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Badge of terror

By Haaretz Editorial

There is no way to describe the West Bank settlers' attack on the Palestinian village of Bitilu but as a well-planned terror attack. The settlers' "military" organization and violent resistance to the cabinet decision to destroy the illegal outpost of Givat Menachem, as described by Chaim Levinson in Haaretz yesterday, are no different from the activities of other terrorist organizations. This includes the incitement, ranting and raving preceding the act of vengeance on Bitilu, the attempt to set a house on fire, the injuring of villagers with stones, and the threat to continue these violent tactics.

These are not unusual acts. Israel Defense Forces officers report a significant increase in the number of settler attacks on Arab villages and communities following the decision to freeze construction in the settlements. The term "price tag" - once coined in reference to the IDF's policy toward terror organizations - has long been adopted by the settlers and transformed to mean retaliation against the Israeli government's policy.

The decision to dismantle the Givat Menachem outpost is commendable, although it is not sufficient in itself to implement Israel's commitment to take down all illegal outposts. Still, one cannot but be amazed by the IDF Spokesman Office's watered-down response to the settlers' terror attack.

"This activity is improper legally, morally and normatively," the spokesman said. "Central Command is determined to take full, legal action against the rioters." Is this merely improper activity? Would the IDF describe a similar act this way if it were carried out by Palestinians against a Jewish settlement? Wouldn't the army impose a closure and immediately make arrests, not to mention shoot the perpetrators?

But the IDF's evasive terminology is not to blame when the Knesset is enacting a law to pardon the transgressors who rioted during the Gaza disengagement. This law, which will even expunge the criminal record of those who assaulted soldiers, is now legitimizing the "price tag" actions. These terrorists already know, thanks to this distorted legislation, that they will not have to pay for their actions.

The government is not permitted to protect these offenders and must treat their actions as acts of terror, unless it wants to be seen as their partner.