A History of ‘Price-Tag’ Violence

Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon

On 10 May, Amos Oz criticised the so-called 'price-tag attacks' carried out by Israeli settlers. The label is used by the culprits themselves to describe retaliatory violence against Palestinians: beatings and arson as well as racist graffiti sprayed on the walls of churches and mosques. Oz described the perpetrators as 'Hebrew neo-Nazi groups'. The next day, he said:

The comparison that I made was to neo-Nazis and not to Nazis. Nazis build incinerators and gas chambers; neo-Nazis desecrate places of worship, cemeteries, beat innocent people and write racist slogans. That is what they do in Europe, and that is what they do here.

Oz's sentiments are shared by Israeli liberals and conservatives, who together condemn the attacks as repugnant. The Jerusalem Post said that 'price-tag attacks fit the definition of terror no less than [suicide] bus bombings'.

But the equation with suicide bombers, like Oz’s provocative comparison with European neo-Nazism, does more to conceal than to reveal the violence perpetrated against Palestinians, above all the violence of the Israeli state.

When Meir Har-Zion died two months ago, there were obituaries in all the major news outlets celebrating the legendary hero. Har-Zion was best known for his price-tag practices. He was one of the founding members (along with Ariel Sharon) of Unit 101, which in October 1953 carried out a retributive massacre in the Jordanian village of Qibya. 'Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways,' UN observers said, 'and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them.' According to Ben-Gurion’s biographer, 'seventy corpses were found in the rubble, including dozens of women and children.'

In February 1955 Har-Zion’s sister was murdered in the Judean desert, which was then part of Jordan. The following month Har-Zion went to the desert with three friends to seek revenge. They captured six Palestinians, killed five of them and sent the sixth home to tell his village what had happened.

Israeli children are named after Har-Zion. For decades soldiers swore they would try to follow in his footsteps. He is not an outlier, but a paradigmatic example of Israel’s policies of punitive violence. House demolitions, curfews during the First Intifada, infantry offences during the Second Intifada and the more recent aerial bombing of Gaza have all been justified as retribution for a previous Palestinian act. 'Price-tag' is the justification that has informed both government policy and military practice since the country was established. Which raises the question: why do the recent price-tag attacks scandalise Amos Oz and several Israeli politicians?

For something to be scandalous it has to (appear to) be exceptional. By making the recent price-tag violence into a scandal, Oz – and the Israeli media more generally – transform it into an exception and in this way help conceal the fact that this kind of violence has structured Israel's relations with Palestinians for more than 65 years. The only difference is that one is carried out by vigilantes and the other by the state. In other words, to depict the price-tag violence perpetrated by vigilantes as an outrageous exception helps to legitimise the price-tag violence perpetrated by the state, which has shaped the daily experiences of many Palestinians for decades.

This rhetorical trick allows liberals and conservatives alike to displace responsibility. The violence is measured in relation to the Other, the Israeli extremist who is more closely aligned to the European neo-Nazi or the Palestinian suicide bomber than to the state of Israel.


  • 17 May 2014 at 6:45pm
    mukharbish says:
    "this kind of violence has structured Israel’s relations with Palestinians for more than 65 years. The only difference is that one is carried out by vigilantes and the other by the state."

    This hits the nail on the head. It's also worth pointing out that the "vigilantes" are directly connected to the state and have influential backers in the political and military/security establishment. The Israeli military enables the violent settler fringe in the West Bank to carry out such attacks by providing them with protection, at the cost of disproportionate restrictions on the Palestinian population. The strangling of the centre of the city of Hebron, where the "Hebrew neo-Nazis" have their biggest presence, is the most obvious example.

  • 19 May 2014 at 6:38am
    Dazed and Confused says:
    Let's get this straight --

    Over the past two year years, the global Left has killed on average about 1,500 Syrians EVERY WEEK. During its war in Iraq, the global Left slaughtered more than half-a-million innocent Iraqis (according to the Lancet). All in the name of resisting Zionism.

    On a constant basis, the Government of Palestine sees its supporters around the world slaughter innocent Jewish children (e.g. Itamar, Tolouse, Mumbai, Argentina, etc . . . , etc . . .) in addition to its scorched earth policy toward its Jewish enemy at international fora.

    And we're supposed to get upset when the victims of Shari'ah respond with some graffiti?

    You must understand the absurdity, right? The Government of Palestine is led by the Leftist Ikhwan (the Nazi-style party of the Muslim world). That organization, which the Israeli Left is allied with and responsible for, you don't discuss. But some kids who tag graffiti you consider to be "neo-Nazi".

    Uh huh.

    Here's an idea. Rather than worrying about her Jewish enemy, why doesn't Neve Gordon ask the Leftist pro-Palestinians to release the Christians sex slaves who they've been kidnapped in Mohammed's name. (Does she consider the Leftist Boko Haram to be neo-Nazi?) How about you Leftists work to end your civil war in Syria? How about you put an end to the pro-"Palestinian" bombings that take place on a weekly basis in Afghanistan and Iraq? Are any of those activities neo-Nazi?

    I guess its something special about graffiti which gets the global Left all wee wee'd up.

    Good to know that in a post-modern world where the Left generally believes that it there is no 'objective' wrong or right - we have identified the real enemy. Spray paint!

    • 20 May 2014 at 7:24am
      TJeree says: @ Dazed and Confused
      I can't vouch for Dazed, but Confused could hardly be more apt. The entire comment betrays such an idiosyncratic representation of the common political spectrum, and such a chaotic reliance on vacuous abstractions, that I suspect D&C ended up dizzy and with his head lodged firmly in his own backside by the time he'd finished writing it. Welcome to the Bizarro-world of D&C's fevered nightmares, a world haunted by specters of "the global Left" - a political formation the existence of which seems to have escaped the notice of political scientists and commentators the world over. Don, meet Windmill. Windmill, Don.

  • 24 May 2014 at 11:57pm
    Walter10065 says:
    What's so funny about you Jew-hating Brits -- and you do have an incredibly long and detailed history of it -- is that the Arabs of Jerusalem were allied with the Nazis who bombed the hell out of London and set your sad country back 50 years. In return today you give them your allegiance, people who if they could would murder you in a second -- now that's Jew-hating. Everything D&C says is obv true -- Arabs today are an outstandingly murderous lot, even compared to the IRA. Instead of welcoming their persecuted Semite brothers, whether Jews or some other Muslim sect, Arabs try to annihilate them(while keeping their women locked indoors). And you Brits, that would be fine with you, wouldn't it?