How a baby’s death revealed the true price of ‘Price Tag’ attacks

The deadly Jewish terrorist attack that left baby Ali dead was not a sudden escalation of brutal violence

Brooklyn Middleton

Published: Updated:

Jewish terrorists set a Palestinian family’s private home ablaze, killing 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsheh and injuring three of the baby’s family members, in the village of Douma, near the West Bank city of Nablus, during early morning hours local time on July 31. The attack was all but claimed by extremists affiliated with the “price-tag” movement, with graffiti reading “long live the Messiah" written in Hebrew across a wall near the macabre scene.

The violence of “price-tag” incidents – a euphemistic phrase for Jewish extremists carrying out attacks against Palestinians and Israeli security forces – has been escalating for years. The term stems from graffiti that accompanies the actual attacks, often left spray-painted on a wall at the crime scene – a church on the shores of the Galilee, a mosque near Bethlehem, a Palestinian family’s home in Sinjil – that the extremists have targeted. Notably, the attacks – such as the one in which several cars were set ablaze and scrawled with hateful graffiti reading, “Death to the Arabs,” near Ramallah – have often occurred in areas under total Israeli control, further underscoring the responsibility of the state to protect Palestinians from such attacks.

The deadly Jewish terrorist attack that left baby Ali dead was not a sudden escalation of brutal violence; true, the attack marks the first time any suspects affiliated with the movement have committed murder, but the attacks have been steadily escalating in their brutality for years.

An act of terror

As news broke during morning hours local time on July 31, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) unequivocally identified - in Arabic, Hebrew & English - the arson attack an act of terror. Hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it, "a reprehensible and horrific act of terrorism in every respect.” In perhaps the most powerful condemnation of the terror attack, Chairman of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, stated that the Jewish terrorists were “natural partners” to Israel’s sworn enemies, including Hamas, the ISIS and Hezbollah.

The deadly Jewish terrorist attack that left baby Ali dead was not a sudden escalation of brutal violence

Brooklyn Middleton

Meanwhile, Hamas responded to the attack, reportedly announcing that, “Every Israeli is now a legitimate target.” Notably, the statement does not represent a departure in Hamas policy in any way but underscores the militant group’s predictable attempts to capitalize on the deadly arson attack. It is worth noting that from a security standpoint, despite the rhetoric, it remains unlikely that either Hamas or Israel seeks a broader conflict at this stage. Unlike one year ago, when Hamas lashed out from the Gaza Strip in retaliation for intense Israeli operations against the militant group in the West Bank, neither side would currently benefit from an immediate and broader conflict.

But, where there was relative calm across the West Bank last summer – while unrest in Jerusalem raged and Israel and Hamas had an all out war – there could now be an eruption of serious unrest. PM Netanyahu’s attempts to prevent this, calling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and stating, "it's upon us to together fight terrorism, no matter which side perpetrates it,” is unlikely to suffice; PM Netanyahu must mobilize Israeli security forces to disrupt “price-tag” cells across the West Bank and inside Israeli territory, once and for all.

Israel’s own security official, both ex-Mossad and ex-Shin Bet members, have long criticized the state’s failure to disrupt price tag plots and thwart attacks. In a Haaretz report, ex-Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit was quoted as saying, “Israel is a lawful country that does not enforce its laws.” While ex-Shin Bet leader Carmi Gillon, claimed “There are no results because there is no intent.. In the Shin Bet there is no ‘can’t’, there is only ‘won’t.”

Moreover, in May 2014, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League Abe Foxman, called on Israeli leaders to seriously and comprehensively address Jewish extremists. Foxman noted that despite condemnation from Israeli officials, “There seems to be little visible action to bring to justice those responsible. The terrorism classification failed to reach the Knesset plenary for a vote, and police action has had only minimal success with the apprehension of just a handful of individuals, many of whom were subsequently released.”

Two months later, following the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas militants, 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khedir was burned alive by Jewish terrorists. Though the suspects were not linked to previous price-tag attacks, the vicious murder of a teenager underscored the rising threat of Jewish extremism and Israel’s inability to address it.

During last year’s bloody summer, Rabbi Daniel Landes called for Jewish terrorists’ homes to be demolished, writing that it was the “only one sane and truly halakhic way to tackle our current situation.”

A foreseeable counter-argument there would likely center around the notion that the brutal attack was a rare occurrence and deterrence – a stated objective of Israeli demolitions of Palestinians’ homes – was unnecessary. After the senseless death of baby Ali, the calls of degrading Jewish extremists should be renewed: Israel must conduct raids of the suspected terrorists’ homes, interrogate all those linked to the murderers and actively begin collecting intelligence regarding plans for future attacks. The need for deterrence has once again been made tragically clear.

If Israel fails to detain all involved in the horrifying arson attack, it would represent a significant and rare intelligence failure. Furthermore, such inaction would risk emboldening all involved and all sympathetic to the increasingly brutal “price tag” movement.

Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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