Monday, November 30, 2020

Are settlers held accountable for violence against Palestinians?

By J.J. Rhies - May 12, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [settler violence]


“My family has gone through a holocaust of their own,” Nasser Dawabsha said, referring to the 2015 firebombing of his brother Saad’s home by extremist settlers, which killed Saad, his wife Riham and Ali, their eighteen-month-old child. Only Ahmed, then 5, survived the attack.


Though the word “holocaust” is ubiquitously associated with the Nazi regime’s extermination of six million Jews and other marginalized groups like gypsies and homosexuals, the term originally referred to a sacrificial burning. Although Dawabsha’s description may strike some as distasteful or offensive, it is tragically accurate: The Palestinian family was burned to death in an attack orchestrated and carried out by individuals who have long persecuted Palestinian residents of the West Bank.


“The irony, which is very sad, is that the Israeli people say their grandparents went through the Holocaust, but at the same time,” Dawabsha said, “some of their successors cause the same pain to a Palestinian family.” He added that he is “very against” any attacks committed against Palestinians, Jews, or anyone else.


The attack took place on July 31, 2015, in the early hours of the morning in their village of Duma, in the occupied West Bank. “[T]he terrorist group threw firebombs through the windows,” immediately ignited the room where the family was sleeping, Dawabsha said.


“When [Saad] realized what was happening, he picked up Ahmed and ran away with him outside the room.” Riham, meanwhile, “was horrified and very confused and frustrated, and she tried to run away with Ali.” But “because of the fires and the fear, instead of picking up Ali, she picked up a blanket and ran away with it, and left Ali. ... Ali stayed inside the room and his parents watched him burn, because they couldn’t do anything.”


Hours later, once the flames died down, Dawabsha went into the home looking for Ali. He said that he “felt something soft” by his foot: the charred remains of Ali. “The doctor told me that if he had stayed inside [the home] any longer, he would have disappeared,” he said.


Saad died of his burns eight days later, on the sixth anniversary of he and Riham’s wedding. Riham was kept on life support for over a month, succumbing to her burns on her birthday. Ahmed, who lost his right ear, was kept in an intensive care unit for more than one year as doctors treated burns that covered 65 per cent of his body, Dawabsha said. He will receive laser surgery treatments every three months for the next 15 years.


He said the Tel Aviv hospital that treated Ahmed and Riham charged the family with a bill of $2m shekels. The Dawabsha family refused to receive the bill, however. Yoav Mordechai, the Israel Defence Forces coordinator of government activities in the territories, denied that Israel served the family with the bill, The Times of Israel reported. Israel has since claimed it would pay for the treatments.


Accountability for West Bank civilian violence


Amiram Ben-Uliel, an Israeli settler and associate of the far-right Hilltop Youth, an extremist settler group, was charged with the murder of Saad, Riham and Ali in 2016. An unnamed minor who was connected to the Dawabsha firebombing was charged with assisting Ben-Uliel and conspiring to commit a crime. To this day, however, neither individual has been convicted. Dawabsha said it has been “one of the longest battles in Israeli courts. ... It’s been four years and we have attended sixty hearings, and we expect ... to attend sixty more.”


Dr. Ami Pedahzur, a professor of political science at the University of Texas at Austin, told Palestine Monitor that the murder of the Dawabsha family was “the most graphic and most horrific act” he could remember and that it was not representative of settler violence against Palestinians as a whole.


He also explained that settler violence does not typically originate from “mainstream” Israeli settler groups, but instead from fringe, far-right extremists who “could be just criminally inclined to perpetrate violence.” Such violence is primarily politically and strategically motivated; settlers “have no interest in seeing a two-state solution” and commit violent acts in order to establish their control over the West Bank, he explained.


“When you look at acts of violence, there is nothing really special about the Jewish case. You can just take the large explanations for why people turn to political violence, and those would fit perfectly into these particular cases [of settler violence].”


But Pedahzur said Israel’s responses to Palestinian violence and settler violence are disproportionate: “There is nothing to compare” between the two, he added. Often times, the relationship between the Israeli “security apparatus” and the settlers, who occasionally work in tandem in the West Bank, establishes an “impossibility to do an unbiased investigation.”


A 2013 United Nations report found that between 2005 and July 2013, “only 8.5% of Israeli police investigations into suspected offences committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians led to an indictment.” The overwhelming majority (84 per cent) of such investigations were closed due to a lack of evidence or failure to find suspects or eyewitnesses.


By contrast, Israeli military courts are highly capable of finding and convicting Palestinian children who throw stones at Israeli civilians or military personnel. B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, found that between 2005 and 2010 some 835 Palestinian children were prosecuted for stone-throwing. 834 of them were found guilty and sentenced to time in prison.


Nasser Dawabsha and his relatives, who continue attending the ongoing trials of Ben-Uliel and the unnamed minor who killed Saad, Riham and Ali, and severely injured Ahmed, are hopeful that one day the suspects will be brought to justice.


“The only thing I accept is to convict the perpetrators and give them the harshest sentences possible,” Dawabsha said. “It has to be [this way] to prevent others from doing the same [crime]. The sentence has to be a deterrent to others.”

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