The other day a representative of the Israeli police shared some deeply troubling news:
“It doesn’t seem there will be significant improvement in the war on ‘price-tag’ attacks over the next few months,” a senior police official told Haaretz on Tuesday, a day after 29 cars in the Israeli Arab city of Abu Ghosh had their tires slashed [by Jewish attackers], and racist slogans were spray-painted on nearby walls [including the phrase “Arabs out”].…Police officials believe that the main problem is the complete lack of deterrence among young right-wing activists. The officer added that a series of solved crimes would restore the feeling that the rule of law prevailed. He said that in addition to the radical settler youth that grew up in the West Bank, there is also a generation of copycats, mainly teenage dropouts that engage in less sophisticated activity but who draw encouragement and a feeling of immunity because police have failed to track them down.
Given that nearly all cases brought by West Bank Palestinians against Israeli Jews are dismissed (whereas nearly 100 percent of cases against Palestinians end in conviction), it’s fairly easy to understand why there would be “a complete lack of deterrence” for Jewish “price tag” attacks against Palestinians. Reactions in the Jewish community and political class to the attack in Abu Ghosh suggest that such acts are taken more seriously when the Palestinians in question are Israeli citizens, but it remains to be seen what this will mean in terms of prosecutions, indictments, or convictions.What makes the police statement and Abu Ghosh attack even more disturbing, however, is the fact that the government happened to weigh the question of how to categorize price tag attacks just one day before the most recent one occurred. Are price tag attacks terrorism, or aren’t they?
Netanyahu and his cabinet decided that they’re not, though they’re willing to deem the perpetrators members of an ”illegal association,” a legal term which will expand the capacity of law enforcement and security apparatus to respond to perpetrators.
The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement that this decision “will significantly strengthen the ability to fight ‘price-tag’ phenomena,” but, the Jerusalem Post reports,
According to an Israeli official, the cabinet feared that classifying price-tag attacks as acts of terror would blur the lines between these extremists, on the one hand, and serious organized terror groups, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, on the other.
It goes without saying that when an individual Palestinian acts on his or her own to damage Israeli property or to injure or kill a Jewish citizen, no one bothers to ask if he or she is part of a “serious organized terror group.” No one has any problem using the 'T" word in those circumstances.
But it’s also worth noting that when Jews are attacked by Arabs, calling it terrorism (or, in legal terminology, “a hostile act”) allows the victims to claim government compensation, compensation not offered to the victims of other criminal acts. To date, if an Arab happens to fall victim to a Jew, he or she has no such right.
I tend to be a purist when it comes to the word “terror.” Not every terrible act of violence, no matter how bloody or frightening, is an act of terrorism. Mirriam-Webster offers an extended definition of term which fits neatly into my academic training as a political scientist: Terrorism is “[the] systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” Terrorism isn’t a hate crime, and it isn’t going postal. First and foremost, terrorism is an effort to effect political change.
Which is precisely why the recent rash of price tag attacks on both sides of the Green Line is, in fact, terrorism. If you set fire to mosques in a bid to convince your government that making any concessions to Palestinians will be too costly on the domestic front, or if you slash tires and scrawl “Arabs out” on the walls—you’re a terrorist. You’re employing systematic violence to create an atmosphere of fear in order to bring about a particular political objective—and no matter what kind of linguistic somersaults the Israeli government undertakes to convince itself and its citizens otherwise, that’s terrorism.