Baraa Dawabsha slowly paces the ground outside the burned out house of his relatives in the small village of Duma, central West Bank.
“This is where my aunt got to before she fell to the ground,” he says pointing to a concrete slab about two meters from the house door. He walks a few more paces forward, and stops, pointing at the ground, “and this was where my uncle fell,” he says with sadness in his voice.
The arson attack by extremist Israeli settlers against the Dawabsha family that killed Baraa’s aunt Riham, uncle, Sa’ad, and their 18-month old baby Ali, left the rural village of Duma in shock. Only Ahmad – Sa’ad and Riham’s four-year-old son – survived the attack.
While the deadly arson attack was over half a year ago, residents in Duma say they must remain vigilant, worried that another similar attack may be just around the corner. The overwhelming feeling in the community is that the Israeli government has done nothing to deter further attacks against the vulnerable rural village.
“We don’t feel protected at all,” 15-year-old Baraa told me outside the remains of the destroyed home. “The settlers have tried more than once to get into the village again after the attack. They even gathered near to here and Nablus, and were chanting in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, screaming at people ‘Dawabsha number two,’ threatening they will do it again.”
“Young people from the village used to gather at night to keep watch,” Baraa continues. “But now everyone from the village is keeping watch on their own home and their neighbors homes throughout the night, just in case the settlers try again.”
There aren’t many superlatives to describe Duma. It is a quiet, rural, if anything unremarkable village. Nestled between hills near Nablus, the village, while affected adversely by the on-going Israeli occupation, has taken a back seat in regards to the wider Palestinian resistance movement compared to other towns and villages.
Discussing whether the village had, in the past, any residents killed in clashes against the Israeli army, the villagers gathered outside the Dawabsha home concluded that they believed only one villager had died a ‘martyr.’ That villager was killed during the Second Intifada, they told me, however not in Duma, but in the nearby city of Nablus.
“This village is a quiet one, we haven’t even smelt tear gas here before,” Sheikh Mohammed Kareem, a local leader says at the end of the discussion. “Even the Israeli soldiers called this a village of peace.”
Duma was virtually unknown before the deadly arson attack against the Dawabsha family rocketed the rural village onto media outlets around the world. Yet as media attention fades on Duma, locals say the place is still in shock, and they remain worried for the future.
“The attack has completely changed the village now,” Kareem says. “There could be another attack, and we are worried about that, there is nothing to stop them from doing it again.”
Villagers remain on alert, and feel on edge. Groups of young men from Duma have gone on patrol on some nights believing settlers may attack again. People talk of how families previously slept outside during warm summer nights – now villagers are scared to leave their homes at dark. Worry and fear remains high. Noises in the night, which would have seemed normal a year ago, bring worried residents to windows and doors. There are always nervous eyes scouring the narrow bumpy barely-lit streets of Duma at night.
“People were never scared before, now people don’t move at night between the houses,” Kareem says “By ten in the evening people won’t go outside, they stay at home. People have put extra bars on the windows, especially people on the ground floors, because they are worried of firebombs going through into their homes. Everyone is watching all the time.”
“Before we spent our lives living, now it doesn’t feel that way,” he continues. “People would sleep outside, they felt peaceful here, now they wont do such a thing.”
Along with the worry, there is anger too. Anger that the Israeli government is not doing enough to deter similar extremist attacks in the future. Only one settler, Amiram Ben-Uilel, has been indicted for murder, a reality that has dumbfounded and outraged the people of Duma, who say there were at least two men involved in the attack. Others allege more.
The governments response to the murder of members of his family, Baraa says, is laughable and doesn’t provide enough off a punishment to prevent other settlers from carrying out similar copycat attacks in the future.
“I don’t believe only one did this, there has to be more than one settler to have been able to come so deep into the village and do this, and then get out, and eyewitnesses say there were more” the teenager says with clear anger in his voice. “The Israelis aren’t doing anything to stop this from happening again.”
With a settlement outpost planned for construction on the hill facing Duma – the same hill that the Dawabsha arson attack was conceived and planned according to Israeli investigators – residents of the village fear that the worse may not be over.
It is only with the ending of the occupation, Kareem tells me, that the village will begin to feel safe again, and the villagers will finally be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
“God willing, it will go back to how it was like before, but right now, I can’t see that happening until the occupation is no more. Until the occupation is gone people will remain scared here.”