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Picture of the infant Ali Sawabsheh in the burned-out home
Photo: EPA
What is the price tag for Jewish terrorists?
Netanyahu thwarted the attempt to define Jewish 'price tag' perpetrators as terrorists; the courts are giving them light sentences; the severity of the acts increases - but nothing has changed.

The number of solved cases is still negligible, the sentences handed out to Jewish terrorists are relatively light, and the government is no rush to act. One year after the attempt to declare "price tag" perpetrators as terrorists - nothing has been done.

 

 

A year ago, then-justice minister Tzipi Livni and then-public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovich asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to approve two unusual measures to deal with "price tag" attacks - defining the perpetrators of those hate crimes as members of a terror organization, and issuing administrative arrest orders against prominent figures, when there is evidence to back these orders.

 

The Dawabsheh family, whose home was set ablaze this week (Photo: Hassan Shaalan)
The Dawabsheh family, whose home was set ablaze this week (Photo: Hassan Shaalan)

The request was made after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein removed his objection to administrative arrests after he witnessed the damages caused by the so-called "price tag" attacks.

 

Netanyahu, who at the time was heading for elections in which he was vying for the right-wing's votes, including those in the extreme right-wing, did not adopt the recommendations.

 

Apart from continuing the Shin Bet's close monitoring of these activists and filing several indictments, no significant changes have been made. The main reason for that, according to senior law enforcement officials, is the lack of support from the political leadership, which establishes its rule using the right-wing factions.

 

Even the almost-sole case that did lead to a serious indictment ended faintly. Brothers Shlomo and Nahman Twito, Lehava activists who set fire to a bilingual Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem, were sentenced to no more than two and a half years in prison. They left the court singing and smiling, and said it was "worth it."

 

The suspects charged with setting fire to the Church of Loaves and Fishes (Photo: George Ginsberg)
The suspects charged with setting fire to the Church of Loaves and Fishes (Photo: George Ginsberg)

 

Incidentally, a senior IDF officer claimed in a press briefing last week that there has been a decline in the amount of Jewish nationalistic violent incidents, but stressed, even before the heinous murder in Duma, that the severity of the acts increased.

 

"We're looking at 141 incidents in the first half of 2015, including violence against Palestinians and vandalism, or violence against security forces, compared to 328 throughout 2014, and 420 in 2013. But the severity of the incidents increased, and some went beyond Judea and Samaria and spread across the country," the senior officer said.

 

When they turned to the prime minister, then-ministers Livni and Aharonovich wrote that the decision that was made in 2013 to define these groups as "unlawful organizations" rather than "terror organizations" - a decision initiated by Netanyahu despite the Shin Bet's recommendation to the contrary - was not sufficient.

 

The youths charged with setting fire to a bi-lingual school (Photo: Ido Erez) (Photo: Ido Erez)
The youths charged with setting fire to a bi-lingual school (Photo: Ido Erez)

 

"We believe that the fact these criminal incidents continue and are geographically spreading to new places, require a reexamination of things. Even though the legal tools in question can be used even while these groups are defined as 'unlawful organizations,' defining these groups as 'terror organizations' will reinforce the message and the profound condemnation of their activities."

 

They noted this was also the Shin Bet's position on the issue.

 

Livni and Aharonovich stated that the attorney-general expressed his position at a hearing, saying that despite various difficulties, there is no legal impediment to advance the declaration of these groups as "terror organizations." Weinstein, who strongly opposes administrative arrests in a democratic society, realized over the past year that in certain cases there is no choice but to use them.

 

Yishai Shlissel, perpetrator of the stabbing at the Jerusalem pride parade (Photo: AFP)
Yishai Shlissel, perpetrator of the stabbing at the Jerusalem pride parade (Photo: AFP)

 

High-ranked law enforcement officials explained that the Shin Bet knows how to map all of the activists and their different ties, but usually refuses to bring the evidence it collects in front of the court, because they don't want to risk losing their sources. These officials claimed that due to cost-effectiveness considerations, the Shin Bet would even rather bear the local incidents rather than reveal their sources.

 

In addition, these law enforcement officials claimed, the Shin Bet is also averse to locking horns with politicians from the extreme right-wing. These politicians would rather turn a blind eye to such incidents because they don't want to anger their supporters, and often use the excuse that the perpetrators of such attacks are a fringe group of "wild kids."

 

On the other hand, the legal system is worried about that one attack that would not be foiled and would start up a fire that cannot be put out. Then, they fear, the accusatory finger will be pointed at them. The arson of the Dawabsheh family home could possibly be that attack.

 

The sources stated that on top of restraining orders and indictments, there is no other option but to take an unusual approach when investigating these "price tag" attackers. They proposed that in the initial stages, the State Attorney will prevent these detainees from speaking to a lawyer, similar to the treatment given to Palestinian detainees suspected of terror activity.

 

In several meetings held at the attorney-general's office, legal officials once again emphasized that only a negligible percentage of "price tag" perpetrators are indicted because most of these attacks are sporadic in nature and because of the Shin Bet's unwillingness to expose Jewish sources, that are hard to come by as it is.

 

Legal officials rejected the claim that the legal system doesn't provide sufficient tools and does not help the Shin Bet and the defense establishment in the fight against the "price tag" phenomenon. Legal officials said that every time the Shin Bet has sufficient evidence against suspects, the legal system fully backs it. They stated that, among other things, the legal system supported proposals to issue restraining orders and placing restrictions on "price tag" suspects, as well as provided IDF soldiers with efficient arrest authorities whenever the need arose to arrest a suspect in such an activity.

 

The Supreme Court is also mobilizing and signaling to lower courts that the price for these "price tag" perpetrators must increase.

 

A year ago, Justice Yitzchak Amit overturned a decision to release two suspects on house arrest. Following an appeal by the prosecution, Justice Amit decided to detain the suspects, who were charged with attacking and beating Palestinians with a racist motive.

 

"This was an act that was planned ahead of time, when the gang of lawbreakers equipped itself with rods and batons and balaclavas," he said. "They hit everywhere and even hit the head of one of them (their victims) after he had already tripped and fell. They didn't even take mercy on the horse."

 

A high-ranking legal source made it clear that the phrase "price tag" instead of "terrorism" provides legitimacy for indecisive treatment of the phenomenon. He said the perpetrators are interested in undermining the government and to deter it from evacuating illegal settlements. He argued that while the Palestinians are the victims - the real target is the elected government.

 

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