Thursday, 6 December 2012

Is "Price Tag" Terrorism?



Some groups of right wing activists have developed a policy called “Tag Mechir” (literally “price tag”) largely in response to the ineffective policies used by the right wing establishment to oppose the Gush Katif evacuation.

This Price Tag policy is aimed at the Government authorities, such as the army and police, and it includes attacking the property of third parties, such as Arab civilians and left wing activists.

It is used as a wild-card response to specific anti-settler acts implemented by the Israeli authorities.

So, for example, when an outpost (unauthorized Jewish village) is demolished by the Army/Police, just a few kids can exact a hassle factor "price" which ties up thousands of troops and police in preventing counter-actions, far beyond the geographic location of the outpost itself.  

The price taggers are typically teenagers, ideologically motivated and equipped with spray cans (to paint graffiti).

Most of the reported actions allegedly carried out by the price taggers are graffiti, and they have sometimes been reported to have included arson against empty buildings, cars and puncturing car tyres.

The Government has invested substantial resources in increasing manpower in the Jewish Division of the shabbak and in police forces in order to combat the price taggers.

There are widespread rumours that at least some of these acts of vandalism have been carried out by agents provocateurs from within the security forces. This brings back painful memories of the disastrous provocations carried out by Shabbak secret service agents in the run-up to the Rabin murder.

There were frightening pictures published this week (see above) of a haul of items allegedly found in the possession of a group of tag mechir suspects. 

These included a box of matches, an ID card, some gloves, a fruit drink, and a submachine gun.

The only problem being that the “gun” in the photograph is a plastic toy.

When threatened by hostile Arabs, Jewish residents of outlying and isolated villages will often wave toy guns to frighten them away ("settlers" are often forbidden from owning real guns, even when they live in isolated locations and have hostile neighbors).

Although there have been many dozens of arrests over the past few years, no one has yet been convicted of an act of “tag mechir”.

The courts this week increased the stakes, by denying civil rights to suspects who were arrested for tag mechir. 

The suspects were not permitted to confer with legal council for the first three days of their incarceration.

This was appealed to the Supreme Court, traditionally the paragon of civil rights in Israel, who, surprisingly, rejected the appeal. 

Supreme Court Judge Isaac Amit was reported as saying:

"After studying the investigative material and classified information that was presented to me, I am satisfied that preventing a meeting with a lawyer is essential and necessary at this point for security reasons and for the good of the investigation," Amit wrote in his decision.

Apparently, this is based on legal precedence from cases dealing with suspected Arab terrorists, who can be denied access to legal counsel. This is used paticularly when there is a "ticking bomb" scenario, so the police can quickly extract information from the suspect, which could save innocent lives. 

If the allegations of the police are correct, that some ideologically motivated youths have perpetrated acts of vandalism, then these people are clearly liable to and should be charged and punished under the law.

And, obviously, as a generality one should be aware that politically motivated illegal acts could conceivably migrate into acts of violence against persons.

However, any reasonable system of law should view cases in terms of the acts allegedly committed, not speculate “what might happen if…”

Obviously, we are not privy to “the investigative material and classified information”  that Judge Amit saw.

But the facts seem clear.

The people arrested were suspected of damaging property, a serious allegation, but with not a hint of “terrorism”, at least in the sense it has been understood for the past hundred years.  

Using anti-terror laws to harass these politically inconvenient kids, and to thereby deprive them of their lawful rights, is a far more dangerous precedent for Israel than anything these kids may have done.

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