Israel launches crackdown on anti-Palestinian vandals
JERUSALEM - Reuters
A Israeli police officer looks as a municipality worker washes off graffiti sprayed on a wall in East Jerusalem. REUTERS photoIsrael announced a crackdown on Monday against Jewish ultranationalists who vandalise Palestinian property, saying they were tantamount to terrorists and their attacks could fan sectarian violence.
The move followed the arrest of a 22-year Israeli from an Orthodox Jewish town near Tel Aviv for the vandalism of a Christian monastery in the occupied West Bank last year. The attack was carried out in solidarity with hardline Jewish settlers.
Graffiti left on the 19th-century Latrun Monastery referred to Migron, an unauthorised settler outpost evacuated by the Israeli government. The words "Jesus is a monkey" were also daubed on the wall in Hebrew, and the monastery's doors torched.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said those suspected in so-called "Price Tag" incidents would now be subject to measures such as longer detentions and denial of access to lawyers while under interrogation - measures akin to those used by Israel's security services in tackling Palestinian militants.
"Price Tag perpetrators' conduct is identical to the conduct of modern terrorist groups, including ideological inspiration and covert action," the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
"Its main objective is to prevent the legitimate Israeli government from carrying out moves, whether of state or regarding law enforcement, and to sow fear among the nation's leaders of making decisions of one kind or another."
The ultranationalists have desecrated mosques, torched cars and chopped down trees belonging to Palestinians, saying they sought to make the government "pay" for curbing unauthorised West Bank settlement
They have occasionally hit Israeli army facilities, churches or Arab sites inside the Jewish state. But Israeli authorities are most troubled by the possibility that Palestinian victims could lash out in reprisal, upending the West Bank's relative calm at a time of peacemaking stalemate.
"It is our duty to toughen up the penalties against these miscreants, because this activity has catastrophic potential," the statement quoted Yaalon as saying. "We must fight an all-out war against them, with minimum tolerance and maximum means."