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Duma murders fail to penetrate the Tel Aviv bubble

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At the moment it happened, the July 31 murder of eighteen-month-old Ali Dawabshe by Israeli settlers in a firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma seemed to shake the foundations of the Israeli occupation itself. Anguished cries for accountability rang out worldwide as Israeli politicians declared they would crack down on Jewish terrorism and Israel supporters warned the legitimacy of Zionism itself could hang in the balance if the perpetrators were not brought to justice. When the child’s father died from burns ten days later, the demands for accountability only increased.

More than a month later Israeli authorities have failed to produce a suspect directly linked to the attack. I spent an afternoon around north Tel Aviv’s picturesque beachfront asking Israelis for assessments of the government’s handling of the firebombing. The coastal city is often portrayed as the counterweight to the dominant right-wing –  as Israel’s bastion of liberalism and intellectualism. But the Tel Avivians I talked to were largely uninterested, and some had long forgotten about the attack.

“Did they catch anyone?” Melih Bahar asked after my description of the firebombing jogged his memory.

Photo of the Dawabshe family

Photo of the Dawabshe family

I explained to him that the police had not arrested anyone linked directly to the firebombing, and he expressed confidence that the attackers would be apprehended.

“So apparently they haven’t done a good job,” he said. “But listen, it takes time. I can’t blame them [the police]. I trust them and I think they are doing a great job.”

Ori, 25, was certain the police were handling the case properly. “I’m sure they are investigating it. They said they have suspects.”

“I don’t know how the investigation is going, but the government took it very seriously,” said Rona Temkin, 46, pausing on an evening bicycle ride with her husband to speak with me.

Not only were Israelis in Tel Aviv confident that their government was pursuing justice for the Dawabshe family, some believed that Palestinians had committed the firebombing – a conspiracy theory widespread throughout the right-wing that is supposedly antithetical to Tel Aviv.

“They blamed Jewish terrorists but there is no proof that Jews burned the house,” said Yiram, a 36-year-old educational software designer. “It’s the opposite”, he continued twisting logic to claim that the fact that two houses were firebombed indicates an intra-Arab conflict.

Arthur, a 25-year-old Russian immigrant and Labor Party supporter, also questioned if Jews had actually committed the attack.

Others simply did not care.

“We don’t talk about politics,” one woman told me as she walked away.

“Maybe when we come back by,” another man said. “We’re walking right now.”

Across the board, Israeli politicians condemned the attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims he instructed security forces to “use all the resources at their disposal to capture the killers and bring them to justice as soon as possible.”

“He who burns a Palestinian baby declares war on the State of Israel,” said journalist turned politician Yair Lapid.

“We will chase down the murderers until they are caught,” promised Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, known for a pro-genocide Facebook post during the 2014 war on Gaza, backed the death penalty for Jewish terrorists.

For liberal Zionist groups in the United States, the Duma attack and the fatal stabbing at Jerusalem’s Pride Parade prompted a crisis of soul searching. J Street published an article entitled, “Condemnation Is Not Enough,” calling on the Jewish community “not only to offer words of condemnation and consolation, but to fight to change our social, political and religious reality so that such things never happen again.”

That view was echoed by the American pro-Israel mega-philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, who blogged about the gravity of the event: “It is not enough to simply decry—rather, each of us has the responsibility to staunchly defend the human rights owed to us all. To hold our leaders accountable. To organize ourselves, take action and ensure that our voices are loud enough for all to hear.”

While Palestinians in the West Bank are forced to organize to defend themselves from settler attacks, I couldn’t find any calls for accountability in Tel Aviv. In fact, I could not find a single Israeli who was even familiar with the status of the case.

The Duma case illustrates why critics like Israeli activist Ronnie Barkan see Tel Aviv as a bubble.

“It doesn’t surprise me that people in Tel Aviv don’t know the basic facts about the Duma case because they don’t have to know,” Barkan explained to me. “People in Tel Aviv are just as much as part of the system [as settlers] but they are participating in a different way. Tel Aviv is the only cosmopolitan city in the world that is Arab-free. They adapt to the Tel Aviv bubble and not having to care, but Tel Aviv is the place where you have the [military] command-and-control center which is responsible for the siege of Gaza. In the massacre that took place a year ago, the pilots who razed entire neighborhoods to the ground left their homes in Tel Aviv to the air force base and got into their F16s and bombed the hell out of Gaza, and then went back home to the comfortable life in Tel Aviv in the evening. In Jerusalem, it’s in your face. You can’t travel on the light rail and not engage with Palestinians. You don’t have this kind of friction in Tel Aviv – it’s kind of frictionless.”

“In Hebrew, there is an expression: ‘lihiyot im v’lehargish bli.’ It means being with and feeling as if you are without,” Barkan said. “This is what the Tel Aviv bubble is all about.”

Rona Temkin seemed to confirm Barkan’s analysis as she acknowledged she hadn’t really been following the Dawabshe story: “Tel Aviv is like a different country – like another country inside Israel.”

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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30 Responses

  1. a blah chick on September 2, 2015, 2:18 pm

    “Tel Aviv is like a different country – like another country inside Israel.”

    Actually it sounds like the rest of the country…clueless.

  2. Kay24 on September 2, 2015, 2:20 pm

    ““So apparently they haven’t done a good job,” he said. “But listen, it takes time. I can’t blame them [the police]. I trust them and I think they are doing a great job.”

    It is obvious that when it comes to apprehending their criminals, it “takes time”, whereas any time a Palestinian is involved, they overreact, use excessive force, against ALL Palestinians, and not one, but hundreds are arrested. Other Palestinians also pay for it by having their homes attacked and destroyed. Goyim must be treated badly and unfairly eh?

  3. ritzl on September 2, 2015, 2:50 pm

    The Israeli “left” has rendered itself completely irrelevant. I guess that’s why “bubble” is such an apt description.

    But here’s a perfect opportunity to reverse some of that slide. The Duma murders had even this psychopathic Israeli government rocked back to the point of calling it terrorism and vowing to find the perps (i.e. they didn’t dismiss it out of hand) in response to real global disgust. There’s real pressure to be tapped in that disgust and real credibility to be recouped by doing so. Even within Israel.

    The Israeli bubble-left could reassert itself, or at least take a step back from its vanishing point, by harnessing some of that donestic and international disgust by relentlessly pursuing justice for the Dawabshes. By making a campaign out of it, and most importantly, shedding their impotence by seeing it through to its realization.

    It won’t.

    Since no action by the bubble-left is a given, it would be interesting to get a glimpse into “why” none is forthcoming. Why does the Israeli left (and its counterparts internationally) WANT to be impotent? What kind of person and/or movement makes impotence its GOAL?

    Not that any of this matters in the least, the outcome is known here. But some future lefties starting down this path toward impotence without knowing it is the path to impotence might actually choose a more effectual path if someone told them beforehand that impotence was invariably where the path of least resistance ends. The rest can be identified as handwringing, time/energy-wasters and ignored accordingly.

    • italian ex-pat on September 2, 2015, 5:50 pm

      I fail to understand the reasoning that an Israeli has to be on ‘the left’ in order to be horrified by the arson attack in Duma which left a baby and his father dead, and the mother and the other child terribly burned over most of their bodies. While time and medical treatment may heal the physical wounds, the psychological damage will be permanent. What does it matter whether one is politically left or right, it should be irrelevant in the face of such a heinous crime, anyone with a heart should want to see justice done, right? Right?

      In the days after the story first broke, I predicted that the culprits would never be found, in spite of the government’ assurances that they would use all their resources in their hunt for them.
      Frankly, I didn’t believe them for a moment. Of course they were shocked by this act, obviously committed by one (or more) of their own – I mean, how is this gonna make Israelis look in the world’ opinion? But eager to catch those responsible? Not so much. Certainly not eager enough to turn the settlements upside down as they did the WB when the three Israeli boys disappeared. Much better to let the case go cold, in time the world will forget, just like those TelAvivians who have already put it out of their mind, if it was ever there at all. Funny how they can recollect every gruesome detail of some violent crime committed by Palestinians eons ago, but have managed to erase the Duma attack from their collective memory in less than a month.

      • a blah chick on September 2, 2015, 6:13 pm

        They don’t care because there’s no pressure for them to care. No matter what they say or do the aid keeps flowing, the politicians keep beating a path to their door, legislatures in Europe and North America keep trying to stifle any sanctions. That’s why they are obsessed with BDS. It’s not because it is hurting them, it’s because they are not use to being held responsible for their actions. They don’t like that.

      • ritzl on September 2, 2015, 6:49 pm

        italian ex-pat, they don’t have to be lefties to be shocked. That was part of my point. That broad-spectrum shock exists and can be exploited. But as you point out, few in Israeli politics are going to to do that. The ONLY ones who MIGHT do it are on the left. Hence the opportunity for the left to doggedly regain some relevance outside their bubble and do good in the process.

        The other part of my point was that no Israeli faction is going to make a big deal of the Duma murders by Jewish terrorists. That includes the “left.” They consciously declined to pursue justice in Duma, even despite its acceptance as a “justice-worthy” event among Jewish-Israelis, and therefore consciously opted for irrelevance.

        The Israeli center-right is psychopathic/genocidal and the center-left has made worthlessness (and as this article implies, self-congratulatory, back-slapping, “What, me worry?”, worthlessness at that) a political goal.

        The rest of my comment was just circuitous whining about wasting any time or energy trying to take the Jewish-Israeli “left” seriously (in the assumption that there is some vestigial thing remaining that might yet be rekindled and taken seriously under the right circumstances sometime in the future). The same applies for their libzio shadow supporters outside Israel. They will never, ever play to win. They will play only to say they played.

  4. diasp0ra on September 2, 2015, 3:16 pm

    “I trust them and I think they are doing a great job”

    This question shows who the ruling class of any society is. Just ask them if they trust the police. The ones benefiting from institutional discrimination and the status quo are usually the ones that trust the police -they protect their interests.

  5. Michael Lesher on September 2, 2015, 9:54 pm

    The cruel truth, I’m afraid, is that the publicity granted a handful of exceptionally horrific crimes like the Dawabshe arson attack is actually part of the system of denial. The government and media indulge an orgy of hand-wringing, a settler or two may pay some sort of penalty, and after a while everything returns to “normal” — with the liberal class reminding itself that good Israelis (unlike other people, one supposes) do get upset when they read about a family being torched. All the while, of course, the occupation goes on, its daily outrages undisturbed. But everybody’s moral quota has been filled for a while — so nothing need be noticed.

    To be taken seriously, the Israeli left — what’s left of it — should be seizing on such outrages precisely to insist that these should NOT be the focus of activism. They are just the inevitable crests topping a long and sinister tide. Ignore the tide and you’re wasting your time (and everyone else’s) wailing over the occasional crest.

    • Susan A on September 4, 2015, 9:45 am

      “They are just the inevitable crests topping a long and sinister tide. Ignore the tide and you’re wasting your time (and everyone else’s) wailing over the occasional crest.” Excellent way of putting it.

  6. Marnie on September 3, 2015, 12:19 am

    Its hard to believe the cluelessness (or feigned cluelessness) and lack of suspicion of government and police in this country. I don’t know where the propaganda about Israelis being free thinkers came from as most seem in lock-step with authority. There seems to be no challenge to it and I’ve said before, the young people (high school/college) are the least inquisitive group of all, with the most to lose.

    • ritzl on September 3, 2015, 10:41 am

      Somebody commented here a while ago that Israel is the most totalitarian state in history. Probably so.

      There’s no state coercion involved to get total popular buy-in for these racist, murderous policies. No secret police running around arresting Jewish-Israelis in the middle of the night, never to be seen again. Everybody just…. believes.

      Pristine, voluntary, malevolent group-think, with nukes.

  7. ivri on September 3, 2015, 9:02 am

    Mr. Dan Cohen, how naïve would one want to be? In this region (Syria, Iraq, Kurds, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Beirut,….) and this world (e.g. the immigrants scenes from Europe) – who do you think has a minute to spare for an incident with a single casualty? Isn`t the fact that is caused an uproar in Israel itself when it happened already something special? Manifesting the immense gulf in human-rights attitudes between the State of Israel and many others in the world (not just its neighbors), which is in stark contrast to the relentless defamation and demonization campaign of Israel by the latter and their supporters.
    Did you really expect that Tel-Aviv, the vibrant de-facto capital of Israel – presently the local superpower of the region – and an international hub would stop because of that?
    I refuse to believe that you believe so

    • Michael Lesher on September 3, 2015, 11:45 am

      I believe Mr. ivri has proved my point (above).

      • Kris on September 3, 2015, 4:15 pm


      • zaid on September 3, 2015, 10:34 pm

        Speaking of Syrian Refugees, why isn’t israel taking in any syrian immigrant (unlike Turkey,Jordan and lebanon)?? is it because the don’t belong to its favorite race?

      • Susan A on September 4, 2015, 9:47 am


    • John O on September 3, 2015, 3:46 pm

      Once again, ivri, you compare Israel to countries like Syria and Iraq, claiming that Israel is better than they are. It may well be true, but it still doesn’t get Israel out of the gutter when it comes to human rights abuses. Try comparing Israel to Ireland or Iceland or Italy and see what the result looks like.

      • ivri on September 3, 2015, 4:45 pm

        @John O
        Firstly, I did refer in my comment above to Europe too (and then don`t forget that there are also other countries on the planet e.g. China or Russia). But the main point is that Israel`s circumstances puts it apart from European countries in their present situation (are at peace now). But what about Europe in just 70 years ago (WW2) or a hundred years ago (WW1) – when it was their fate to be in tough circumstances? How exactly did European countries behave then (and beforehand throughout a whole millennium)?

      • Kris on September 3, 2015, 6:59 pm

        Certainly there are some obvious parallels to one European country, ivri. Pogroms, lebensraum, racism, extreme nationalism, occupation, resistance, Warsaw/Gaza ghetto, even the creepy accents:

  8. oldgeezer on September 3, 2015, 6:41 pm


    You really won’t like a comparison between Israel and Europe of 70 years ago.

    I don’t do that but I am shocked you are asking for it.

    • ivri on September 4, 2015, 8:10 am

      @ kris and oldgeezer
      Back to the one-trick pony of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany? Can`t blame you though, when nothing else remains in the kit…

      • ivri on September 4, 2015, 8:21 am

        Sorry I was depreciative -it is actually a 2-trick pony!
        I forgot for a moment the other favorite parallel: S. Africa and Apartheid…

      • Susan A on September 4, 2015, 9:50 am

        And it was not a’single casualty’ either.

      • Kris on September 4, 2015, 11:15 am

        @ivri, apartheid South Africa isn’t in Europe.

      • oldgeezer on September 4, 2015, 11:46 am


        I didn’t make a comparison even though specifically requested one.

        As you have noted in this same thread Israel is the sole superpower in the region and is surrounded by a series of fractured states which do not pose it any threat as to it’s existence albeit certain groups may pose a threat to some individual Israeli lives through small scales attacks in response to Israeli occupatio, oppression, and land theft.

        Go ahead and make your case about Europe in similar circumstances and be specific as to the countries in doing so. I could use a good laugh at your delusions.

  9. montereypinegreen on September 3, 2015, 11:08 pm

    Isaiah describes the women of the Israel of 2600 years ago: “The LORD says, “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” (Isaiah 3:6)

    Except for the ankle bells, I think he could have been talking about Tel Aviv today. “Plus csa change…”

    • ziusudra on September 4, 2015, 6:43 am

      Greetings Monterey……….
      ……Women of Zion…….
      Don’t compose history, just stick to the Tanakr.
      Jerusalem was still called by the Canaanite term: Shalim; Goddess of Twilight. Zion, Canaanite for Hill
      Shalim on Zion =later Jerusalem on Hill.
      Pssst, did you notice that it’s Salem & not Shalom.
      Jerusalem was named by the Egyptians & Arameans before the freed descendents travel from Bayblon in 520BC to Shalim finding it now to be Jerusalem.

      • montereypinegreen on September 4, 2015, 9:38 am

        I stand by my comment; I was not “composing” anything. “Women of Zion” is the translation of the term used in the Bible (“New International Version”), not mine. I do not speak Hebrew and in any case, this conversation here is in English. I used the words “women of Israel” to denote the women of the modern area because that is the area I am talking about now; upon reflection, “women of Palestine/Israel”might have been a better term, except that I wasn’t talking about Palestinian women.
        And since the article talks about Tel Aviv specifically, I saw no reason to mention Jerusalem at all. NO translation of the verse into English translates “women of Zion/Sion” as “women of Jerusalem.”

  10. Boomer on September 5, 2015, 1:59 pm

    Following the biblical wisdom:

    “Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”

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