Analysis: Should Price Tag Attacks be Considered Terror Acts?

Illustration. CC-BY-SA Rich Anderson

The ineffectiveness of law enforcement agencies to combat the phenomenon of “price tag attacks” has been an issue causing much public debate over the last few months. Many bodies have called upon the government to declare the perpetrators of these crimes “terrorist organizations” and were disappointed with the government decision to label them merely as “illegal associations”.


Was this the correct decision?


Price tag attacks are organised hate crimes that require a particularly harsh response by law enforcement agencies. That the security establishment has been ineffective in handling this phenomenon would be an understatement.


Keep in mind that law enforcement agencies have a vast array of measures to combat organized violence perpetrated for ideological reasons, which includes racist and nationalistic motives seeking to intimidate the public or a segment thereof. When a person is suspected of a serious criminal offence, even if it is not formally classified as a terror offence, the police are authorized to conduct searches, place wiretaps, track suspects and arrest them for questioning if appropriate. Consequently, to increase the effectiveness of the current response, all that is required by the security agencies involved is a genuine commitment to confronting this grave phenomenon with the use of the full range of tools already at its disposal.


It is important to understand that the classification of an act as a “terrorist act” is not merely a rhetorical expression of strong opposition to the acts themselves. It is primarily a sanction for the use of special measures that contain within them the possibility of human rights violations. The justification for granting these special powers, given the dangers associated with them, is the extreme risk inherent in terrorism and the special challenges that sophisticated and compartmentalized terrorist organizations pose to law enforcement agencies.


Due to the grave implications resulting from the classification of an act as a “terrorist act”, it is essential to ensure that this tool is used accurately and only in reference to acts which are truly terrorist in their nature. Concerns exists about the gradually increasing use of the “terrorist” classification for more and more acts, as it is the habit of the state and the public to deal with extreme phenomena by utilizing extreme powers. This is likely to gradually produce a reality in which special tools and measures initially considered problematic become acceptable, legitimate and even commonplace.


The actions known as “price tag attacks” do fall within the explicit definition of what constitutes terrorist acts, and there is justification to consider authorizing additional powers as per the relevant law with regard to acts and groups such as these. Even then however, we must avoid using these powers beyond what is necessary in order to effectively handle the matter, and in a way that allows for human rights considerations. The use of counter-terrorism powers in order to deal with acts that seek to damage property, but which do not endanger human life, should not be taken for granted, and can lead us down a slippery slope of yielding the rules and protections within criminal law in a wide variety of situations.


In contrast to the way that the government presented its decision, the declaration of a group as an “illegal association” does indeed turn it into a recognized “terrorist organization” according to the Law Against Terror Financing and according to the proposed Counter-Terrorism Law currently being debated in the Knesset. The declaration of a group as an “illegal association” is made pursuant to draconian defence regulations that exist from the time of the British Mandate. It opens the door to the use of abusive measures that deny suspects the right to a fair trial, such as preventing access to an attorney during the investigation. It also enables the imposition of sanctions on acts that are not directly connected to criminal conduct, such as attending meetings and possessing certain publications, etc. The declaration process is often based on secret evidence and the possibility of challenging it in court is very limited in practice.


Related Materials

ACRI Calls for Examination of Measures to Protect Palestinians from Settler Violence

ACRI Press Release: Counter-Terrorism Bill Will Seriously Harm Human Rights

ACRI Writes to Defence Officials to Act to Prevent Future Price Tag Attacks


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Categories: Arab Citizens of Israel, Democracy and Civil Liberties, Impact of Settlements, The Occupied Territories, The Right to Property

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