US: Israel has not tried most ‘price tag’ culprits

US: Israel has not tried most ‘price tag’ culprits

In annual terrorism report, State Department marks dip in rocket attacks; praises PA anti-incitement efforts

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

People leave the Deir Rafat Catholic convent whose walls can be seen sprayed with graffiti reading 'Jesus is a monkey,' Mary is a cow,' and 'price tag,' Tuesday, April 1, 2014, near the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh (photo credit: AFP/Menahem Kahana)
People leave the Deir Rafat Catholic convent whose walls can be seen sprayed with graffiti reading 'Jesus is a monkey,' Mary is a cow,' and 'price tag,' Tuesday, April 1, 2014, near the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh (photo credit: AFP/Menahem Kahana)

Israel has not effectively countered and prosecuted radical settlers implicated in “price tag” attacks against Palestinians in 2013, the US State Department terrorism report released Wednesday maintained.

The comprehensive paper also highlighted the decrease in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, hailed Palestinian Authority measures to prevent incitement to violence, and claimed hefty financial assistance to Palestinian prisoners was for purposes of helping reintegrate the released inmates into society.

“Attacks by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinian residents, property, and places of worship in the West Bank continued and were largely unprosecuted according to UN and NGO sources,” the report read.

Citing the UN Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, the paper said 2013 saw 399 “price tag” attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian property.

“Violent extremists, including Israeli settlers, vandalized five mosques and three churches in Jerusalem and the West Bank, according to data compiled by the UN,” it said.

However, the report also explicitly praised Israeli efforts to stymie the vandalism, which include the formation of a special police unit and a Defense Ministry designation of the incidents as “illegal associations,” which allows investigators greater freedom to gather information about the suspects and seize property.

While the US has effectively designated attacks of this nature as terrorism with its inclusion in the annual report since 2010, Israel only began classifying the incidents as such in July 2013.

The annual report also stressed a significant decrease in rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, as compared to years prior.

“2013 saw the lowest number of rocket and mortar launchings on Israel from Gaza and the Sinai in more than a decade with 74 launchings compared to 2,557 in 2012,” it said.

Israeli retaliation consisted of “operations directed at terrorist leaders, infrastructure, training facilities, and rocket launching sites,” it maintained.

The report also praised the Palestinian Authority for its efforts to reduce incitement in offices under its jurisdiction, which included not broadcasting content on its TV stations that condone violence. The paper said the PA offices monitor over 1,800 weekly sermons in West Bank mosques to ensure religious services don’t veer toward the political or to promoting violence. The themes for these sermons are approved every week by the PA Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, it said.

“The PA has taken significant steps to ensure that official institutions in the West Bank that fall under its control do not create content that leads to incitement to violence,” the paper said. However, the PA “has limited authority to control the context of sermons in Israeli-controlled Area C,” and has no jurisdiction over Jerusalem.

Israel has long insisted that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for disseminating anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment. In January, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said that PA President Mahmoud Abbas espoused more “anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli venom” than any other world leader.

In response to Steinitz’s annual presentation of incitement in the PA, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed up his assertions. “To my regret, this incitement is continuing,” Netanyahu said.

The State Department report acknowledged, but did not criticize, the PA’s financial assistance to Palestinian security prisoners released by Israel.

“As part of a policy codified in 2003, the PA provided significant financial packages to Palestinian security prisoners released from Israeli prisons in 2013 in an effort to reintegrate them into society,” it said.

According to information published in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida in 2011, the average monthly stipend paid by the government to family members of Palestinian prisoners stands at NIS 3,129 ($862), higher than the average salary of a Palestinian civil servant, which is NIS 2,882 ($794). Two and a half percent of the PA’s budget for salaries goes to prisoners’ families, the document indicated.

The 26 Palestinian prisoners released as a goodwill gesture by the Israeli government on October 30 — many of whom had been jailed before the 1993 Oslo Accords and had carried out murderous attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians — were eligible for $50,000 apiece as well as a comfortable monthly salary from the Palestinian Authority, the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said in a statement in November 2013.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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