The West Bank village of Duma is still struggling to come to terms with the arson attack by suspected Jewish extremists that left a baby dead. Daniella Cheslow talked to villagers about their fears.
Jerusalem teacher Dallal Dawabsha walked her two sons through the charred door frames of two torched houses in the northern West Bank village of Duma, stark evidence of a suspected Israeli attack over the weekend that left one baby dead and three victims badly burned. She read her sons the Hebrew word “Revenge” that had been scrawled on one of the exterior walls.
“I told them the settlers did this. I told them the Jews want to kill us,” said Dawabsha, who grew up in an Arab town in northern Israel and lives with her husband, originally from Duma, in Jerusalem.
This pastoral agricultural village, surrounded by sprawling olive groves and prickly pears, has become a site of pilgrimage for Palestinians and their sympathizers in the wake of the brutal attack last week. Beneath the grief is a despair that neither Israeli nor Palestinian law enforcement can rein in violent Israeli extremists.
The day of the attack, Israeli leaders were quick to denounce the arson.
“We’re shocked, we’re outraged. We condemn this,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “There is zero tolerance for terrorism wherever it comes from.”
“Culture of impunity”
Critics say statistics show otherwise. In Palestinian villages, Israel is responsible for law enforcement, and Palestinian police are forbidden from operating. The Israeli Yesh Din organization, which tracks Palestinian complaints against Israeli assailants, said that of 1,067 Palestinian complaints filed in the last decade, only 1.9 percent resulted in convictions for defendants. Yesh Din attorney Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man said the statistics pointed to a “culture of impunity.”
“An Israeli civilian who decides to commit a crime against a Palestinian or his property knows how slim the chance is that he or she will be caught or prosecuted,” she said.
Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said fighting Jewish nationalist crime is a top police priority. She said taht since 2013 Israel has maintained a dedicated unit of 80 officers to fight nationalist crime, both of Israelis against Palestinians and vice versa. She said many Israeli suspects in attacks were minors, making it difficult to apprehend them. Attorney Schaeffer Omer-Man said the specialized unit has made no impact on the rates of indictment.
Crackdown on terrorism
Israel has announced harsher measures for Jewish terrorism suspects, including arresting them without presenting charges or evidence. Until now, administrative detention was only used for Palestinian terrorism suspects.
On Monday, Israeli security forces apprehended Meir Ettinger, the grandson of the late rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated expelling Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian territories. Ettinger, 23, is suspected of leading a group of arsonists who attacked the Church of the Multiplication in northern Israel in June.
In Duma, the village elementary school was plastered with posters of bearing the smiling face of the 18-month-old victim Ali Dawabsha. Local men and visitors sat in the school courtyard, drinking coffee quietly under the shade of a blue tarp. Mayor Abed Alsalam Dawabsha, who is not related to the victim but who, like many village residents, carries the same last name, said he is setting up a village patrol with local youths. They will be armed with broomsticks and lights, he said, because according to military law in the West Bank, Palestinian civilians may not carry weapons.
“We believe in our rights and we believe that a stick in our hands is stronger than a weapon in the hands of settlers,” Dawabsha said.
As locals organize vigilante patrols, the Palestinian government is pursuing justice from on high. On Monday, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki submitted a complaint about the Douma arson to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
In Duma, the patrols were little comfort to Nasser Dawabsha, 42, who said he tried to rescue his nephew on the night of the arson, but could not reach the baby because flames had engulfed his brother’s house. By the time Palestinian firefighters extinguished the blaze, Ali was a charred, tiny body. Nasser Dawabsha doubts that Israeli law enforcement would apprehend the perpetrators. He said the attack had plunged his wife and their five children into terror.
“I walk with [my wife] from the bedroom to the kitchen and even to the bathroom,” he said. “She saw the fire and the burnt child with her eyes.”