Hours after the terrorist attack that took the life of Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabshe, relatives and friends are still trying to make sense of what happened in the early hours of Friday morning.
Text and photos by Oren Ziv / Activestills.org
In the hours of the morning, the road leading from Nablus and the nearby settlements to the West Bank village of Duma is empty. Generally, when Palestinians attack Jewish settlers, the army hermetically seals the roads and raids the neighboring villages. Things are different this time around.
Inside Duma, dozens gather around the two homes that were set ablaze in the early hours of Friday morning. In one of them, 18-month-old Ali Dawabshe was burned to death in an attack by Jewish Israelis. His mother, father and four-year-old brother Ahmed were badly wounded.
The family’s home is almost entirely burned, including the bedroom, the kitchen and part of the living room. It is hard to recognize the remains of furniture or even clothing. Relatives are busy trying to salvage whatever they can. Inside the charred bedroom, relatives have places photographs of Ali on the ground as a makeshift memorial.
Yousef, a paramedic from the nearby village Aqraba, described the events of the morning to +972: “At 2 a.m. we received a report about an incident. I arrived with my ambulance and saw the house engulfed in flames. We evacuated the family to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. The little boy died and the rest were in such bad condition that we needed to transfer them to Israel. A helicopter came and took them.”
A relative of the Dawabshe family who lives next door — and whose house was also targeted in the attack — also described the incident: “I woke up from a noise at 2 a.m. Luckily my children were sleeping in Nablus, otherwise they would have been killed,” he explains while pointing at the burned-down bedroom next to the entrance of the house. He walks around the house restlessly, still staring incredulously at the soot-covered walls hours after the attack itself.
“When I woke up,” he continues, “I saw the entire house in flames. They threw something through the window and everything just lit up.”
“I didn’t see who did it,” he adds, pointing at the Hebrew graffiti reading “Revenge” and “Long live the Messiah” scrawled outside the house. “But I have no doubt who is responsible.”
A new group of people arrives every few minutes — locals, journalists, human rights workers or passersby. One of the residents shouts at them, “This is Israel, look at what they did to us, why did they burn a baby alive? What did he do?”
A veteran Palestinian photographer who made his way from Nablus tells me that this is the first time he has ever seen soldiers stopping settlers on the road. “And me, with my Palestinian license plate — they just let me pass without a problem.”
In West Bank funerals, the body is first brought to the family house, so that the women can part from the deceased. On Friday there was no family to bring the body to, so Ali is taken straight to the mosque in the village center, where hundreds arrived for Friday prayers.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah comes to the village, flanked by a large Palestinian police force. The local residents, whose village receives very little attention from the Palestinian Authority, don’t seem too happy with his visit.
Hamdallah marches into the house while looking at the burned walls and the photographs of Ali on the ground. He speaks to the local reporters in Arabic, saying: “We do not accept Netanyahu’s condemnation. The responsibility lies with his government and the settlers that sit in it and incite to kill Palestinians.”
Next a small, quiet protest forms outside the mosque, where around 10 young men carry Hamas flags; Hamdallah’s security prevent them from coming near. After Friday prayers end, approximately 2,000 people march from the mosque to the cemetery, where Ali’s body is buried.
At Hawara checkpoint, 20 kilometers from the village at the entrance to Nablus, dozens of young men are burning tires and throwing rocks at soldiers. The army closes the checkpoint, leaving hundreds of cars stuck on both sides. The army shoots tear gas at the protesters, leading to several brush fires.
Only a few hours after the arson, another house near Hawara goes up in flames as a result of brush fire. The family manages to escape, while young Palestinians run from the clashes with the soldiers to try and put out the fire until Palestinian firefighters arrived.