Majdi Mohammed / AP

Anger, grief as arson blamed on Israeli settlers kills West Bank infant

Protests erupt across Palestinian territories after attack in Duma leaves child dead, young family struggling to survive

Some charred family photos of an infant, mother and father, a half-melted baby bottle, and a bib with an inscription that read, “Good morning mama.” These items figure among the remnants of the Dawabsheh family home in the West Bank village of Duma, south of Nablus, burned to the ground overnight in a suspected Israeli settler attack.

The family, which shared the one bedroom in the house, was asleep when firebombs were thrown through a window after midnight, setting fire to the small space, which claimed the life of 18-month-old Ali. His 4-year-old brother Ahmad, and his parents, Sa'ad, 30, and Reham, 27, were critically wounded.

Medical sources said Ahmad suffered burns over 60 percent of his body, Reham, 90 percent, and both were taken to the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer hospital in Israel. Like Reham, Sa'ad was also in critical condition and was being treated at Soroka Medical Center inside Israel, according to Dr. Jawad Awaad, the Palestinian Authority (PA) minister of health.

All that's left of the Dawabsheh home are its stone walls, daubed with Hebrew graffiti reading, “revenge” and “long live the Messiah.” An adjacent house, which was partially burned as well, belonged to a relative who was not home at the time. 

Ibrahim Dawabsheh, a construction worker who lives nearby, said he was startled by screams after midnight. When he went to check on his neighbors, he saw two men standing over Sa'ad and Reham as they lay on the ground just outside the house with their clothes on fire.

“There was so much smoke coming out of the house that I could barely see Ahmad, the 4-year-old, when I pulled him out,” Ibrahim said. “I was told there was another baby inside, but I couldn't go back. The flames had filled the place, and then there was a huge blast. I knew I couldn't save him.”

Ibrahim said the couple looked like they had tried to wrap themselves in bed sheets, but the synthetic material only clung to their bodies. When the firefighters came, they eventually found Ali's body, which they described as a “lump of coal.”

The baby's death was the worst attack blamed on Israeli settlers since last summer, when Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khdair was abducted from an East Jerusalem neighborhood and burned to death. His murder was characterized as an act of revenge for the killing of three young Israelis near a West Bank settlement just weeks prior.

Israeli authorities have been quick to condemn the Friday attack. President Reuven Rivlin called it “inexplicable horror” and visited 4-year-old Ahmad at the hospital. So did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he had “zero tolerance for terrorism.”

But PA President Mahmoud Abbas said he would formally ask the International Criminal Court to probe the attack that killed baby Ali, and Palestinian chief negotiator Sa'eb Erekat said the Israeli government was responsible because it had long incited violence against Palestinians and flooded the West Bank with settlements, which are illegal under international law.

“We cannot separate the barbaric attack that took place in Duma last night from the recent settlement approvals by the Israeli government,” Erekat said. “This is a direct consequence of decades of impunity given by the Israeli government to settler terrorism.”

We have decided to keep the Dawabsheh home as it is, burned and everything, so it becomes a symbol of Israeli settler and occupation crimes.

Samir Dawabsheh

Head of Duma village council

Friday's attack was the latest in a series against Palestinians thought to have been carried out by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Incidents include throwing stones, beating villagers, vandalizing holy places, stealing farming machinery and crops, and setting trees ablaze. Such actions have been dubbed “price tag” attacks, carried out in apparent retribution for the removal of West Bank outposts deemed illegal by Israeli authorities. But such attacks are often perpetrated irrespective of Israeli authority actions vis-a-vis settlements.

The Duma attack came just two days after Israeli authorities demolished two homes in Beit El, a settlement just outside of Ramallah, after the country's supreme court determined they were “unauthorized” and built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land.

Since 2004, Israeli settlers carried out more than 11,000 attacks against Palestinians and their property, according to the Palestine Liberation Organization's Negotiations Affairs Department. Since the beginning of this year alone, the United Nations documented at least 120 attacks throughout the West Bank.

At least three settlements surround Duma, which in recent years has become a focal point for settlers to carry out attacks, often with impunity. Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, said charges against perpetrators are not made in approximately 93 percent of cases brought before Israeli police.

By mid-day, anger over the latest attack had swept through the West Bank, already reeling from the death of three other Palestinians in the occupied territory in just a week. After Friday prayers, demonstrations erupted in Nablus, Bil'in, near Ramallah, and by Qalandiya refugee camp. In Jerusalem, Palestinian youth hurled stones at soldiers outside the Old City, and in Hebron, medics said a Palestinian man was injured by a live round during clashes with Israeli forces. In the Gaza town of Beit Lahia, a Palestinian teen was killed by Israeli forces, and near Birzeit in the West Bank, another teen called Laith Khaldi shot by soldiers earlier in the day succumbed to wounds, bringing the Palestinian death toll since 2015 to at least 20, according to a United Nations tally.

Back in Duma, residents said they had grown accustomed to settler attacks, but Ali's death was the most tragic incident they had ever witnessed. After Friday prayers, hundreds attended the baby's funeral, and as his tiny body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag and keffiyeh (a checkered headscarf), was being taken to the village cemetery, some chanted for retribution while others thought of different means to help bring justice to their village.

“We have decided to keep the Dawabsheh home as it is, burned and everything, so it becomes a symbol of Israeli settler and occupation crimes,” said Samir Dawabsheh, the head of the village council and a distant relative of the victims. “We will build a new home for Ahmad, Reham and Sa'ad. We just hope they make it back alive and well.”

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