Kid gloves treatment seen softening Israeli crackdown on pro-settler vandals

By Dan Wilchins
February 28, 2014

(Israeli soldiers stand near the damaged door of a mosque in the West Bank village of Orif, near Nablus November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini )

Last March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a crackdown on crimes that elsewhere might be shrugged off as ugly but sufferable mischief – racist graffiti, slashed tires, hacked orchards and small-scale arson.

Such vandalism takes on a whole different meaning when it is perpetrated by ultranationalist Jews against Palestinian property, risking renewed violence in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, disrupting U.S.-mediated peace talks and further sapping Israel’s image abroad.

Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, have likened the incidents – dubbed “price tagging” in a reference to making the government “pay” for curbs on Jewish settlement of Palestinian land – to terrorism.

Yet despite dozens of arrests, there have been few convictions, and the vandalism continues to occur almost weekly. Churches, peace activists and even the Israeli army have also been targets.

(A monk stands next to graffiti sprayed on a wall at the entrance to the Latrun Monastery near Jerusalem September 4, 2012.REUTERS/Baz Ratner )

“In every incident, we go for the maximum possible charges, but in the end we tend to run up against a void in the court system,” Chief-Inspector Shmuel Gerbi, lead investigator for the police’s price-tag taskforce, told Reuters in an interview.

Some security officials and independent experts say if the crackdown is failing, the problem is that the justice system handles price-tag suspects with kid gloves. Even in Netanyahu’s own governing coalition, there are those who advocate leniency.

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