More than just a tragedy

By EA Sandra

Sandra served with EAPPI in Palestine and Israel for over four months before returning home to the UK last week. Here she writes about the tragic attack on a small community near where she served that made international headlines.

Duma is a small Palestinian town near to the city of Nablus in the West Bank. 

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

On July 31, an arson attack in Duma killed Ali, the 18-month-old son of Mr and Mrs Dawabsheh. They also suffered third degree burns in the attack and were in critical condition. A second child, Ahmad, four, was left with burns over 60%  of his body.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that, “At roughly 4am Friday morning, two masked men arrived at two homes in the village of Duma, not far from the settlement of Migdalim. They spray-painted graffiti reading ‘revenge’ and ‘long live the Messiah’ in Hebrew, breaking the windows of the homes and throwing two firebombs inside.”

There is a widespread assumption that Israeli settlers were responsible. The Rabbis for Human Rights website offers grim pictures of the aftermath. Rabbis from the organisation also visited the village in the aftermath of the attack to offer their condolences. You can read a moving post about it from one of the rabbis here.

The Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has condemned the attack but his condemnation has been criticised, and derided, as hypocrisy.

Jonathon Freedland in the Guardian writes:

“The condemnations are striking but still they ring hollow. Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the arson attack by Jewish settlers on the West Bank home of the Dawabsha family, in which Ali Saad, a baby just 18 months old, was burned to death, as an ‘act of terrorism in every respect’. Netanyahu was joined by Naftali Bennett, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, which is close to being the political wing of the settlers’ movement. Bennett described the murder as a ‘horrendous act of terror’. The defence minister, the army, they all condemned this heinous crime.

“Which is welcome, of course. It’s good that there were no ifs or buts, no attempts to excuse the inexcusable. But still it rings hollow.

“The words sound empty partly because while this act is extreme in its cruelty, it is not a freak event.”

It is worth noting that according to international humanitarian law, Israel (as the occupying force) has the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the occupied population. However, according to the Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din over 85% of all cases where Palestinians file complaints of settler violence or harassment to the Israeli police are shelved, mostly due to ‘lack of evidence’.  And this is the world’s leading state on intelligence, investigation and anti-terror mechanisms.

As Yesh Din points out, mock enforcement leads to impunity which leads to more brutal violence.

I was able to email Shams Abu-Ghazaleh about the incident. Schams is the fireman in the nearby Nablus Fire Station about whom I wrote last week.

Shams and I on a happier day. Photo credit EAPPI

Shams and me on a happier day [Photo: EAPPI]

Shams wrote back to me:

“Thanks for your feelings. Yes it was a horrible situation on Duma.

“We hope someday to end the occupation and all settlements, become a free state with all support from our friends around the world. 

“Thanks and take care. Hope to see you again.”

We owe it to the people of Duma to put this horrible event in context.

Duma, with a population of over 2,000, lies near Nablus, and near Yanoun, where an EAPPI team lives to provide a protective presence to the villagers who have suffered from many settler incursions.

The Israeli authorities confiscated land from the village of Duma for the purposes of establishing illegal settlements. These settlements now pose a real threat for the Palestinians on their own land. Since the establishment of the nearby settlements, and long before the attack on baby Ali, the residents of Duma have been subjected to violent attacks from the settlers. Farmers have been attacked in order to prevent them from reaching their agricultural land and settlers have also stolen crops, damaged trees and attacked homes, places of worship, cars and other private property.

The nearby settlement of Migdalim typifies the settlements around and the disregard for both international and Israeli law, which is the life of the people of Duma.

Photo Credit:EAPPI:S.Horne

The nearby settlement of Migdalim [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

The main area of buildings on the hill is illegal under international law, with the row of white portacabins below illegal even under Israeli law.

Although the outpost portacabins are illegal under Israeli law, the authorities rarely act to demolish them. Over time, the portacabins are replaced by bricks and mortar – and that is how the settlements expand.

Even from the tiny village of Yanoun, you can see how the small outpost settlement nearby has started to expand in just five weeks.

The outpost settlement overlooking Yanoun:21/6/15. Photo Credit EAPPI:S.Horne

The outpost settlement overlooking Yanoun on June 21 [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

The outpost settlement overlooking Yanoun:19/7/15. Photo Credit EAPPI:S.Horne

The outpost settlement overlooking Yanoun on July 19 [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

Along with the expansion of settlements via portacabin outposts, settlements also expand following Israeli government announcements of new settlement buildings. A recent decision by the Israeli government to approve 1,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank was condemned by the UK.

On Friday morning the current EAPPI team went to Duma in the aftermath of the horrific arson attack. They wrote this incident report following their visit:

“After the arson attack in Duma and Ali’s death, Israeli soldiers have been present in Duma daily. They have been stopping people coming to the condolence events held at the local school’s yard. Their presence has also led to tension, as especially children are still very angry. They sometimes throw stones in the direction of soldiers who usually respond by shooting gas grenades (which make it hard to breathe) and shooting rubber bullets. As a consequence in total five people were injured (three very slightly, two more seriously and went to the hospital). Important is also that after the arson attack the people of Duma really don’t feel secure and don’t feel any support either from the Israeli or Palestinian side. Therefore, they are organising their own night guards who are monitoring the village and trying to ensure safety for the rest of the people. As they feel left alone, the contact person requested EAs support them by providing protective presence during the night time.” 

One can only hope the dreadful event that took place in Duma is violence too far, and that Israel sees the connection – which seems all too clear to this returned EA – between the disregard for international law and domestic law in respect of settlements, and the wider disregard for law and the rights of the Palestinian people.

There is some hope in the anti-violence marches that took place in Israel over the weekend. But I met no one in Israel or Palestine who thought change would come without external pressure. There is much for us to do.

UPDATE: the news has come through that on August 7, seven days after the attack, Ali’s father Saad died in hospital of wounds he sustained in the fire. You can read more here.  Saad’s wife, Reham, and their other son, four-year-old Ahmed, remain seriously injured following the attack.