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Israeli settlers convicted of terrorising Palestinians in 'price tag' attacks

In a first, Israeli court finds three brothers guilty of belonging to a terrorist organisation after their attacks on Palestinians
'Price tag' attacks are nationalist-motivated hate crimes aimed at Palestinians and their property (AFP)

Three Israeli settlers were on Thursday convicted of belonging to a terrorist organisation after attacking Palestinians and setting fire to their homes and cars in the West Bank.

The decision marks the first time an Israeli court has found perpetrators of racially motivated “price tag” attacks guilty of belonging to a terrorist organisation, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

The Lod District Court handed the three brothers, who are from the illegal West Bank settlement of Nahliel, prison sentences ranging from 32 months to five years as part of a plea bargain.

With attacks that started in 2009, the brothers “set out to terrorise and strike fear in the Palestinian population”, the court reportedly said.

In addition to belonging to a terrorist group, two of the three brothers were also found guilty of:

  • throwing tear gas grenades and spraying graffiti on a house in the village of Beitillu near Ramallah in 2015 while a family, including a nine-year-old, slept inside
  • assaulting a Palestinian farmer with tear gas and sticks
  • spray painting, throwing rocks and slashing the wheels of a Palestinian car

The three defendants have not been named in Israeli press reports because they were either minors or soldiers when the attacks took place, Haaretz reported.

Their lawyer said they plan to appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court.

“One must remember these are offences that did not lead to casualties,” the lawyer was quoted as saying in Haaretz. “The verdict is very harsh.”

In contrast, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for killing Palestinian attacker Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron 2016 as he was lying wounded on the ground, is set to be released in May after serving less than a year in prison.

So-called "price tag" crimes first started in 2008, when far-right Jewish settlers adopted a policy of attacking Palestinians and their property in the West Bank in order to exact a "price" for Israeli government moves to take down illegally built settler outposts.

While all Israeli settlements built in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law, settler outposts built without state approval are also deemed illegal under Israeli law.

"Price tag" attacks that began as a marginal phenomenon against Palestinians became a much more widespread expression of hatred against non-Jews, but also against Israelis seen as hostile to the settlement enterprise.

Such attacks, with their trademark offensive Hebrew graffiti, typically take place at night and tend to involve damage to vehicles, the destruction of olive trees, and arson attempts, mostly against mosques, although Christian churches and cemeteries have also been targeted.

According to rights group Yesh Din, only three percent of investigations into ideologically motivated crimes committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians result in a conviction.

In July 2015, three members of the Dawabsha family, including an 18-month-old toddler, were killed after Israeli settlers set their house on fire in the West Bank village of Duma. Then four-year-old Ahmad Dawabsha, who was hospitalised for nearly a year for severe burns, was the sole survivor. 

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