Since the settler firebombing that burned alive eighteen-month-old Ali Dawabshe and killed his father Sa’ad, Palestinians in Duma and other villages have formed night patrol groups to confront settler incursions. Unarmed, they have no means to repel settlers who have the full backing of the Israeli military.
“We don’t have anything to defend ourselves or any equipment. We just try to warn people if we see something,” said one member of the Dawabshe family who identified himself as Akram, preferring to use a pseudonym for his own security.
Before the firebombing, seven people had volunteered to protect the village, posting themselves at the northern and southern entrances to the village. Since then, the Duma municipality made efforts to recruit more volunteers, but only ten people have been consistent in their commitment. Now, activists are working to obtain flashlights and radios for the patrols.
Patrols have also organized in the the nearby village of Qusra.
Since 2004, there have been 1,000 settler attacks in the occupied West Bank every year – nearly three per day. Though the Israeli military is ostensibly responsible for providing security in Area B – where Duma is located – the military’s role is to protect settlers and enforce occupation, leaving villages like Duma completely defenseless.
Villagers in Duma hope that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would provide defense from rampaging settlers, but PA forces have been completely absent. This is breeding resentment against the PA in the West Bank, and spurring on the growth of vigilante groups. This anger is due not only to the settler attacks but the fact that while the PA is unable to protect the people it is supposed to represent, it continues to collaborate with the Israeli military to repress rival political factions and resistance to the occupation.
I sat with Akram Dawabshe on a front porch in Duma on a hot afternoon. He has been imprisoned by the PA for eighteen days for the past two summers. In 2013, he was arrested on charges of affiliation with Hamas, which he denies. “I’m not with Fatah or Hamas. I’m Palestinian – that’s it,” he remarked.
During Israel’s 51-day war on the Gaza Strip last summer, which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians including 551 children, Akram says he was handcuffed and blindfolded while he was interrogated on suspicion of having a weapon. Akram denies these allegations too. “Some of the prisoners told me I should buy a weapon and turn it in to the PA, just to get it over with,” he said.
Functioning as a police state within the confines of the Israeli occupation, many of Akram’s friends have been arrested by the PA, and several were taken in for Facebook posts in support of armed resistance in Gaza last summer.
Though it has no security presence in Area B, the PA does Israel’s bidding outside of its assigned jurisdiction. As a high-ranking official from the Preventive Security Forces explained in a October, 2014 Al-Shabaka policy brief by Sabrien Amrov and Alaa Tartir, “We get lists with names. [The Israelis] need someone, and we are tasked to get that person for them.” While Israeli officials treat PA President Mahmoud Abbas as a whipping boy, lashing out at him when lone-wolf Palestinians attack Israelis, the piece notes that “Israeli intelligence officials [say] ‘coordination has never been as extensive’, with ‘coordination better in all respects.’”
Amrav and Tartir note, “The Euro-Med Observer for Human Rights recently reported that in 2013, Palestinian security forces had arbitrarily arrested 723 persons and interrogated 1,137 without clear charges, court decisions, or warrants. Additionally, the PA security forces arrested 56 persons because of Facebook status against them, arrested 19 journalists, and a number of cartoonists and writers. It further documented 117 cases of extreme torture.”
The Call for Armed Resistance Grows in the West Bank
The occupation continues to foster support for armed resistance in the West Bank and many have grown tired of the false promises of the PA. Following the burial of Sa’ad Dawabshe next to baby Ali, one segment of mourners chanted praise for armed resistance and asked al-Qassam and Saraya al-Quds, Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s respective armed wings, to take revenge for the firebombing. In the charred bedroom where babi Ali burned to death, “al-Qassam” had been scrawled onto the walls. As I took photographs, one villager furiously scrubbed the words away, fearful of the village being seen as identifying with armed resistance.
In Gaza, militant factions maintain a broad base of support among the population despite rivalries in their political wings. For example, Abu Obaida, the red kuffiyeh-wrapped charismatic spokesman for the al-Qassam brigades, remains Gaza’s most beloved figure. Similiarly, many Palestinians in the occupied West Bank who do not support the political aspirations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad do support their armed resistance wings. “We love to see rockets come from Gaza,” Akram told me. But as long as the PA exists, armed resistance in West Bank villages like Duma seems extremely unlikely. “It’s not possible here. Even if we tried, the PA would stop us,” he explained.
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and his security forces attended the funerals of both Sa’ad and baby Ali Dawabshe. At the entrance to the village, unarmed PA security forces wearing military uniforms carried the body. “Bullshit,” Akram remarked. “It’s just a media show.”
Abed Dawabshe, a fifty-year-old history teacher agreed: “After they failed to protect the family, now they’re doing this? It’s too late.”