Some years ago, I was walking through Jerusalem with a member of the Israeli military. As we entered the Old City, I noticed the Hebrew word “nekama” – “revenge” – scrawled repeatedly in black spray paint on the wall.
“Oh, that’s been going on for a long while,” said my companion. “Years ago, people would scrub it off as soon as they saw it. But these days, they leave it there for much longer.”
This was around the time of the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, in August 2005. That controversial evacuation – which has been rewarded only with continued rocket attacks – catalysed the adoption of a tit-for-tat policy by elements on the extreme Israeli far Right. Known as “tag mahir”, or “price tag”, actions perceived as sympathetic to the Palestinian cause attract the “price” of a violent response, carried out either against the Arab population or the Israeli security forces.
Initially, attacks were bloody. In the days before the Gaza evacuation, Eden Natan-Zada, a serving soldier and member of the extremist Kach group, which is designated a terror organisation by the United States, gunned down a busload of Israeli Arabs in the northern town of Shfar’am, killing four and wounding 22. After the evacuation, another murder of four Palestinians took place in Shiloh on the West Bank, carried out by the bus driver Asher Weisgan, who later hanged himself in prison. Both attacks were intended as direct responses to the withdrawal, and have become known as the first price tag operations.
Since then attacks have been less extreme, if still unpleasant and worrying. Roads have been blocked to disrupt the Israeli security forces en route to dismantle illegal settlements; cars, mosques and Arab-owned olive groves and orchards have been destroyed; Muslim graveyards have been desecrated; the homes of prominent Israeli Left-wingers have been vandalised; recently, even Christian properties in Jerusalem have been targeted. Scenes of the crime are spray painted, often with the words “price tag”, written in a script very similar to the revenge graffiti in the Old City of Jerusalem with which I was already familiar. Continue reading on the Telegraph website