The burning to death of two Palestinian children over the past year by Israeli settlers is symptomatic of a larger violation of international law, established and maintained by Israel without limits: the Israeli settlement enterprise in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It is one of the main obstacles towards achieving a lasting and just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
On 31 July 2015, Israeli settlers threw a petrol bomb inside the house of a Palestinian family in the village of Doma, near Nablus, while the family was sleeping. One and a half-year old toddler, Ali Dawabsheh, was burnt to death while other family members remain critically injured. Israeli Minister of Defense Ya’lon described the attack as “Jewish terror” and Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his “shock and horror” over the attack, also referring to it as “terrorism”. Almost one year ago, 16-year old Muhammad Abu Khdeir was kidnapped by Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem and burned alive. Israeli officials made similar statements in response to the murder of Abu Khdeir.
These two events are not unique in the context of settler violence against Palestinians and their property. Settler attacks against Palestinians are reported and monitored on an almost a daily basis. The murder of Ali Dawabsheh and Muhammad Abu Khdeir are among the 11,000 settler attacks against Palestinians and their property that have gone unpunished over the last decade. This lack of accountability only ensures the rise in such attacks.
Israel’s High Court of Justice issued an order last week for the demolition of two buildings in the settlement of Beit El near Ramallah. The Court viewed the two buildings as illegal because they were built on land that is privately owned by Palestinians. The decision, which was implemented on 29 July amidst protests by settlers and strong opposition by Israeli officials including Netanyahu, gives the false impression that the Court is impartial, applies the law equally in all cases of “illegal” house construction, and that the settlements themselves are legal. This is simply not the case. The settlement enterprise, in its entirety, is in contravention to international law; this has been affirmed by many UN resolutions, and in the 2004 International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on the Wall.
Subsequent to the demolitions in Beit El, to appease the settlers, Prime Minister Netanyahu reapproved the immediate construction of 300 settlement units there.
Israeli officials’ stance in reaction to Ali’s killing is contradictory. On the one hand, they condemn this particular settler attack against Palestinians. On the other, they encourage and support settlement expansion, and deny the fact that settlements are illegal and deprive Palestinians from exercising their right to self-determination.
In order for peace to be achieved in the region, Israel must dismantle the settlement enterprise, and act in accordance with international law. Palestinian children will continue to be killed and injured if the international community does not take immediate action to end the occupation.