Monday 10 October 2011

The Price That is Not Worth Paying

A new and unwelcome phenomenon has been taking hold in Israel over the past few months.  The phenomenon involves attacks on Arab targets in what has become known as "price tag" attacks.  The name "price tag" comes from graffiti sprayed at the attack sites by the perpetrators, and that uses these words.  This all adds up to an attack in revenge for other events that have taken place.  The attacks that have taken place to date largely involve damage or destruction to property, and have been attributed to extremist religious Jews who have been taking the law into their own hands.

It is true that the Middle East is an extremely volatile part of the world.  It is also true that we see behaviour that would never be tolerated in other parts of the world, but here is somehow regarded as acceptable.  Despite this fact, the government of the State of Israel insists that the rule of law should prevail.  This means, amongst other things, that individuals do not have the right to summarily judge and punish others.  There is an established court system for this purpose, and individuals do not have the right to replace the court system in any way.

The price tag revenge attacks arise out of a frustration that almost all Israelis feel.  This stems from the fact that we seem to be in an almost constant state of war, and under continuous attack from terrorist groups based in the Arab countries that surround Israel.  Despite the IDF's efforts to keep us safe and their many successes in preventing attacks from taking place, the threat under which we live remains constant.  Some Israelis feel frustrated that Israel insists on behaving correctly and respects the human rights even of those who seek to destroy us, while Hamas violates every possible human right while holding Gilad Shalit in captivity.  This frustration still does not justify taking the law into one's own hands.  Certain groups, particularly religious groups, feel that the Israeli court system is stacked against them.  They believe that the courts pass judgement against them because there is too little recognition of the values and frameworks which guide their lives.  Even this cannot be used as a justification for taking the law into your own hands.  Even though there are many who will have sympathy for these frustrations, nothing and nobody is above the law.

The recent events that have particularly provoked price tag attacks have included the deaths a few weeks ago of Asher Palmer and his infant son in a car accident near Hebron.  It is reported that the car accident was caused by Arabs throwing stones at the car.  The government's actions to dismantle unlawful settler outposts in the West Bank have also provoked price tag attacks.  It should be emphasized that it is a small group of individuals who are involved in these attacks, and that they do not in any way represent the views of most Israelis in the actions that they have taken.  In fact, some religious Jewish groups have already begun fundraising to replace the holy books and repair damage done to the mosque.

When a mosque was burnt down in the Bedouin village of Tuba Sangariye destroying many religious books in the fire, Israel reacted with outrage.  The exact reason for choosing this village for a price-tag attack was not clear, but the response was clear.  This type of attack cannot be justified in a country that respects the rule of law.  President Shimon Peres and both chief rabbis of Israel visited the village to show solidarity, and to demonstrate that the establishment does not condone or tolerate this behaviour.  Over the period of Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day, Christian and Muslim graves in Jaffa and Bat Yam were vandalised.  The irony of such an act over Yom Kippur hardly needs to be highlighted.  There are those who equate attacks on cemeteries and places of religious worship with the attacks that were carried out on Jewish targets during the period of the Holocaust.  Now, it seems that Jews are resorting to similar tactics to make their own point.  The Israeli government has rightly resolved to crack down on this behaviour, and has increased the police's presence in areas considered to be targets.  There is some speculation that the Yom Kippur vandals were not from extremist religious groups, but were rather hooligans looking to take advantage of the climate that has been created by the price-tag attackers.  Whatever the truth may be, none of this behaviour can be tolerated.

As much as Israel is often a country under siege due to the constant security threats to her citizens, we are forced to protect our freedom and democracy for law-abiding citizens.  This freedom and democracy also extends to Arab Israelis, even when members of their clan or family are not abiding by the law.  Besides the negative effect that such behaviour has on Israel's standing in the international community, it has a greater negative impact upon ourselves.  We need to ensure that we are not dragged into behaving as badly as our enemies have behaved towards us over the years, no matter how tempting this prospect may be.

Unfortunately, the recent price-tag attacks are evidence that we have not quite begun the year on the correct foot.  We have a great deal to do in order to take care of the way that we respond to provocations by our enemies.  Reacting in the incorrect way could potentially draw us into consequences that are more damaging than any good that could come out of this.  Allowing individuals to continue to take the law into their own hands is clearly unacceptable.  The price on this price tag is one that we do not wish to pay.

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