Arieh O'Sullivan
The Media Line
October 4, 2011 - 12:00am

The escalation in “price tag” attacks on Arab targets and even on the property of the Israeli establishment is a sign of a sense of growing alienation among the Jewish extremist fringe, analysts say.

The latest attack suspected of being carried out by Jewish extremist was the torching Monday of a mosque in a Bedouin village in northern Israel. It was the first time vigilantes are believed to have struck inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders rather than in the West Bank.

The practice of vandalizing Arab property in retribution for what the perpetrators see as Israeli-government concessions to Palestinian or violations of settler rights has grown sharply this year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The practice has been condemned by Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu and in the press, but that hasn’t seemed to have deterred the perpetrators or dampened the phenomenon. Before this week’s incident in Tuba-Zangariya, four mosques in the West Bank had been vandalized since the beginning of the year and last month an Israeli army based was targeted.

“The saying they go by is ‘They don’t see us. They don’t count us’. It is definitely out of a feeling of alienation both from the government and society,” said Amiel Unger, a professor of political science and well-known spokesman for the settler movement in Judea and Samaria. “They see themselves as a sort of vanguard who is doing the right thing while all others are too meek or gentle.”

Last month, two Palestinian mosques were vandalized after Israeli authorities demolished an unauthorized Jewish community. Vandals also entered an Israeli army base, slashed tires and damaged a dozen vehicles and sprayed graffiti.

The attack in Tuba-Zangariyye is said to avenge the death of Asher Palmer, a Jewish settler, and his infant son in a car crash on September 23 that is now believed to have been caused by Palestinian stone throwers.

Residents of Tuba-Zangariyye, Arab Bedouin who have a long tradition of volunteering in the Israeli army, said spray painted on the scorched walls of the mosque were the words: “price tag Palmer” and “revenge.”

Netanyahu, reportedly livid at the images of the burned-out mosque, instructed the Shin Bet security agency to quickly apprehend those responsible.

The term “price tag” emerged in 2005 after the so-called disengagement from the Gush Katif communities in the Gaza Strip, when the government evicted 8,000 Jewish residents and plowed under their communities in a unilateral withdrawal from the coastal strip. Many feared that the withdrawal could serve as a precedent for a similar action in the West Bank, home to some 300,000 Israelis.

“It’s a code word for young folks who have decided to take matters into their hands to express their disapproval with the Israeli establishment or the actions of Palestinians,” said Yair Sheleg, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Sheleg, who has written extensively on the ramifications of the evacuation of Jewish settlements, said he believes that there is great consensus against their actions in Israel, but explained the escalation in attacks by their fears of abandonment.

“What has happened is that our attention has been focused on other matters and not on them, not that we don’t take them seriously, but they have been overshadowed by other dramatic events like the Arab Spring and the huge social unrest in Israel,” Sheleg said.

Sheleg said that with curbs to halt Jewish settlement building and increases in attacks against Jews in the territories, there has also been reluctance by the residents of the areas acquired by Israel in the 1967 war to condemn their actions.

“It’s not that they agree with them, but the motivation to condemn them has deteriorated as they as a whole have taken up the underdog role and they sense general public opinion is against them,” Sheleg said. “Under this sentiment, there is the sense that it’s not so bad that there be a few radicals to shake things up.”

Nahum Barnea, a popular columnist for Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest daily, noted that of the mosques attacked in the last two weeks, no arrest had yet been made.

“The Shin Bet stands helpless in the face of these events. While the Palestinian leadership is calling for restraint, Jewish extremists are fanning the flames, which are liable to sweep thousands of Arabs up on both sides of the Green Line,” he wrote. “This is the danger – and the failure. It is keeping senior security officials awake at night.”

The UN has accused Israeli security forces of taking of treating settlers suspected of being involved in attacks on Palestinians with kid gloves. Some Palestinian leaders have even accused Israel of encouraging settler violence. Israeli military commanders periodically bar some well-known radical Jews from entering certain parts of the territories.

Last weekend, “anti-price tag” patrols clashed with Jewish settlers near Palestinian villages near Jerusalem. Joint Israeli and Palestinian patrols reportedly cruise around villages to ward off “price taggers.” This could be one of the reasons that the extremists targeted the mosque out of the West Bank and in the northern Israeli village.

“It’s part of the general Western phenomenon that people no longer see the government as responsible or successful in addressing their needs. The fringe takes that further. The expulsion from Gush Katif was seen by many as a serious betrayal of trust,” said Unger.

In his book a High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, Daniel Byman said many of the violent extremists had American roots.

“A striking number of the militant settlers come from the United States,” Byman wrote. The most notable was American-born Baruch Goldstein, a follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who massacred 29 Arab worshippers at a mosque in Hebron in 1994.

“America is very smart to send these people to Israel. They are truly dangerous,” Byman quoted an Israeli intelligence officer as saying. But Unger dismissed this as “bunk.”

“There are sometimes Americans involved, but I don’t see it as a particularly American phenomenon, but rather one of casting off authority,” he said.


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