Israeli police on Friday said it was too soon to charge several Jewish settlers it arrested a day earlier in connection to a July arson attack in the occupied West Bank that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents, and left another child severely burned.
The slow pace of the investigation into the attack on the Dawabsheh family home in Duma, located about 15 miles southeast of Nablus, has drawn criticism from Palestinians who charge Israeli authorities are dragging their feet.
“My message to the Israeli government is clear, which is not only to arrest settlers but to prevent any settlers assaulting Palestinians and entering Palestinian villages and towns,” Hussein Dawabsheh, the father of victim Riham Dawabsheh, told Maan News Agency.
In addition to Riham, her husband Saad and 18-month-old son Ali were also killed in the blaze. Another son, 4-year-old Ahmad, was orphaned and is being treated in an Israeli hospital for injuries.
“It would not be enough even if they were sentenced to death,” said Dawabsheh. “I would not be satisfied by any sentence as nothing will bring back the family that I lost.”
Israel authorities, however, denied that they were purposefully slowing the investigation.
“There are not many investigations that get as high a priority as the investigation into the murders in Duma village,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel’s Army Radio.
Erdan said that authorities have been unable to charge the suspects due to a lack of evidence and because they are “very, very difficult” to crack.
“For example, these are not people who go around with mobile telephones. They are people who really live in the hills, disconnected from their close families,” Erdan said.
An estimated 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the Palestinian territories, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law. These settlers, who live in Jewish-only settlements protected by the Israeli military and some unofficial outposts, have seized Palestinian land and resources to build their communities.
In recent years, extremist settlers have warned the Israeli government they would exact a price from local Palestinians or even the Israeli military for every action taken to curb settlement growth. These settlers have carried out hundreds of so-called “price tag” attacks — targeting Palestinian mosques, churches and olive groves with little to no consequences.
However, the Dawabsheh family murders sparked rare outrage and protests in Israel. President Reuven Rivlin called the attack “inexplicable horror.” For his part, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “zero tolerance for terrorism wherever it comes from, whatever side of the fence it comes from.”
While their revulsion may have been genuine, some analysts questioned whether it was really about the crime or spurred by fears of losing control over radical citizens.
Netanyahu’s government has been hesitant to crack down on extremist settlers because of the influence they and their supporters wield in national politics.
In the most recent election, members of the Jewish Home party — which represents settler interests — won several key posts, including minister of education and justice, as well as a deputy position in the Ministry of Defense, which oversees affairs in the West Bank.
Some Palestinians hold the Israeli government responsible for the Dawabsheh murders, as well as all settler violence carried out against villagers.
“The Israeli government is the one who gave settlers a license to kill by giving them freedom to enter Palestinian villages,” Hussein Dawabsheh said.
Last month, nearly 500 new settler homes were approved by the Israeli government in East Jerusalem.
With wire services