The relatives of Ahmed Dawabsheh, a Palestinian boy whose mother, father and 18-month-old baby brother were burned to death by illegal Jewish settlers in 2015, describe the escalating Jewish settler violence in the occupied West Bank as like “living in a ring of fire” At a time when all eyes are on Gaza, Israeli army violations against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and violence by Jewish settlers are both escalating.
The UN has reported that since 7 October, 820 Palestinians have been displaced in the West Bank, and attacks by Israeli settlers have increased from an average of three to seven per day. In the same period, more than 400 settler attacks were carried out in the area, resulting in nine Palestinians being killed.
Palestinians stress that the constant expansion of illegal Jewish settlements — all settlements are illegal under international law — is one of the biggest threats to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and is fragmenting the West Bank territory supposedly allocated for such a state. Armed Jewish settlers living in the area attack Palestinians frequently and force them to leave their homes.
Israeli and international human rights organisations accuse Israeli forces of protecting the settlers who carry out these attacks, of which the tragedy that befell the Dawabsheh family is one of the most tragic examples.
The Palestinian family’s house in the village of Duma near the West Bank city of Nablus was set on fire by Jewish settlers on the morning of 31 July, 2015. Eighteen-month-old Ali was killed in the fire. His father, 31-year-old Saad Dawabsheh, and his mother, 28-year-old Riham Dawabsheh, and their other child, four-year-old Ahmed, were seriously injured and taken to hospital. Doctors could not save Saad and Riham, leaving Ahmed as the sole surviving family member. He suffered burns on 60 per cent of his body, and now lives with his grandfather and uncle in Duma.
Like other Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Ahmed continues to witness increasing settler violence. In Duma, where an Anadolu team went to visit the Dawabsheh family home for an interview, there is an eerie calm after recent settler attacks. Burned vehicles are conspicuous at the entrance of the village, where there are no people on the streets, and no traffic.
During the visit, Ahmed, now 13 years old, was playing with his cousin in his uncle’s house. He appeared shy and reserved but had a cheerful demeanour. His grandfather, Hussein, who lost his daughter, son-in-law and grandson in the arson attack, said that, since the 2015 tragedy, violence by fanatical Jewish settlers against the Palestinian people has been on the rise.
“For example, to go out in the street, you have to make a thousand calculations,” he explained. “You have to take care to avoid being attacked by Jewish settlers and you are afraid. Jewish settlers can stop you and kill you. In other words, the situation is very bad.”
Our dead have become martyrs
Asked how Palestinians cope with this chronic problem, which paralyses their daily lives, he replied: “We are Muslims, and we believe in destiny and fate. Our dead have become martyrs; they have risen to the Lord of the worlds, Allah. But after them, those who suffer are their families, siblings and their homeland. Everyone is going through this pain.”
He pointed out that although it is the Palestinians who are victimised, they are regarded as terrorists. “They treat us as terrorists at any time. In any situation, Israel cancels the work permits of our children working in the Israeli areas. They suffocate us from all sides.”
According to Hussein Dawabsheh, the behaviour of Jewish settlers after the arson attack was no different to the atrocity that was committed.
“For them, it was as if nothing had happened. They were singing and dancing. In their songs, they said, ‘We killed three. Now it’s the fourth’s turn.’ We saw them repeatedly say on social media ‘It is a mistake for this child to live. We killed his mother, father and sibling. Now he will take revenge.’ Imagine being afraid of a four-year-old child. They started this. They are the source of violence. It’s not us.”
Nasr Dawabsheh, Ahmed’s uncle, pointed out that the settler attacks did not start with the latest attacks on Gaza, but they have increased in number during this period.
“With the attack on Gaza, Jewish settlers along with the Israeli army and this fanatical Israeli government were given permission to organise attacks to kill Palestinians,” he said. Emphasising that they cannot go out on the streets, he added, “If you are going out into the streets, you need to say your goodbyes to your family and children because you may not come back home.”
He noted that the olive harvest season has begun, but as soon as the attack on Gaza started, four vehicles were burned here by Jewish settlers and a young Palestinian was injured. “They even prevented the ambulance from taking this young man to the hospital, and attempted to attack the village. These attacks continue every day. There is a clear and systematic attack. These Jewish settlers have permission to shoot at any Palestinian, man, woman or child, and the elderly.”
Ahmed’s uncle Nasr describes the settler violence as terrorism against the Palestinian people. “And not only since 7 October; for a long time. This terrorism has been going on in the West Bank. In recent times, it has increased even more. As I said, this is a systematic terrorism and planned.”
Threatening letters have been sent to many villages and towns, he said. “They tell us, ‘You either go voluntarily to the east of the Jordan River or you will be killed.'”
Eight years after the tragedy, no matter what his grandfather and uncle do for Ahmed, they cannot replace his parents, said Nasr.
“Regardless of the occasion, whether it’s a graduation, holidays or birthdays, whatever we offer him will always be lacking. In Palestine, children have grown up now. Ahmed has gone through a long healing process. At school, the teacher asked the students to draw pictures of their families, and he drew four people. Despite knowing that his family is no longer alive, he still insists that there are four people. Imagine how you can convince this child that his family no longer exists.”
God, added his uncle, kept Ahmed alive for a purpose. “So that he may be a symbol against the Israeli occupiers until the Day of Judgment.”