In the cruellest way, Israeli settlements affect all Palestinians
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 their son, 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.
Zakaria Sadah RHR
Ahmad, with 60 per cent of his body burned, became a household name, oblivious to the fact that he touched so many hearts. Eight months later, with his grandparents constantly by his side, he is still being treated in an Israeli hospital.
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. And a reminder of the schools, mosques, churches, and olive trees – the livelihood of so many Palestinians – which have also been vandalized and torched. Nothing is safe from the destructive hands of the settlers.
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.
No one knows exactly what Ben Uliel was thinking when he set out on his murderous journey. Was his hatred for Palestinians so deep that he was blind to the consequences of his actions? Did he know that most cases of settler and soldier violence against Palestinians - 94 per cent to be exact – are closed? Did he know that if there actually is an indictment, the sentencing is usually very light? Did this security give him the confidence to carry out his crime?
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.
However, the irony of the situation is that settlements and outposts built on Palestinian land, according to international law, are illegal, and had these laws been respected by Israel and enforced by the international community, the Dawabshe family might still be alive. Currently, there are 125 settlements and 100 outposts built in 63 percent of Area C, Palestinian land which is under Israeli control.
In spite of the 49th article of the Geneva Convention which states, ‘The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies,’ the Israeli Ministry of Interior reports that 764,250 Israelis are living in these settlements and in East Jerusalem. The catch is that Israel is the only country which believes that the settlements are legal.
They represent a huge, well organized system which is aimed at land confiscation and the protection of the settlers. They are connected 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.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, states that they ‘violate Palestinian human rights, including the right to property, equality, a decent standard of living and freedom of movement’. In spite of the laws, between 2009 and 2014, the settler population increased by 23 percent, and continues to grow. Attacks on Palestinians and their property have also increased.
Settler crimes generally occur in two ways: in ‘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 way is though 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.’
According to international law, 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, and again, the international community is not enforcing the laws that it created.
Palestinians are not protected by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) against settler violence. There are no military police stations for the public, and although some are located in settlements, they are inaccessible to Palestinians, making it very difficult for Palestinians who want to file complaints.
Between 2000 and 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.
In the cruelest way, the Dawabshe’s are victims of the Israeli settlement enterprise. It is a system which affects every Palestinian, and hinders their independence and quality of life. Dawabshe tells me that people are afraid to go out, and are afraid to sleep in their own homes. As long as the settlements exist on Palestinian land, no one feels safe or free.
The murders have taken a toll on the Dawabshe family. Hussein Dawabshe is understandably tired. Parents should not have to see their children and grandchildren go before them. Not only did Dawabshe loose a daughter, he lost a friend, a confidant, and as he said, his “light and life”, and without her, everything important is missing.
And as for Ahmad……..his treatment continues. One so young should not be subjected to six operations; to the hospital becoming a familiar home; and to the many visitors, all strangers, coming and going from his life. One so young should not be learning to walk again. He should be running. He should be running into the arms of his mother.
Hanging on the wall of his hospital room, across from his bed, is a picture of Ahmad’s family. Their paper eyes stare at him. Ahmad knows that he can’t see his family now, but yet he asks when he can go to them. Death is hard for one so young to understand. I visited Ahmad several times. His room was filled with gifts of clothing, toys and food. The generosity and support of people was touching, and the trip to the zoo must have been fun, but they can’t replace his dead family.
The last time I saw Ahmad, he was sitting in a large battery operated car, fascinated by a small toy that he held in his hand, his burned skin stretched awkwardly. The scars on the side of his face still show, a constant reminder of the night his life changed forever; the night he became an orphan, another victim of the occupation of Palestine.