Posted on: 6th August 2015
On 31 July, a Palestinian infant was killed during an arson attack in the village of Duma in the West Bank. Firebombs were thrown at two houses, one of which had 'revenge' and the Star of David sprayed on its walls. While the exact motive of the attack remains unclear, the incident carries the hallmarks of a recent trend that has come to be known as 'price tag' attacks. These attacks, often involving arson and vandalism, are ordinarily carried out by militant Jewish settlers and those who support them in Israel and the West Bank.
The words 'price tag' are often daubed on walls during these attacks, which are perpetrated as supposed revenge for the Israeli government's restrictions on settlement activities, attacks carried out by Palestinians, and the presence of other religious groups in the country. Though the arson was aimed at Palestinians, other recent attacks, including one on 17 June at the Catholic Church of the Multiplication on the Sea of Galilee, highlight the religious motivation of Jewish extremism. The words "False idols will be smashed," taken from a daily prayer, were written on the church's walls, presenting an undeniably religious motivation for the attack.
While many settlers are driven by religious convictions to inhabit the land, there are also many who are secular. Some settler groups are unyielding in their stay in the West Bank and are intent on driving Palestinians out of the area; however, there are also many Israelis, from all backgrounds, who do not subscribe to this view and have much simpler reasons for living in the West Bank.
The graffitied words "false idols will be smashed" presented an undeniably religious motivation for the attack.
'Price tag' attacks are not the only form of religiously infused terror present in Jewish-Israeli society. On 30 July, an Israeli teenager died from her injuries after she was stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremist who attacked people attending the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem.
Though distinct in their motivation, these attacks are not a new phenomenon in Israel. Jewish extremists, often ultra-Orthodox Haredi and settler groups, have often employed a radicalised form of Judaism to carry out religiously motivated attacks against other Jewish Israelis, as well as Christians and Muslims in Israel and the West Bank.
Though religiously motivated attacks have been carried out since the early history of the modern State of Israel, the emergence of several right wing religious parties in the 1970s changed the landscape of Jewish extremism. One example was Gush Emunim, a political group established in February 1974, which advocated Jewish settlement in the entire land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Its militant offshoot, the Jewish Underground, was responsible for a number of extremist attacks in the 1980s.
Religiously driven extremism grew in the wake of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and there were several attacks carried out against Muslims and Christians in Israel. Between 1979 and 1984, the Jewish Underground carried out attacks against mayors of multiple West Bank cities, and, most notably, in 1984 the extremist religious group attempted to destroy the Temple Mount/ al-Haram al-Sharif.
The group was also responsible for an attack in July 1983 during which they tossed grenades into classrooms of an Islamic College in Hebron, killing three students, and wounding 33 others.
As time passed, and tensions between Jews, Muslims, and Christians heightened in the context of the ongoing and ineffective peace process, Jewish extremism persisted in Israel. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli physician, carried out an attack in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, which killed 25 Muslim worshipers and wounded another 125. Just over a year later, Yigal Amir, inspired by religious extremism, assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In the wake of the events of July 2015, Israeli officials have been clear in their commitment to end religious extremism of any kind, and the state has made efforts to signal it treats all terrorists alike, regardless of religion. The Israeli Justice Ministry has called for 'price tag' attacks to be referred to as 'terrorist attacks.'
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem have been bitterly opposed to the annual gay pride march, protesting every year against the event. The multiple stabbings at the hands of Yishai Schlissel, released only a month ago from prison after committing a similar attack at the same event 10 years ago, highlight the tensions between the country's ultra-Orthodox Jews and the secular consensus within which they live.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forthright in his condemnation of the West Bank attack, saying "The State of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of the perpetrators." Meanwhile, Israel's Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon was unequivocal in his comments after the two attacks, saying that Israeli government will "Fight Jewish terror with determination and without compromise."
Never far from the surface, these latest attacks show the multifaceted nature of the threat from extreme religious ideologies in Israel. The government faces the arduous challenge of trying to maintain national security and protect its citizens from Hizbullah, Hamas and others, while also combatting activities of extreme Jewish groups in the country.