Fears of more violence haunt village where Palestinian child was killed

Agence France-Presse
Israeli security forces (unseen) block a road leading to the annexed east Jerusalem Al-Aqsa mosque compound on August 2, 2015 as Palestinians take part in a protest against the death of the 18-month-old child killed in an arson attack in the occupied West Bank.

In a West Bank hill village where an 18-month-old Palestinian child burned to death last week in a firebombing by suspected Jewish settlers, the boy's uncle fears for his own children's safety.

"They are still young; they don't understand anything yet, but they are already very scared because they saw their cousin being burnt," Hassan Dawabsha said in front of his brother's gutted home in Duma, nestled in the hills near the Jordan Valley.

"You feel like they are dreaming every night that a settler will come to kill them," said the 28-year-old.

The pre-dawn firebombing Friday, which killed Ali Saad Dawabsha and critically injured his parents and four-year-old brother, has intensified the concerns of residents who say they have long lived in fear of attack.

Near the remains of the Dawabsha family home, where a child's stroller sits among the blackened ruins, a Star of David and the words "revenge" and "long live the Messiah" are spray-painted on a wall.

Another home next door was also firebombed, but no one was there at the time.

The graffiti was indicative of so-called "price tag" violence — a euphemism for nationalist-motivated hate crimes by Jewish extremists.

"Two years ago, they burnt some cars here in the village," said 33-year-old resident Mohammed Dawabsha.

"They took the same road like the one they took to burn the houses. They knew the road and the places. This is why we are asking now for protection."

But just a short drive away, settlers who live in the illegal outposts that have sprung up on the hilltops view the attack differently and even doubt Jews could have done it — a reflection of the mutual mistrust and deep tensions in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

UN humanitarian officials report that from 2006 through September 2014, there were 756 settler-related incidents in the West Bank resulting in Palestinian casualties, including 11 deaths. Another 1,605 caused damage to Palestinian property or land.

On the Israeli side, 33 civilians were killed by Palestinians in the West Bank during the same period.

'System against them' 

High up in the hills above Duma overlooking vineyards and olive groves, minarets from Palestinian villages in the distance, Israelis have established settlements and illegal outposts.

Settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law and have greatly complicated peace talks with Palestinians, who see the land as part of a future state. Israel grants approvals for settlements, but unauthorized outposts are illegal under its laws.

The settlers living above Duma say they are peaceful and condemn the firebombing, but some were not ready to say Jews were responsible.

"My guess is I'm not sure it's a Jewish action; maybe it's a provocation which was done inside the village," said Mordechai Zechariah, a 24-year-old construction worker from the Kida outpost, where he said 60 families live.

He also complained that attacks on Jews in the area were not given enough attention. He says he sleeps with a gun under his pillow, though he has never fired it, only waiving it once at a Palestinian stone-thrower to frighten him.

Menachem Bakush, the 28-year-old manager of the Ahiya outpost that is home to 45 families, also said youths from the area were not violent. But he added that young Jews from other places who may have turned to extremism might feel that "all the system is against them."

He was referring to court rulings against illegal settlement building or violence by Palestinians that settlers accuse the government of failing to stop.

"There are no anarchist people here," he said near a small wooden shelter where two Israeli soldiers kept guard.

Netanyahu condemns 'terrorism' 

Three alleged Jewish extremists have been arrested in the wake of the attack, though none has been directly accused of involvement in it.

One man has been ordered held under a controversial form of detention without trial, which is usually used for Palestinians, as Israeli authorities face pressure to crack down on Jewish extremists.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the attack as "terrorism," but his right-wing government and security agencies have been accused of failing to tackle the problem earlier.

There have been a list of "price tag" incidents, but investigations have rarely resulted in any convictions.

Duma lies in an area of the West Bank where Israel has responsibility for security, but residents say they have resorted to vigilante patrols to protect themselves.

Local official Abdusalam Dawabsha said Netanyahu should "tell the settlers we will no longer protect you. That will frighten them and they will stop those attacks."​