An inevitable byproduct of occupation

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The "price tag" campaign is a series of acts of violence by extremist settlers against neighboring Palestinians, carried out in response to attempts by Israeli security forces to implement court rulings and dismantle "illegal" or "unauthorized" settlement construction. The violence is directed at Palestinians, but is acknowledged by its settler perpetrators to be a response to acts by fellow Israelis and not to Palestinian violence. The extremist settlers are in effect saying to the government of Israel: either leave us alone to break the law and steal Palestinian land, or we’ll attack enough innocent Palestinians to start a small war.

The price tag campaign harbors the seeds of far worse violence against both Palestinians and Israelis. While it is characterized as the act of a small anarchist settler fringe, it is in fact the inevitable byproduct of more than 40 years of occupation and settlement for which, ultimately, all of Israeli society is responsible.

Most West Bank settlers consider themselves law-abiding citizens of Israel who believe they have a right to live where they live. Most even declare they will abandon their homes peaceably if and when called upon by the government of Israel to do so in order to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian territorial agreement. But a significant minority of several thousands of settlers is liable to use force to oppose removal. It is this sizable group that has produced the violent, anarchist fringe of a few hundred that carries out price tag retribution against Palestinian civilian and religious targets in the West Bank. Many of the perpetrators are second- and third-generation settlers who have coalesced in particularly extremist settlements like Yitzhar, Hebron and Tapuach and are led by racist rabbis.

Some of the rabbis are the same ones who issued murky judgments of treason against then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s, leading to his assassination by a settler sympathizer. They were never brought to trial back then, and even now they are not energetically pursued because an embarrassed and confused security and legal establishment has difficulty confronting the hate propaganda of messianic religious figures citing biblical passages and sheltering among the settlers.

Extremists who can kill an Israeli prime minister obviously have no problem whatsoever desecrating a mosque in a village near their settlement, particularly when the broader "law-abiding" settler environment suffices with verbal condemnation but does nothing to clean up the swamp it has helped create. This is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the price tag phenomenon: the way the settler mainstream and its supporters in Israel roll their eyes and express consternation at these ugly actions by a violent youth fringe that is the obvious outcome of their enterprise.

But the problem is far broader than even the settler establishment. It is Israeli society as a whole that creates settlements and outposts on dubiously-claimed land, paves Jews-only roads to protect settlers against Palestinian anger, and proposes laws that discriminate against Arabs inside Israel. Then it acts surprised when a radical fringe of its youth interpret all these developments and events as a license to retaliate against neighboring Palestinians because that same Israeli society, in a "hiccup" induced by international pressure or a High Court of Justice ruling, decides selectively to enforce its long-abused laws on the settlers.

How in the world could we end up with anything less extreme than the price-tag campaign? Why shouldn’t a small portion of these youth become confused and drift into anarchism? After all, half the country encourages them to settle empty hilltops that belong to someone else, hooks up their electricity and posts soldiers to guard them from their angry Palestinian neighbors, while the other half dismantles their shanties and tells them to leave.

Thus it is a mark of dishonor to Israel and its institutions of law and security that things have gone this far. The problem is not just the lunatic fringe of settlers and their racist rabbis. The problem is the entire occupation and settlement enterprise that has inevitably spawned this abomination.

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