Mother of Palestinian baby burned to death tried to save her child

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Riham Dawabshe, the mother of 18 month-old Ali Dawabshe who burned to death in a settler arson attack Friday in the West Bank hamlet of Duma, tried to save her baby while fleeing from her home, engulfed in flames. Gasoline bombs had crashed into the building shortly after 1:30 am and quickly it filled with opaque smoke. Dawabshe, herself on fire, grabbed a blanket she thought cradled her son. She rushed outside. But the blanket was empty, a fact the mother only realized when in her front yard. Yet at that time the fire had grown, making reentry impossible.

Dawabshe then screamed as her baby burned alive a few feet away.

The details on the final moments of Ali’s short life were revealed Saturday night by Dawabshe’s brother in-law, Nasser Dawabshe, who addressed a Tel Aviv crowd of more than 2,000 Israelis protesting the killing. Ali Dawabshe was not the only victim mourned. Over the past week and a half six Palestinians and one Israeli were killed. On Thursday, the night before the Dawabshe’s home was attacked, a right-wing Israeli recently released from prison for murdering an Israeli in 2005 at a Jerusalem pride parade struck again. Yishai Schlissel stabbed six Israelis at this year’s pride event. Sixteen year old Shira Banki succumbed to the injuries this evening.

Tearfully, Nasser Dawabshe delivered the following speech [full text],

“This has no precedence. I was with the family at my father’s house, who has illness in the kidneys. And our mother is also ill. After midnight—1:30 [am] at night—each one went to their own home. After a half an hour, the family was surprised that something burning was thrown at their house. It was very strong and the whole house burned. There’s nothing left.

At that moment my brother Sa’ed and his wife Riham caught on fire. Despite the burns, Sa’ed carried his son, four year old Ahmad, outside the house. Riham grabbed a blanket, she thought that the child, Ali, was in the blanket. But they learned that the child wasn’t in the blanket, but was left inside.

She [Riham] began to yell “Where’s Ali?!” Ali was was burning. She saw him burn. She begged her family to bring her burned baby to her.

At that time no one was able to enter the house because the fire was so big. By the time the fire brigade had arrived and put out the fire, and we finally got inside, we witnessed the horrific sight. We saw Ali completely burned, his whole body covered in burns and nothing we can do to save him. Riham went to sleep wishing her baby sweet dreams and they came and burned a family, sound asleep.

A family that loved its life and doesn’t believe in violence. My brother Sa’ed is loved by the whole village. Netanyahu sends his condolences, and we ask him, the army and the Ministry of Defense to bring security to the village of Duma and all Palestinian villages.

We, the people under occupation, demand the capture of the killers and to bring them to justice. Secondly, we’d like to thank everyone who supported us through these events. We also ask the UN [United Nations] to stand with us, the Palestinian people, to get our freedom. We are a people who believe in life. And we ask the world to stand with us.

I want to ask Netanyahu one question and I expect him to answer. I left my house at 3 in the morning and returned at 12 midnight. I found my mother and father waiting for me. Mother asked me when Sa’ed will return? I say to Netanyahu and all his army: When does Sa’ed return? When does Riham return? When will Ahmad return? Why was Ali murdered? Eighteen months, what was his crime? What has he done to your army? What has he done to your settlers?”

Nasser Dawabshe was joined on stage by heads of the Israeli left. “We must tell the truth. This is Jewish terror, racist terror. Full of hate. These are terrorists,” said opposition leader Isaac Herzog from the Zionist Camp. “We can’t loose this battle. We can’t allow the hate to go wild. We can’t let extremist groups to hide under a cloak of social, or political movements. To enjoy state funds and the blessing of leaders and rabbis and teachers, whether directly or in directly,” Herzog continued.

Both attacks—against the Dawabshe family and the Jerusalem pride paraders—are viewed by the Israeli government as acts of terror and were swiftly and repeatedly condemned. Today Israel’s security cabinet announced it would use British mandatory military code in its investigation, employing the practice of administrative detention—arrest without charge, a form of imprisonment that is used to detain Palestinians from the occupied territories. Over the next week Israel will debate drafting new anti-terror legislation aimed at combating right-wing acts of violence against Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv the killing of Ali Dawabshe, a Palestinian 18-month old who was murdered in an arson attack by settlers on Friday. (Photo: Allison Deger)
Israelis protest in Tel Aviv the killing of Ali Dawabshe, a Palestinian 18-month old who was murdered in an arson attack by settlers on Friday. (Photo: Allison Deger)

But some are not convinced the measures will be far-reaching enough. “It’s a kind of  lip service that they are doing,” said Zahava Gal-On, head of Israel’s left-leaning Meretz party at the Tel Aviv rally on Saturday. “I don’t believe them, they are not condemning any Jewish terror, they are not acting against Jewish terror.” 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned against retaliation attacks on Israeli citizens following Ali Dawabshe’s murder. He said his government would open an investigation into the crime, and today promised to announces changes to the role of Palestinian security forces next month. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke over the telephone on Friday, the second time the two have conversed during the past year.

Yet it is unclear if the calls for calm will reduce tension. Two Palestinians were killed by the army over the weekend in clashes that broke out across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. On Friday, an Israeli vehicle was shot at while driving on a settler highway outside of Duma in the West Bank. Israeli police are also investigating threats made against President Reuven Rivlin on social media, following a statement the president made to the Arab public.

“I feel a sense of shame, and moreover a sense of pain. Pain over the murder of a small baby. Pain that from my people, there are those who have chosen the path of terrorism, and have lost their humanity,” Rivlin said on Friday.

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“… Riham went to sleep wishing her baby sweet dreams and they came and burned a family, sound asleep. A family that loved its life and doesn’t believe in violence. My brother Sa’ed is loved by the whole village. …” Agony upon agony. Misery upon misery. Horror upon horror. An empty blanket and excruciating pain and loss. All Palestinians want is what every human wants~ life with freedom, safety, respect, possibilities, dignity, etc. I regret… Read more »

I am dumbfounded at the lack of boycott action after this baby was incinerated. Still no boycotts in any city council? Still no hint of a September campus campaign to boycott “Israel”, that racist bastard state?

Why the inaction, even now? Contrast that with the gigantic worldwide outcry for extradition of Cecil the Lion’s killer.

Thank you, Allison, for your outstanding reporting. In the shock of the explosion, flames and smoke, the young mother grabbed her baby, wrapped in his blanket, and ran outside. Only to discover that her baby was not in the blanket, he was in the flames, screaming for her as he was burned to death. If this poor young mother lives, she will be remembering all of this every moment of every day, trying to find… Read more »

This and similar events will have a lasting effect on this mother, her future children, and those of countless other Palestinian mothers. Last week Krista Tippett interviewed Rachel Yehuda about the epigenetic changes caused by stress (link below). They talked a lot about Jews, Jewish trauma, and how Jews deal with trauma. Krista made a passing reference to African Americans and Native Americans. No one said anything about Palestinians. Excerpt from the On Being website:… Read more »

“In a column Sunday for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Dawabsha described how his wife chose to sleep on the roof Thursday night because of the heat. In the middle of the night, she noticed their daughter’s residence some distance away was in flames. “She woke me up screaming,” he wrote. “I told myself, this cannot be happening. “I jumped in the car and raced over there. I refused to believe it. When I got there,… Read more »