Arson increases sense of Palestinian anxiety
Nablus - Wrapped in a woollen blanket in the corner of her in-laws’ living room, 21-year-old Yaqin Dawabsheh struggled to recall the details of the horrific night when she survived an arson attack that could have killed her and her husband, Ibrahim, 24, the key witness in last summer’s arson-murder in Duma.
“We are burning! Get up!” were the words Yaqin woke up to as Ibrahim tried to save her. The March 20th incident followed a July 31st, 2015, attack in which Jewish settlers sneaked into Duma and torched a house with a family of four sleeping inside.
In the first arson attack, 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh was killed and his parents, Saad and Reham Dawabsheh, later died from burns that covered 80-90% of their bodies. Their eldest son, 5-year-old Ahmad, survived despite suffering serious burns.
The Dawabshehs attacked March 20th are relatives of the victims of the first fire and lived nearby. Some reports state that is was Ibrahim Dawabsheh who got Ahmad out of the burning house.
With just months between the attacks, anxiety and isolation have returned to the remote village in the northern West Bank. Duma is close to three illegal Jewish settlements whose inhabitants have tried to force Palestinians out of their homes, insulting and often beating them while Israeli police looked on.
The official investigation on the attack on the Dawabshehs has not been completed but some Duma residents point to Jewish settlers trying to intimidate Ibrahim Dawabsheh so he would not testify in court that he saw two people draped in black setting his relatives’ house on fire last July. That hearing is set for April.
Israeli authorities arrested and indicted Jewish settler Amiram Ben-Uliel, 21, along with a Jewish minor in the July Dawabsheh case. They and two others were also charged with membership in a terrorist organisation.
A statement by Israeli police and the Shin Bet secret service said “evidence found at the scene of the crime does not have the characteristics of a targeted arson by Jewish perpetrators”. The statement did not elaborate.
Adding to the troubles of Duma residents is a general sense of vulnerability that they are alone with nobody to protect them.
Standing near the Dawabshehs’ house, which is tainted with soot and graffiti, Abed Salam Dawabsheh, head of the village’s council and who is related to the victims, said Duma was in danger and he could not do much to protect its people.
“I feel pained, frustrated and upset because as head of the village council, people trust and hold me responsible to protect them. But we can’t provide them with the protection and safety they want,” he said.
Yaqin Dawabsheh is staying in Ibrahim’s family house, horrified and wondering whether she will ever forget the arson attack.
“I’m terrified. I don’t know how to describe it,” she said. “I don’t know if I can go back to the same house with this horrible memory tied to it.”
After the first arson attack, Palestinians in Duma organised patrols to protect the village but they lasted for only two months. Worried about future attacks and realising official help was needed, Abed Salam Dawabsheh asked the Palestinian Authority (PA) for official patrols in the area. “We have been waiting since,” he said.
Locals said they also felt let down by the PA. Ibrahim Dawabsheh, the only witness to his relatives’ murder, was left without protection. Villagers and town officials also voiced suspicion that Jewish settlers would go after Ibrahim to silence him.
“I knew it was an attack by (Jewish) settlers. We saw it coming, especially Ibrahim,” Yaqin Dawabsheh said.
Ibrahim and Yaqin Dawabsheh said they had trouble sleeping before the arson, reporting “strange and hushed noises around the house, people moving outside the house at night”.
Ibrahim Dawabsheh said there was no way to protect Duma as long as the Israeli occupation exists.
Even with night-time patrols and security guards with flashlights, as long as we’re living under occupation, it is really hard to get adequate protection,” he said.
“I’m gearing up for the worst. I’m not scared because I believe in Allah but I know that something horrible is going to happen again.”