Attackers thought to be Jewish extremists threw Molotov cocktail into West Bank home, killing 18-month-old boy and severely injuring his four-year-old brother and both parents
It was a scene of chilling, sadistic callousness.
The masked men – almost certainly Jewish settlers – stood over their Palestinian victims as they writhed on the ground in agony, as if admiring the results of their incendiary handiwork.
The attackers, motivated by revenge and their faces concealed in black balaclavas, had just thrown a Molotov cocktail into Sa’ad and Riham Dawabsheh’s home as they and their two infant children slept in the remote West Bank village of Duma early on Friday.
The couple’s youngest child, Ali, 18 months old, died in the resulting blaze. Mr and Mrs Dawabsheh suffered third degree burns and were in critical condition. A second child, Ahmad, four, was left with burns over 60 per cent of his body.
Hebrew graffiti reading “revenge” and “long live the messiah” was spray-painted on the outside walls of the gutted house.
The outrage appeared to be the latest in a spate of so-called “price tag” crimes carried out in recent years by radical Right-wing settlers, who have attacked Palestinian and Christian targets as retribution for a multitude of perceived slights.
Ali Dawabsheh died in the West Bank arson attack
Friday’s killing came just two days after two unauthorised buildings were demolished in Beit El, a religious West Bank settlement, on orders of the Israeli high court and despite violent settler protests.
The attack triggered a wave of condemnation from Israeli and Palestinian politicians alike – along with an ominous threat from Hamas, the Islamist militant group. which said it turned all Israeli soldiers and settlers into “legitimate targets”.
Israel’s political establishment united to condemn the Friday’s attack as “terrorism”, a term normally reserved in Israeli political terminology for Palestinian militants.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, voiced “shock and horror”. “This is a terrorist attack. Israel takes firm action against terrorism, no matter who its perpetrators are,” he said. His office said later that he visited the surviving child in hospital in Tel Aviv, but was unable to meet the parents due to their condition.
Israeli security forces displayed a heavy presence throughout the West Bank in case of Palestinian protests while Friday prayer worship at Jerusalem’s flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque was restricted to men over 50.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, blamed Israel. “Such a crime would not have occurred if the Israeli government did not insist on pursuing settlements and protecting settlers,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, his spokesman.
Britain also spoke out against the attack, which Tobias Ellwood, a Foreign Office minister, called a “brutal act of terrorism”, urging the Israeli authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The immediate aftermath of Friday morning’s crime was witnessed by Ibrahim Dawabsheh, 23, who had been talking with his fiancee on the balcony of a neighbouring house, when he heard the frantic shouts of his cousin, Sa’ad.
“Help me, they slaughtered me,” Sa’ad was heard shouting.
“I woke up my father and my brothers and then ran out before they were ready to follow me,” said Mr Dawabsheh, recalling that the time on his mobile showed 2.09am when he heard his cousin’s pleas. “I saw flames coming out of the house. Sa’ad was lying on the ground and also in flames.
“Riham was just two metres outside the front door. She was also in flames. I heard Ahmad crying inside the house.
“There were two masked men, their faces covered apart from their eyes and mouth. One was standing by Riham, looking at her, while the second was standing next to Sa’ad. He wanted to see if he was still alive or not.
“I was stunned, amazed. Then they saw me and started following me. I didn’t see any weapons on them. They turned and walked towards the centre of the village when they saw my father and brothers coming.”
Whether the assailants’ twisted sense of honour was satisfied can only be guessed, but there was no doubting the horror they had inflicted.
Sa’ad, 32, a construction worker who earned a living on Jewish settlements, and Riham, 27, suffered multiple burns, with large areas of their bodies reduced to raw flash after relatives desperately pulled burning bed clothes from them to free them from the flames.
The couple were rushed to Rafidyah hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus, not knowing the fate of their children, relatives said, and later transferred to Tel Hahomer Hospital, near Tel Aviv.
“I was holding Rahim’s hand in the ambulance,” said Haneen Dawabsheh, 30, another cousin. “The man in the ambulance told me to keep talking to her so she wouldn’t lose consciousness. She said somebody had thrown a bottle through their window. Then she asked what had happened to the children. I lied to her. I said they were with us. She asked how her face looked and again I didn’t tell her the truth. I said she just had mild burns.”
The devastating effects of the fire was visible elsewhere on Friday. Every room inside the one-storey house was a charred wreck. In a modest bedroom where the entire family slept, a partially-burned portrait picture of Ali lay on the floor, beside scorched toys and children’s books.
Precisely what the arsonists were avenging was unclear but snap analysis threw up at least three possible motives.
Besides the demolitions in Beit El, police on Wednesday charged two settlers from Khohev Ha-Shahar, a few miles from Duma, over a June 18 fire attack on the Church of Loaves and Fishes in the Galilee, marking the site where Jesus is reputed to have performed the miracle of feeding 5,000 people.
A third possible motive, the Dawabsheh family speculated on Friday, was the murder last month of a settler from Dolev in the same area of the West Bank. Two suspects, from Silwad and Kusra, villages near Ramallah, have been arrested for the crime.
An 18-month-old Palestinian boy has burned to death after settlers set fire to his family house in Duma village, south of Nablus city, in the occupied West Bank.
The parents of Ali Saad Dawabsheh and his four-year-old brother were also injured in the attack, sources told Al Jazeera on Friday morning.
Up to 75 percent of their bodies suffered burns, according to medics in Nablus’ Rafidia hospital.
The Israel army issued a statement saying that they were trying to locate the suspects in the attack.
“This attack against civilians is nothing short of a barbaric act of terrorism. A comprehensive investigation is under way in order to find the terrorists and bring them to justice,” Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said in the statement.
“The [Israeli army] strongly condemns this deplorable attack and has heightened its efforts in the field to locate those responsible.”
The army told Al Jazeera that additional forces were deployed to West Bank, refusing to specify the number of soldiers.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said on Friday that he wants the International Criminal Court to probe the attack as one of the first Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.
“Every day we wake up to a similar crime. This is a war crime and a tragedy at the same time. Therefore we will not stay still. Absolutely not. As long as the settlement and the occupation are there,” Abbas said.
Nabil Abu Rdeineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said earlier on Friday that the Israeli government was fully responsible for the crime as it continued to support illegal Israeli settlement activities and the protection of settlers.
He also blamed the international community for silence over crimes against Palestinians.
Abu Rdeineh said that verbal condemnation of the crimes was no longer acceptable and that taking practical steps to hold Israeli attackers accountable, as well as the end to the occupation, was needed.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that is led by Abbas reacted to the attack on Twitter.
Two Palestinian houses were burned at the entrance of the village with graffiti left on the walls, reading in Hebrew “revenge” and “long live Messiah”.
Witnesses told Al Jazeera that they saw at least two settlers running away from the scene.
Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the European Union envoy to Israel also reacted on Twitter.
There are at least three illegal Israeli settlements near Duma village.
According to the UN, at least 120 attacks by Israeli settlers have been documented in the occupied West Bank since the start of 2015.
A recent report by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation, showed that more than 92.6 percent of complaints Palestinians lodge with the Israeli police go without charges being filed.
Source: Al Jazeera