13.08.2015 analysis by Liat Schlesinger

At Any Price: Israeli Taxpayers Funding “Price Tag” Settler Violence

Exposing the right wing organizations promoting price tag terrorism

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In recent years, and especially after last month’s torching of a Palestinian family in their home, the term “Price Tag” has achieved considerable notoriety. It refers, in the Israeli- Palestinian context, to acts of violence committed by right-wing Jewish extremists against Palestinians in the West Bank or within Israel, or against Israeli security forces. These acts run the gamut from spraying graffiti to physically attacking Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. Their purported aim is to deter the state of Israel from attempting to evacuate illegal settler outposts by showing that there is “a price to be paid”. Despite concern among law enforcement authorities and the public at large, little is known about these illegal acts: who is behind them? What are they intended to achieve? Who is financing them? Few Israelis know that this criminal activity is, in fact, initiated by beneficiaries of generous state support.

The media, both in Israel and abroad, have consistently played along with the presentation of “Price Tag” offenders as a handful of crazed teens living on the fringes of Israeli society. In reality, these supposedly individual acts are part of a much larger framework: they are the result of a policy carefully planned by functionaries from the very heart of the settler establishment and financed by the state. Israeli taxpayers are unknowingly funding a policy of violence against Palestinian civilians and Israeli security forces aimed at “exacting a price” from the state for any attempt to curb the settlement enterprise.

In response to harsh public criticism of these acts in recent years, the settler leadership repeatedly claimed that the offenders were merely a few ‘rotten apples’ on the margins of settler society. This could not be further from the truth: the concept of “Price Tag” was developed by nonprofits funded directly by branches of the state in the West Bank. Specifically, the Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council, an Israeli state authority in charge of settlements in the northern West Bank whose budget relies largely on state funds and grants, directly funds a nonprofit titled the Shomron Residents’ Committee. Founded in 2008 by then-Council Head Gershon Mesika, the committee acts as the unofficial political arm of the council. It is currently headed by Benny Katzover. The Binyamin Regional Council, the state authority in charge of settlements in the central West Bank, established and funds a similar nonprofit titled the Binyamin Residents’ Committee.

Gershon Mesika of the Shomron Regional Council recently garnered public attention when he became state witness in a vast corruption affair, in which right-wing organizations allegedly transferred money to members of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party in exchange for receiving state funding. Israeli media has not picked up Mesika’s extensive involvement with “Price Tag” activities behind the scenes, although in 2012, popular newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth exposed documents and testimony tying both Mesika and Katzover to these activities. Mesika’s former deputy and current head of the council, Yossi Dagan, also helped found the committeeand used to be its spokesperson. His home address at the settlement of Shavey Shomeron is still registered with the Ministry of Justice as the committee’s official mailing address. Despite Dagan’s significant involvement with a nonprofit that promotes illegal activity, he is officially set to run for the senior position of council head this August. As a result, Dagan, who studied under extremist right-wing rabbi Dov Lior and is considered close to Likud MK of ill repute Oren Hazan, is now trying to cover his tracks with the committee.

Mesika, Dagan, and Katzover have all gone to great lengths to prevent the exposure of evidence tying the Shomron Regional Council and its affiliated committee to “Price Tag” activities. Before Yedioth Ahronoth ran its investigative piece, the three threatened Israeli media with a million-shekel lawsuit. When this did not help, the council filed a libel suit against Yedioth Ahronoth, successfully preventing the publication of more details and thwarting public debate on the matter. The suit was later quietly withdrawn, but the public damage was done.  Beforehand, however, the court was provided with important material – exposed here for the first time.

Key findings

  • Israeli taxpayers are funding nonprofits that actively promote a policy of disrupting IDF operations and harming Palestinians. The Shomron and Binyamin Residents’ Committees, which receive millions of shekels a year from the state, first developed the “Price Tag” policy”. Their functionaries call for illegal action to delay or prevent security forces from evacuating illegal settlement structures in the West Bank. These nonprofits were formed in order to act in ways that the official regional councils cannot. In a series of publications disseminated among right-wing activists, they called on their communities to carry out “Price Tag” acts and various illegal activities, including rioting and erecting new outposts, in order to deter the IDF from evacuation attempts. They also commended acts such as burning fields and other property and injuring Palestinian civilians. Urging citizens to break the law and encouraging violence constitutes incitement, which is considered a criminal offense under penal law.
  • Accessorial liability. The Shomron Committee’s work plan – one of the documents first exposed here – calls on supporters to riot and block roads, attaching maps with detailed directions to locations that will guarantee maximum disturbance of security forces’ work. Disseminating these maps allegedly constitutes accessorial liability – funded by the Israeli taxpayer. 
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