intensity anti-Palestinian terrorism campaign. It has recently been creeping into Israel, and is therefore increasingly viewed as a real danger by the security authorities. Israeli law enforcement authorities tend to be more tolerant of anti-Palestinian violence in the West Bank than they are of violence inside Israel. As often happens, what was tolerated in the West Bank has crossed the Green Line, and is now plaguing Israelis inside Israel.

UPDATE: If you’re really interested, you go farther down the very dispiriting “Jewish terrorists” rabbit hole with the book Jewish Terrorism in Israelclick here for my review.

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