The killing of a Palestinian baby
BEIRUT - No doubt, 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh would not have wanted to become the worldwide symbol of the ugly face of the Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territories. He would have preferred to grow up surrounded by his parents in Duma, his ancestral home village in the north of the West Bank.
Instead, the Palestinian toddler was burned alive at night when two masked men — allegedly Jewish settlers from a nearby settlement — set his family home on fire. His mother, Reham, a 27-year-old schoolteacher; his father, Saad, 32, a construction worker; and his 4-year-old brother, Ahmad, suffered extensive burns and are fighting for their lives in Israeli hospitals.
The death of the Palestinian child, whose body was found in his smouldering house along with his bottle of milk, triggered — judging from official statements — soul-searching among Israeli leaders. They converged to say that such atrocities were “contrary to Jewish values”.
Yet Israeli authorities have for years been turning a blind eye to actions of violent Jewish West Bank settlers who have embarked on a so-called price-tag policy, torching homes, mosques and churches, uprooting olive trees and vandalising Palestinian agricultural lands and businesses .
According to Israeli commentators, the “price-tag policy” — a euphemism for terrorism and dispossession — aims to punish Palestinians for sporadic actions taken by Israeli authorities to curb settlement activities deemed illegal by Israel — though all settlement activities are considered illegal by international law.
It seems settlers were angered by an Israeli court decision to demolish two buildings in the Jewish settlement of Bet El, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The fact that as compensation, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu immediately approved the construction of 300 housing units in Bet El did not appease tempers. The attackers spray-painted on a wall of the Dawabsheh house the words “Revenge” and “Long live the king messiah of Israel” in Hebrew along with the star of David.
From an Israeli perspective, the death of Ali Dawabsheh came as a wake-up call to the actions of “some extremist Jewish settlers” that might “tarnish” the image of half a million mostly armed Jewish settlers.
Settlers are “wonderful” people, Naftali Bennett, a cabinet member and leader of the settler party The Jewish Home, reminded everyone in the aftermath of the terrorist act. And, indeed, to many Israelis, settlers are the salt of the earth, the crème de la crème, as they “risk their lives” — and incidentally benefit from generous governmental fiscal and housing incentives — to move to Judea and Samaria, the biblical names of lands “given to the people of Israel by God himself”.
The terror attack against the Dawabsheh family was well-planned, said Israeli security officials, who blamed a minority fringe extremist group. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused the Israeli government of “incitement and racism”. Other Palestinians point the finger to the responsibility at the hard-line Yesha Council, which is the umbrella organisation for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“We want international protection for Palestinians in the occupied territories,” said Palestinian Liberation Organisation Executive Committee member Saeb Erakat, adding that the real problem was the whole policy of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. To shed the light on this policy which is preventing peace talks from resuming, the Palestinian Authority is working with Jordan, the current Arab member of the UN Security Council, on a draft resolution calling for action against settlers and against the judaisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Abbas is intent on bringing this latest atrocity to the attention of the International Criminal Court. Palestinian security forces plan to protect the population, said Colonel Jibril Rajoub, a former head of a powerful Palestinian intelligence apparatus in the West Bank. This might be easier said than done, as 60% of the West Bank is off limits to the Palestinian Authority by virtue of the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
The Palestinian Authority’s mainly political response aims at containing the wave of anger that is engulfing the Palestinian territories. It is drawing, however, criticism among Palestinian factions that want to arm villagers living near Jewish settlements.
Most Palestinian groups, starting with Hamas, called on the Palestinian Authority to stop its security and intelligence coordination with the Israeli military and to release Palestinian prisoners in its jails.
For now, the burning alive of the Palestinian toddler has triggered new rounds of violence. Two Palestinian youths have been killed by the Israeli army following the attack on the Dawabsheh family, one of them, a 16-year-old boy by the name of Laith Khalidi from the Jalazoun camp near Ramallah, was shot in the back as he was demonstrating.
The writing was all over the wall, said Hussein abou Khdeir, the father of 16-year-old Mohammed abou Khdeir, who was abducted a year ago near his home in East Jerusalem, by extremists who forced him to drink gasoline and burned him alive.
This view is shared by B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, which said that a “burned infant was only a matter of time in view of (Israeli) policy to not enforce the law on violent settlers”, adding that the clock was ticking “in the countdown of the next arson attack and the one after”.