Car damaged in Price Tagging attack
I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but ever since Israeli settlers landed in the West Bank, there've been problems between them and the local Palestinian population. The last few years have seen the rise of a new kind of antagonism, though, a vigilante form of score-settling that's come to be known as 'Price Tagging'. Carried out by a few thousand Orthodox Jewish extremist settlers organised into small cells, Price Tagging can include anything from the burning and uprooting of Palestinian olive orchards, to the stoning of Palestinian homes and vehicles, and even murder. (Basically if there's graffitti on the wall afterwards that says "Price Tag" in Hebrew, you've probably been Price Tagged.)
Settlers throwing their weight around
To begin with, Price Tagging acts were retaliatory acts, committed when Palestinians or local authorities like the Israel Defence Forces destroyed illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But since Palestine was welcomed into the UNESCO big boys club in October last year, the Price Taggers have dropped this 'eye for an eye' policy in favour of a more proactive approach, attacking mosques, army bases and people without kicking their heels on street corners waiting to be provoked first.
The Price Taggers have even started to turn on their own, singling out left-wing Israelis who've denounced the occupation as illegal for retributive "justice". In November, Hagit Ofran of pro-peace pressure group Peace Now had swastikas, death threats and the names of recently cleared settlements sprayed on her home and car, and a week later a bomb threat was called into Peace Now's head office, prolonging the world's wait for peace in the Middle East by however long it takes a policeman to check that an office hasn't got bombs in it.
A Price Tagging confrontation overseen by the IDF
Paul Usiskin is the chairman of Peace Now UK, and has himself received letters in the post telling him that he'd be dead soon. For Paul, the recent spate of 'friendly' and unprovoked Price Tagging attacks is a departure from age-old Israeli-Palestinian bickering. "Of course you know that the settlers see the West Bank as their land, and therefore they feel they can do whatever they like with it," he told me.
"The Price Tag attacks against left-wing activists we're seeing now, though, have brought little condemnation from the government. Israel's going through great political upheaval at the moment, and there's no real left-wing or even left-leaning movement within the Knesset [the legislative branch of the Israeli government]. Being branded a "leftie" can ruin your political career. As such, there's no one standing up to the settlers."
So have any of the Price Taggers been punished for their actions?
"Not many. And that's because many of the local police and civil authorities that investigate Price Tagging attacks are themselves related to or have links to members of the settler community. If they pursue cases against the settlers, they worry they'll suffer in revenge attacks."
Whether it's their own safety or personal politics that's influencing their decision-making, IDF guards have been known not just to stand by as settlers attack Palestinians, but also to join in. Activestill, the predominantly Jewish activist/ photography collective who got us the stills in this article, experienced this at the site of the 'Disputed House' in Hebron, one of many formerly Palestinian homes in the West Bank taken forcibly by Israelis.
2011 saw the most Price Tagging attacks so far, and there's no sign of them going out of fashion any time soon. In fact, things are probably just going to get worse, what with Palestine's successful UNESCO application paving the way for them to eventually achieve statehood and thus put the Israeli settlers in an even more legally untenable situation.
Armed settler approaches Palestinian girls
Thanks to http://activestills.org/ for the photographs in this post.