Since the announcement of an indictment in the deadly firebombing in the occupied West Bank village of Duma, Israeli media outlets have analyzed the likelihood that the killers will be punished, given that the main suspect’s confession were extracted by torture.
But they have not mentioned the elephant in the room: culpability for the murder of baby Ali Dawabshe and his parents lies not only with those who threw the firebomb, but with the Israeli government which promotes, subsidizes and protects their presence in the West Bank. The more than 600,000 residents of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights are in violation of the Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power may not transfer its population to the occupied territory.
The Duma case also demonstrates Israel’s violation of its obligation as the occupying power to protect the local population. But to portray the daily violence Palestinians live under as a failure of Israeli policy turns reality on its head. The establishment of illegal settlements requires expulsion of Palestinian residents, and maintaining the settlements demands various forms of violence, many of which are more deadly than the Duma attack.
In the murders of the Dawabshe family, it is not as if the Israeli authorities merely failed to apprehend the killers – they actively chose not to. According to an emergency dispatch report, settlers were seen leaving the village walking in the direction the Adei Ad settlement outpost minutes after the firebombing, but authorities declined to pursue them.
This is not an aberration, but an instance of a policy of Israeli authorities deliberately ignoring settler violence (Israeli soldiers sometimes join settlers in the attacks). According to the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din’s report titled Standing Idly By “…All Israeli law enforcement agencies show tolerance for and turn a blind eye to the various types of offenses perpetrated by Israeli civilians throughout the West Bank.”
The Shin Bet had long been aware of attacks carried out by the group the suspected killer Amiram Ben-Uliel belongs to, but has used a kid-glove approach – a sharp contrast to the heavy-handed military operations reserved for Palestinians suspected of attacks on Israeli Jews.
This implicit support for attacks on Palestinians is not limited to the military and law enforcement agencies. Direct support for Israel’s settlements – including the most ideologically extreme of them – exists throughout the Israeli government.
Member of Knesset Stav Shaffir noted this dynamic. “Government ministers condemn the ‘price tag’ violence, but at the same time embrace (the perpetrators) with budgets and support.”
Indeed, the settlement outpost (considered “illegal” under Israeli law) where Ben-Uliel lived on a hill overlooking Duma until the attack, was created using 1.7 million shekels ($433,000) from the Housing and Construction Ministry, and the State planned to authorize the outpost.
Shaffir identified the Agriculture, Education and Welfare Ministries as key contributors, two of which are controlled by the far right-wing Jewish Home party.
The Agriculture and Rural Development ministry is headed by Uri Ariel, a Jewish Home party member who is part of the Temple Mount movement, which aims to destroy Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, turn Israel into a theocracy and fulfill an apocalyptic prophecy – the same ultimate goal of group the suspected Duma killer belongs to.
At the helm of the Education Ministry is Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett. Under his direction, religious public schools are teaching students to ‘long for the third temple,’ belying Bennett’s public statements that he does not currently seek to change the status quo at the Al-Aqsa compound.
Bennett recently defended fellow Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich’s description of the Duma attack as “murder” but not as terrorism. This is a reversal of Bennett’s initial statement when he, along with Justice Minister and fellow Jewish Home member Ayelet Shaked, called for the death penalty for the Duma killers – who they then called “Jewish terrorists.”
For her part, Shaked has also made an about-face from her initial promise for vengeance, meeting with the mother of one of the suspected killers and calling for a “fair” and “just” trial.
Shaked garnered international headlines during Israel’s 2014 mega-assault on the Gaza Strip when she posted a pro-genocide statement on her public Facebook page. Months later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu awarded her the Minister of Justice position, which Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Nachman Shai complained was like “giving the Fire and Rescue Services to a pyromaniac.”
Given the central role that the Israeli government has had in supporting even the most radical settlers, the insufficient effort to prosecute the killers only highlights its own guilt.
This is not to say that there is no conflict between the vigilantes and the establishment. Rather, the establishment prefers to be in control of the ongoing violence.
Four months after the Duma firebombing, the Israeli military dropped a much larger firebomb from a warplane on a sleeping family in the Gaza Strip. The result of this attack was similar – a pregnant mother and baby girl were killed in their home. But no one declared the pilot to be a Jewish terrorist, and there was no hand-wringing from liberal Zionist groups.
For the Israeli government and its supporters, the issue is not that they are disturbed by dead Palestinians. It is that vigilante killings – particularly those committed via such gruesome methods – are difficult to explain to the outside world. Better to leave it to the establishment, where bombing sleeping families earns a reaffirmation of Israel’s “right to self-defense,” rather than a blow to the State’s international image.