Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Enemy Within: Price tagging targets Christians too

By James Knoop - October 06, 2012
Section: [Main News] [Opinion] [Features]
Tags: [Settlers] [price tag]

A recurring phenomenon, settler violence known as “price tagging” has increased significantly during last year’s run up to the PA’s UN bid for statehood in September, and has predominately targeted Palestinians.

Most of the vandalism has been targeted at defacing and burning mosques in various Palestinian villages. However, in a recent spat of vandalism and graffiti, these Jewish extremist gangs have spread to include Christian places of worship too.

The most recent attack, on October 2, targeted a Franciscan convent that lies next to the famous Dormition Abbey Church, a popular tourist attraction which lies just outside the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem.

Dormition Abbey is recognized as both the place where Jesus had his last supper with his disciples and where the Blessed Virgin Mary died. Now, it is the site known around the world where vandals spray painted, “Jesus is a son of a bitch” and the words “price tag.”

Price tagging refers to the Jewish settler policy of exacting a revenge policy for every incident that threatens settler homes. Young Jewish extremist gangs have been tagging Palestinian sites for years, now appear to have a new target.

In early September, following the forced evacuation of the settlement of Migron in the West Bank, vandals attacked the Latrun Monastery, an ancient traveling spot for pilgrims on their way from Jaffa to Jerusalem. Vandals burned the wooden door of the monastery, and sprayed graffiti on the walls with blasphemous phrases such as, “Jesus is a monkey.”

They also wrote, “Mutual responsibility, Upper Migron and Moaz Esther,” cryptically referring to the names of settlements.

Again in February, a dual incident occurred at the Valley of the Cross Monastery, near the Israeli Museum, as well as at a nearby school. At the monastery two cars had their tires slashed, while the phrases, “Death to Christians,” and “Jesus drop dead,” was splashed across the walls.

Extremists also sprayed “Kahane was right,” referring to a Jewish nationalist leader prominent in the 1970s whose movement spawned two terrorist groups banned by the international community as well as the Israeli government.

In the same incident, the group named themselves “Maccabees of Migron.”

The vandals also tagged the Hand in Hand Centre for Jewish Arab Education, an elementary school in a Palestinian neighbourhood. They wrote, “Death to Arabs,” and “Kahane was right.”

The recent price tag incidences have drawn condemnation from all over the world, including from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One month ago, in a rare act of public condemnation the Catholic Church released a statement.

“Sadly, what happened in Latrun in only another in a long series of attacks against Christians and their places of worship” the statement said.

“What is going on in Israeli society today that permits Christians to be scapegoat and targeted by these acts of violence?”

Arabs, Jews and Activists Too

Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Israel have received the majority of the price tag incidences by far. Price tag attacks have been described by the perpetrators as a 'staple of life.’ Price tagging takes the form, not only of graffiti and vandalism at religious sites, but also involves burning crops, killing live stock and poisoning water sources.

These attacks that include defacing mosques, burning cars and terrorizing villages, often fly under the radar of international media because they occur in an Israeli military controlled zone called Area C, which encompasses 60 percent of the West Bank.

While these latest incidences have predominantly targeted Palestinians and their places of worship, price tag acts of vandalism, graffiti and even violence have also been aimed at other communities as well.

What is going on in Israeli society today that permits Christians to be scapegoat and targeted by these acts of violence?”

In January, the Jewish Ethiopian community of Israel was hit with graffiti on cars and on the walls of the neighbourhood buildings in price tag attacks. This occurred after a report was released in which it was discovered that 100 families in the neighbourhood of Kirgat Malakhi had made an agreement to refuse to rent or sell real estate to Ethiopians.

The Ethiopian community came out in force to protest the discrimination. 110,000 people demonstrated outside the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament building, to voice their concerns. Jews of Ethiopian origin are believed to be descended from the lost tribe of Dan. Many came over in the 1980s and 90s but have not been accepted into society by Jewish extremists.

Last December, a group of 30 different organizations and religious groups held a rally at Paris Square in Jerusalem to denounce the violence of price tag attacks. The New Israel Fund organized a “Share the Light Campaign” that saw participants hold candle light vigils at various spots around town that had been recently vandalized.

As part of their campaign, the groups visited recently vandalized places that included the Israeli army chief prosecutor’s home, a Muslim cemetery at Jaffa, and an Arab owned restaurant that was destroyed by arson. A Peace Now Activist, named Hagit Ofran, has repeatedly suffered vandalism at her home, with references to former Prime Minister Rabin who was assassinated.

The group also attended a vigil at a family home in the village of Asira in the West Bank that suffered repeated attacks, including being on the receiving end of Molotov cocktails. Activists brought barbed wire and metal defenses for protection.

The rally at Paris Square in downtown Jerusalem during the Hanukkah season was subjected to heckling from unsympathetic onlookers.

Who are the Price Taggers?

Last month, the BBC released a report stating the price taggers in the East Jerusalem area are young Jewish extremist gangs who wear hooded sweatshirts and cover their faces when on the attack. There were described to come from “the hills of the West Bank,” settlement communities built on Palestinian land.

In one report, Shin Bet (the Israeli Security Agency) described the price tag movement as having several hundred supporters to three thousand. Other media sources have said the active members consist of a couple dozen organized cells supported by a couple hundred followers.

While special task forces have been created to go after the perpetrators of these crimes, there have been few arrests. The price taggers come from a large pool of 120 settlement communities, 100 outposts, and 300,000 settlers in the West Bank. Plus, some doubt the will power of the authorities to go after these groups.

Various authorities have labeled these acts as terrorism, including in Israel and the United States. Others, noting the lack of an organized hierarchy that would direct the attacks, believe they don’t constitute terrorism.

Salem Fayyad, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister has gone on record to say, “Certainly, at least in some aspect of what those violent settlers commit, there’s hardly any other way of describing it other than terrorism.”

But for the perpetrators of the attacks, the name hardly matters to them – it’s simply a matter of reprisal.

Haraatz daily newspaper correspondent Amos Harel has written that the first price tag incident may have occurred in 2005 after Israel moved its citizens out of Gaza. In response, an IOF solider named Edan Natan Zada gunned down and killed four Palestinians on a bus, wounding 22 others.

The following year, in February 2006, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the evacuation of the settlement of Amona. This brought out some 4000 Israeli protestors that required 10,000 security forces to remove the buildings. 300 people were injured, including 3 Knesset members, and 80 security forces.

Since then, writes Harel, “The extreme right has sought to create a 'balance of terror,’ in which every state action aimed against them – from demolishing a caravan in an outpost to restricting the movements of those suspected at harassing Palestinian olive harvesters generates an immediate, violent reaction.”

It’s an interesting historical note that the policy of reprisals was also employed by the Irgun, an underground Zionist terrorist organization who were heavily active in the 1940s protesting British colonial policies that were considered to heavily favour the Arabs. The policy of reprisals, which included the stringing up of British soldiers and the bombing of the King David Hotel, was successful, leading the British to leave its Palestine Mandate unceremoniously.

Today, the price tag movement is a widespread stain on Israel’s identity, one that tugs at the fragile balance between existing a democratic and Jewish state, simultaneously.

Last February, a young women of 20, named Moriah Goldberg, was caught participating as part of a group defacing a mosque in the West Bank. When asked if she thought her acts constituted some form of terrorism by a BBC reporter she responded:

“Faithless Jews who don’t fear God can call me a terrorist if they want. I don’t care what they say about me. I only care what God thinks. I act for him and him alone.”

How do you change the mindset of a group of people that are raised to exact violence for violence until the settlement of the land they believe is theirs is complete?

Extremism is Israel’s enemy within.

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