Occupied Territories (NI) – Hussein Dawabshe of Duma, Palestine will never forget the night that a Molotov cocktail was thrown into his daughter’s home while the family slept. How can he forget the fire that not only destroyed the house, but also burned his 18-month-old grandson, Ali, to death? Not long after, his son-in-law Sa’ad and his daughter Reham died from third degree burns. How can he forget telling five-year-old Ahmad that he is the only survivor of this heinous crime committed by Israeli settlers? How can one forget so much devastation?
People around the world were horrified by the fate of the Dawabshe family. Pictures of the their torched home, the Hebrew graffiti spray painted on the walls of the house (‘revenge’ and ‘long live Messiah’) and baby Ali, wrapped in a Palestinian flag before his burial, circled the internet.
Ahmad, with 60 per cent of his body burned, unknowingly touched so many hearts. Eight months later, with his grandparents constantly by his side, he is still being treated in an Israeli hospital.
Duma is a small, quiet village inhabited by approximately 3,000 people. Not unlike any other Palestinian village, in its vicinity are several Israeli settlements, outposts and military bases, making it an easy target for abuse and crimes by Israeli settlers.
The arson attack against the Dawabshe family was reminiscent of the kidnapping and burning of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir by Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem in 2014. Schools, mosques, churches, and olive trees – the livelihood of so many Palestinians – have also been vandalized and torched. Nothing is safe from the destructive hands of the settlers.
Existence of settlements
Such crimes, and so many other injustices against the Palestinian people, are made possible by the mere existence of the Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank. Add hatred, feelings of superiority, and governmental impunity, crimes are much more easily committed.
According to Israeli law, settlements and outposts in the West Bank are distinguished by their receipt of governmental authorization. Settlements are civilian communities built on lands occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six Day War. They are authorized by the government, and have full infrastructure and services just like any city in Israel. Outposts are also settlements, but although they do not have authorization of the government, they receive assistance and support from government ministries. Usually built on hilltops, they often eventually turn into permanent settlements.
The catch is, Israel is the only country which believes that the settlements are legal.
International law, however, states that the 125 settlements and 100 outposts in the occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal, and according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, they ‘violate Palestinian human rights, including the right to property, equality, a decent standard of living and freedom of movement’.
Furthermore, Article 49 of the Geneva Convention states, ‘The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies.’
The settlements cover 63 per cent of ‘Area C’ (Palestinian land under Israeli control). Not only are they built on stolen land, they are joined to each other by a vast network of roads which Palestinians are denied access to. The settlements, the concrete slab and barbed wire Wall, and the checkpoints deep in Palestinian land have resulted in Palestinian cities and villages being divided into enclaves, separated from each other, and affecting the social and economic life of the inhabitants.
The settlement enterprise, in reality, is a huge, well-organized system which is aimed at land confiscation and the protection of settlers on Palestinian land.
According to a January, 2015 report by the Israeli Ministry of Interior, 764,250 Israeli citizens are currently living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Amiram Ben-Uliel, the 21-year-old Israeli who was indicted for the murders, grew up in West Bank settlements and outposts. It is from the caves of the Yishuv HaDaat (translated from Hebrew as ‘Of sound Mind’) outpost, set up in 2001, that he planned his crime, and it was from there that he set out toward Duma on his murderous journey. An unnamed minor who planned the crime but did not go to Duma that night was charged as an accessory to murder.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz states that between 2009 and 2014 the settler population grew by 23 per cent. Attacks on Palestinians and their property have also increased.
There are two methods involved in settler crimes. One is ‘no go zones’ in which fear is put into Palestinians who come up against armed settlers in areas surrounding the settlements and outposts. Often these areas are on privately owned land.
The second method is through the price tag policy which is basically an act of violence against Palestinians, or against the State of Israel for dismantling outposts. The attacks are in the form of vandalism, stone throwing, uprooting of olive trees, or in the case of the Dawabshe family, murder.
Yesh Din, another Israeli human rights organization, states, ‘These acts of violence are not isolated incidents, they are not simply acts of hate or anger. Rather this brand of violence is part of a sophisticated, wider strategy designed to assert territorial domination over Palestinians in the West Bank.’
Protection of Palestinians
International law states that Israel, as the occupying power, must protect the Palestinians security and safety against acts of violence or threats. Israel is also responsible for maintaining public order, and ensuring the basic needs of the population under its control.
However the opposite has happened. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and police do not provide protection to Palestinians against settler violence. There are no military police stations for the public, and although some are located in settlements, they are inaccessible to Palestinians. Palestinians who want to file complaints come up against a brick wall.
Between 2000 to 2011, according to B’Tselem, investigations of crimes were opened in only 71 per cent of cases of settler violence against Palestinians. Of these cases, 23 per cent were not opened, and another 6 per cent received no response. An indictment was filled in only 11 per cent of all cases in which investigations were opened. Additionally, often instead of punishing violent settlers, restrictions are placed on Palestinians.
Research by Yesh Din shows that ‘approximately 94 per cent of criminal investigations launched by the IDF against soldiers suspected of criminal violent activity against Palestinians and their property are closed without any indictments. In the rare cases that indictments are served, conviction leads to very light sentencing.’
In the cruellest way, the Dawabshe’s became victims of the Israeli settlement enterprise. It is a system which affects every Palestinian.
Dawabshe believes that the settlements must be dismantled, and asks that ‘the world stand as one with Palestine.’ Complaining, he continues, ‘People are afraid to go out, and are afraid to sleep in their own homes. If they are attacked, the settlers have protection, whereas should a Palestinian commit a crime, he pays the full price.’
The months on, the murders have taken a toll on the Dawabshe family. ‘I am tired of life. Reham’s family was everything to me,’ Hussein Dawabshe said sadly. ‘Reham was my favourite daughter, my light and my life. I talked to her about everything. All of my life is missing now because she was my life.’
‘But the main thing now is Ahmad’s recovery,’ he continued. ‘He is very important to us.’ He has already had six operations, his grandfather tells me. Just a couple of months ago he started to walk again. Although he has improved considerably, he still has a long journey of treatments and follow-up treatments after he is released.
The last time I visited Ahmad, he was sitting in a large battery operated car fascinated by a small toy. Dawabshe says that Ahmad knows that he can’t see his family now, but he does ask when he can see them. He wants to go to them. He is still too innocent to understand this often cold world.