Israeli authorities announced Thursday that they arrested three West Bank teenagers on suspicion of perpetrating a string of “price tag” hate crimes last month in northern Israel. The three boys, aged 16-17, are students at a yeshiva in the settlement of Yitzhar.
Police said that the suspects have already been in custody for a week, and their detention was extended a further five days on Thursday, the NRG news website reported.
During the investigation, police found weapons, radical literature and other items indicating the three suspects could have carried out the attacks. The state expects to indict the three on charges of destruction of property and vehicles, and will examine the possibility of charging them with nationalistic motivation in committing the crimes, which would carry a stiffer penalty.
Police said they suspect the trio of slashing the tires of some 50 vehicles and spray-painting slogans on several buildings in the Galilean Arab town of Jish during their spree. Legal representatives of the suspects told NRG that their clients denied the accusations, and called the evidence collected by the police circumstantial.
The settlement where the trio were apprehended, Yitzhar, has come to be seen as a hotbed of far-right nationalist activity, and last month police occupied a yeshiva in the community as part of their investigation into the price tag phenomenon. In early May, an Internet discussion among some members of the community discussed whether, under Jewish law, it was permissible to kill Israeli soldiers, leading to an investigation.
On Tuesday, two men suspected of committing hate crimes against Arab Israelis and Palestinians were arrested in connection with a recent spate of attacks in the lower Galilee city of Yokne’am.
The pair are suspected of spray-painting anti-Arab slogans and slashing car tires as part of a wave of so-called price tag attacks by Jewish extremists targeting Palestinians and the country’s non-Jewish citizens.
Both suspects are residents of northern Israel, near where the attacks took place, police said.
Also, police arrested four people in Jerusalem Tuesday on suspicion of attacking an Arab shop owner, Channel 2 news reported.
The four are accused of being part of a ring of Jewish extremists who used the messaging application WhatsApp to coordinate their activity.
Last week, police arrested two other suspects from northern Israel, aged 16 and 26, in connection with the Yokne’am attacks. One of the suspects admitted to vandalizing the offices of a Druze dentist, police said.
It was the second attack in three weeks targeting the office of Dr. Khatem Hatar, who hails from the Golan Heights village of Mas’ade.
Earlier this month, the walls of a building in Yokne’am were spray-painted with the words “Death to Arabs” and “Price tag.”
In the previous incident, vandals spray-painted the words “price tag” and a Star of David on the walls.
Price tag refers to vandalism and other hate crimes usually carried out by Jewish ultra-nationalists in ostensible retaliation for government policies against the settler movement. Mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases have been targeted by nationalist vandals in recent years. The acts have been condemned by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum.
The vandalism in Yokne’am came after a spate of similar attacks in the north. In April, several mosques were vandalized and dozens of cars were found with slashed tires in several northern Arab-Israeli towns.
Although police have made scores of arrests, there have been almost no successful prosecutions for price tag attacks, and the government has come under mounting pressure to authorize the Shin Bet internal security service to step in.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.