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Remembering the arson attack that orphaned Ahmed Dawabsheh

July 31, 2018 at 10:00 am

Family members and relatives of 18 month old baby, Ali Saad-Dawabsheh, view the remains of their house after a fire which was suspected to have been set by Jewish extremists on July 31, 2015 [Oren Ziv/Getty Images]

What: Extremist Jewish Israeli settlers attacked the Dawabsheh family home, orphaning Ahmed and killing his parents and baby brother, Ali

Where: Duma village near Nablus, occupied West Bank

When: 31 July 2015

What happened?

On 31 July 2015, Ali Saeed Dawabsheh was burned to death in his home. He was 18 months old. Ali suffered severe burns after his house, situated in the West Bank village of Duma, was attacked by Jewish Israeli settlers. Ali’s parents and brother also suffered second and third degree burns, and were taken to Rafedia Hospital Centre in Nablus.

Two extremist settlers were responsible for the attack on the Dawabsheh home, using Molotov cocktails. One settler was later named as 21-year-old Amiram Ben-Uliel; the other, a 16-year-old, could not be named for legal reasons. Ben-Uliel was believed to be part of a movement known as the “hilltop youth”, a group of young settlers who set up illegal outposts on hilltops in the occupied West Bank.

READ: Israeli court releases settler involved in Dawabsheh family arson attack to house arrest

The attack was labelled as a “price tag” incident, a term used for attacks against Palestinians carried out as revenge for Israeli government actions perceived to be against settlers. The attack on the Dawabsheh home was thought to be revenge for the Israeli demolition of two buildings in the illegal (even under Israeli law) Beit El settlement, situated near the Ramallah-Nablus road about 11 miles from Duma. Graffiti saying “revenge”, “long live the messiah” and “price tag” was found on the Dawabsheh family home.

Shortly after the attack, on 5 August, Israeli occupation forces stormed the Dawabsheh home under the pretext of conducting investigations into the arson. Palestinian activist Omar Dawabsheh told media that soldiers searched the property in the early hours of the morning, confiscating some of the family’s possessions.

Three days later, on 8 August, Ali’s father Saad, who had suffered severe burns to 80 per cent of his body, died of his wounds. In September, Ali’s mother Riham also died of her injuries. Doctors at Israel’s Sheba Medical Centre, where she had been undergoing extensive treatment, told the family that she had “stopped responding to medicine and skin cultivation and that most of her organs had stopped functioning.”

Key figures in the Israeli establishment initially rallied to condemn the attack, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying, “I am shocked over this reprehensible and horrific act.” Israel’s Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, tweeted: “It’s not a hate crime or price tag, it’s murder. Terror is terror is terror.”

The killing of the family sparked an outcry across the occupied Palestinian territories which continued throughout autumn 2015. Combined with clashes at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the killing of the Dawabshehs was believed to have motivated the upsurge in protests and stabbings that left four Israelis and 14 Palestinians dead.

Ahmed was the only member of the family to survive the attack. He was treated in the intensive care unit in Tel HaShomer Hospital for five months and underwent a total of ten surgeries, including skin grafts. Almost a year after the attack, in June 2016, Ahmed could be seen with scars on the right side of his face and hands while attending the Palestine Media Forum in Istanbul, Turkey with his uncle Nassr. Two months later, Ahmed’s condition deteriorated and he was re-admitted to hospital. He remains under the guardianship of Nassr and his grandfather, Hussein.

What happened next?

In January 2016, Ben-Uliel and the 16-year-old minor were indicted for carrying out the arson attack. Ben-Uliel faced charges of three counts of murder, while the minor faced charges of conspiring to commit a murder. Ben-Uliel admitted firebombing the Dawabsheh house and his involvement in six other racially-motivated attacks on Palestinian villages.

Despite initial condemnation, on 3 May 2017 Israel refused to pay compensation to Ahmed and the Dawabsheh family. Yousef Jabareen MK had demanded that Israel’s Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recognise the Dawabsheh family as victims of a terrorist act and therefore entitled to compensation. In a statement, Jabareen stressed that, “If we were talking about Jewish settlers hurt by Palestinians, the victims would automatically receive compensation.” Lieberman responded with an official letter to Jabareen stating that compensation would not be paid.

‘Ali on the grill’ – outside court, Israelis taunt family of Palestinian toddler killed in 2015 arson attack

On 11 May 2018, members of the extended Dawabsheh family were subjected to a second arson attack. “A group of settlers attacked my home at dawn,” explained Yasser Dawabsheh, “breaking a window and throwing a Molotov cocktail inside before fleeing the scene.” Fire crews were able to control the fire before the house burned down.

As the trial of Ben-Uliel continued into June, right-wing Israeli activists taunted members of the Dawabsheh family outside the courthouse in Lod, east of Tel Aviv. “Where is Ali?” the hecklers shouted, “Ali’s dead… Ali’s on the grill.” They were laughing as they heckled. Although 20 Israeli police officers were said to be at the scene, they made no move to stop the protesters.

On 21 June 2018, an Israeli court threw out the confession of the 16-year-old settler. The court ruled that it had been obtained under duress and was therefore inadmissible. Omar Khamaisi, a lawyer for the Dawabsheh family, told MEMO that, “The minor was not accused of murder, but prior planning and plotting. His confessions and statement referring to the activities of revenge, of burning and sabotaging Palestinian properties, were taken and accepted.” The confession of Ben-Uliel was deemed admissible, though, with the Times of Israel reporting that, “Judges determined that enough time had passed between when he was tortured and when he admitted to the crime.”

In July 2018, Israel’s Central District Court ordered the minor be released to house arrest. Ben-Uliel remains under investigation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.