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'Price tag' attacks are at worst terrorism and at best hate crimes

Israel has often been accused of having two justice systems: one that applies to Palestinians, where trial without detention and punitive sentences are commonplace, and one that applies to Israelis, which adheres to the standards of a liberal democracy.

Nowhere is this disjunction more visible than in the prosecution of hate crimes. While hundreds of Palestinians are in Israeli prisons on charges of terror and hatred, there have been hardly any prosecutions of extremist Jewish settlers carrying out price tag attacks. Scores have been arrested, but none have been successfully prosecuted, leading to widespread criticism of the government and calls for the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency, to step in.

"Price tag" is, essentially, a euphemism for hate crimes by Jewish extremists. They are usually carried out against the property of Palestinians and Arab-Israelis, but the Israeli army has also been targeted. Attacks have included the vandalism of mosques, with slogans such as "death to Arabs", and the destruction of Palestinian olive trees. In one incident over the weekend, more than 30 olive tree saplings were uprooted and anti-Arab graffiti was painted on rocks, near the settlement of Bat Ayin in the West Bank. These attacks have happened both in the Occupied West Bank and within the Green Line.

Earlier this month, the former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon hit out at the government for not doing enough to tackle the attacks. "We don't see results because we don't have the intention to," Gillon said, adding that in the Shin Bet "there's no such thing as can't – there's don't want to."

It seems that this state inaction might be about to change. The Internal Security Minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, told Israel's Army Radio on Wednesday that the government might start using "administrative detention against those carrying out so-called 'price tag' attacks". Administrative detention allows suspects to be held without trial for up to six months. These orders can be renewed indefinitely by a court decision, and are currently almost exclusively used against Palestinians suspected of security-related offences. Aharonovitch said he would be meeting with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and top police and security officials later that day.

It is not clear whether there is broad support for introducing administrative detention for price tag attacks, but Livni said over the weekend that she would support classifying these acts as "terrorism". The US State Department recently included a mention of Jewish extremists in its global terror report for the first time.

Certainly, price tag attacks are at worst terrorism and at best hate crimes that should be prosecuted and discouraged. But although serious efforts to tackle such attacks are to be welcomed, one must question the wisdom of doing so by extending an illiberal policy like administrative detention. Amnesty International has drawn attention to systemic mistreatment of administrative detainees – the use of torture and other ill-treatment during interrogations, and cruel and degrading treatment during detention. Calling for Israel to abolish administrative detention altogether, the organization said that the practice "contravene[s] Israel's obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law".

Of course, everyone should be equal before the law, but it would be preferable for those laws to respect human rights across the board.

 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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