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Decoding “Price tag” attacks

Decoding “Price tag” attacks

TagNotreDameJERUSALEM – May 9, 2014 – Back to the latest “price tag” attacks (Tag Mehir in Hebrew; an euphemism for hate attacks by Jewish extremists) and sketch of a disturbing group that exists in the shadows to sow tension and discomfort. The acceleration in recent weeks of vandalism and assaults, especially in light of the proximate papal visit, has worried the local Church and has begun to create a stir on the international scene.

Israeli extremists, right-wing activists, ultra-religious Jews. Who are they?

Under the label of the vindictive tactic, “price tag”, the extremists have engaged in assault, threats and vandalism of all kinds, against Christian places of worship, and against Muslim, Palestinian and Israeli Arab villages. But not only! They have also attacked Israeli peace activists of left-leaning organizations, Eretz Shalom for example, and even the army itself. A fairly wide range, thereby making it a rather disparate and elusive group.

Threats are nevertheless fiercely tagged, always with a more or less explicit slogan that dictates their actions: they are rampant “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” responses to acts attributed to the Palestinians, and government decisions the extremists consider illegitimate, including any action deemed hostile as the dismantling of settlements by the Israeli army, or of illegal outposts in the Palestinian Territories. However, i24 (an Israeli international 24-hour news and current affairs television channel) goes one step further: “Today, these assaults and acts of vandalism no longer seek the pretext of acts committed by Palestinians. Indeed, they strike in an even more infectious, violent and gratuitous way.”

Each time, they attack symbols and institutions: over the last two months, attacks have specifically targeted the Christian community, at a time when it is actively preparing to welcome Pope Francis, a man of peace and dialogue.  In Tabgha on Lake Kinneret, the sacred symbols of the cross and the altar were desecrated.  In Jerusalem, the building of Notre Dame, property of the Holy See, more precisely, the exit area of the Office of the Assembly of Bishops was tagged. On a mosque in northern Israel, they tagged “Close mosques and open yeshivots” (Seminaries for Jewish Studies in Hebrew). But in what yeshivot is such a disturbing and sectarian religious fundamentalism taught? According to Fr. Peter Madros, priest of the Latin Patriarchate, “These actions reflect a mentality which gets a hold of sources in the Old Testament that they scrupulously keep.”  Notably, some rabbinical writings, or even old pamphlets like the book called “Toledot Yeshou”, a blasphemous parody of the life of Christ, still disseminated in some narrow ultra-religious backgrounds.

Are these crimes the result of a single extremist minority that wants to gain publicity? Why then is it so difficult to identify and eradicate? The “price tag” signature first appeared in 2008. And this is where the awkwardness lies.  It is difficult to obtain exact figures for such sensitive issue, but of the 788 graffiti signed by the extremist group, and recorded chronologically and geographically by Wikipedia, and covering only for the period from January 2012 to June 2013, we discover that there have only been 276 arrests and 154 charges. The number is not big.

This is no doubt that behind these crimes is some fanatical and fundamentalist religious, rather than political, ideology.

In the threatening letter sent on Sunday, April 27, to Bishop Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel,  and signed by a certain “Messiah, Son of David,” who ordered Christians to be killed if they did not leave the Holy Land before May 5, an action so required because they are held to be “idolaters” who devote themselves to “pagan cults”.

Lack of responsiveness on the Israeli political scene taken seriously:

Following the recent attacks, Israeli police announced on Tuesday, April 29, the arrest of the suspect who threatened to kill the Bishop of Nazareth and his followers.  Seven Jewish minors, aged 13 to 15, were arrested on Monday, May 7, after racist tags on an Arab village west of Jerusalem. Faced with these repeated acts of vandalism which show disorder, would the police begin to act seriously? And what about policies?

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, is now the only one who responded and denounced the crimes, which she described as “terrorism”, and even added on her Facebook account, “those who have done it cannot belong to my people.”

The Israeli Minister of Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, for his part, indicated that his government “intends to use administrative detention” against persons committing such attacks.  A type of detention previously only used against Palestinians, which allows the quick imprisonment of suspects  without trial, on the order of a military court, for renewable periods of six months. The Minister, in the context of this crisis, is also invited on Saturday, May 10, at the end of the day on one of the biggest Israeli TV shows to answer these questions: Why are most of these crimes unpunished? Should the police force consider reviewing its means to prevent such criminal acts? Should we develop new technologies to filter social networks to stop these extremists before they commit the act? For a country that prides itself constantly on wanting to ensure, at any price, the safety of its residents, the recent escalation of violence is a stain. And what about the bitter lack of a message of solidarity to Christians who are preparing to receive the Pope in a few days?

How could Israeli society generate such extremists? “In what schools were they educated?” asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, gazing at the graffiti daubed on the walls of the monastery of Deir Rafat on April 1. i24 reports that “security officials estimate about 100 people participated in the recent wave of attacks. The perpetrators were identified as right-wing activists from the Yitzhar settlement or settlements north of Ramallah and Hebron in the southern West Bank”. This gangrene which never ceases to contaminate the peace process, and the settlements and fanaticism that they generate are undoubtedly one of the first evils to eradicate in order to one day claim to look after a true solution for all.

The  Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal,  will hold a press conference in Haifa on Sunday, May 11, following the “Price Tag” attacks, in the context of the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis.

Myriam Ambroselli