June 19, 2012

Price Tags

And now, some really disturbing news out of the West Bank:

JERUSALEM — A West Bank mosque was burned and vandalized early on Tuesday, with graffiti warning in Hebrew of a “war” over the impending evacuation of the small, disputed Jewish settlement of Ulpana.


Police officials said it was the fourth attack on a mosque in the last 18 months and part of a recent uptick in so-called price tag episodes by radical settlers.


The Ulpana evacuation has been seen as a key test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, and he immediately condemned the attack as “the work of intolerant, irresponsible lawbreakers,” adding, “We will act quickly in order to bring them to justice.”


Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said that several suspects entered Jabaa, a Palestinian village of 4,200 about five miles from both Jerusalem and Ramallah, early on Tuesday, then broke a large window in the mosque and set a fire that burned several yards of a carpet and wall. Outside the building, the slogan “Ulpana war” was written on the right side of the window, and “price tag” on the left, suggesting the attack was in exchange for the coming evacuation.

Here's why this case matters more than all the other ugly incidents of settler violence and vandalism: if ever there was an open-and-shut case for dismantling a settlement, it would be for the five buildings in Ulpana. This is a no-brainer. The issue at hand is a straight up-and-down question regarding property rights and the rule of law, and both the Netanyahu government and the Supreme Court agree the homes must be dismantled or moved. Aside from a few minority voices in Netayahu's massive coalition, everyone is in agreementAnd yet. And yet I was in Israel a few weeks ago and watched the Netanyahu government agonize over this decision, which, again, is as clear-cut a decision on a settlement as it will ever face. Why? In part because even a decision to dismantle or move an obviously illegal settlement -- on the orders of the Supreme Court -- can spark protests and violent retribution raids on Palestinians. And if this is the reaction this time around, imagine what the reaction will be when the Israeli government dismantles all of those hilltop settlements in the West Bank. That's why this violence depresses me.