Thousands poured into the West Bank hamlet of Duma for a third funeral over the past five weeks, this time mourning Riham Dawabshe who died Sunday on her 27th birthday from injuries sustained during a settler arson attack on her home on July 31st. Riham’s youngest son, 18-month year old Ali Dawabshe was killed in the firebombing. Her husband Sa’ad Dawabshe, 32, died a week later on the couple’s anniversary, also from wounds inflicted during the firebombing. Although the arsonists left a graffiti tag in Hebrew indicating the killings were a nationalist crime, to date Israel has not charged anyone with the murders.
The Dawabshe family’s lone survivor is four-year old Ahmad who is hospitalized in Israel for second degree burns covering 60-percent of his body. According to No one has told Ahmad both of his parents are dead.
The day after the arson attack Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared it a terrorist crime. He warned a crackdown would come for radical settlers who use violence. “The security forces are doing their utmost to apprehend the assailants and bring them to justice,” his office said today in a statement. Yet Duma’s residents doubt Netanyahu and Israel’s efforts to investigate the case or curb settler assaults.
To Haitham, Netanyahu’s words were “just a trick. It’s just for the media. But what about the truth?”
In the early days after the attack, 12 Israelis were detained, including a ringleader of settler attacks on Palestinians, Meir Ettinger, who has been known to graffiti has name next to his crime scenes. Yet most of these Israelis were let go within days. Palestinians see their release as proof that Israel is not interested in convicting settlers who harm them.
“The environment is negative, you know. We are just normal people living in our houses and terrorism came to us,” said Duma villager Haitham, 25, who asked not to be identified by his last name. Daily Haitham had visited the grieving Dawabshe’s, getting updates on Riham and Ahmad’s recovery. Duma also has a town Facebook page where Riham and Sa’ad’s brothers would posts statuses on in their heath. On Sunday one relative who had visited Riham’s bedside notified the group: an infection that started on grafted skin had spread throughout Riham’s body. Her organs were failing. A spokesperson at Tel Hashomer hospital confirmed the young mother needed several transplants to restore destroyed skin as she suffered from third degree burns on 90-percent of her body.
“I don’t know the future, but what we see right now is that it’s bad,” Haitham said, sitting on a plastic chair in front of one of the few stores open in Duma. He was quick to mention a settler torching of a Bedouin tent outside of Duma weeks ago, and underscored that the killers remain at-large. Since the settler attack, most shops in town shutter before dark. “But it’s also good,” Haitham continued, “to show the young people the situation—so they can do something for their nation.”
Haitham is part of a group of young men who spend their evenings patrolling the streets of Duma, a night guard against future ambushes. While settlers have not entered since the late July firebombing, tensions remain high and were reflected during the funeral where mourners chanted for revenge. A group of students from a nearby girl’s school where Riham taught math also demonstrated after the burial.
The violence has increased over the past few years. In both 2013 and 2014 the Palestinian government logged more than 1,000 settler acts of violence and property destruction. Of those incidents nearly 90-percent of investigations closed without indictments according to the Israeli human rights law firm Yesh Din.
The low conviction rates for settler-criminals and the limited arrests have left Duma’s residents with a belief that Israel will not prosecute the killers of the three Dawabshe’s. In turn villagers, want to take matters into their own hands.
“I hope they [settlers] come another time, to my house,” another nightwatchman, Fadi, 25, said after Riham’s funeral. Fadi also asked for his last name not to be published. He and Haitham, childhood friends and now vigilante guards, agreed they will not hold back if settlers pierce their town again (the Dawabshe home was in central Duma, miles from a main highway). “No one is scared,” Haitham said. He then exposed a switch blade tucked into the font of his pants.
Similarly, Palestinian officials do not believe Israel will fully investigate the Duma killings. In early August the Palestinian government filed a complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which only has jurisdiction if Israel fails to thoroughly try the case in its domestic legal system. “We want true justice, but I doubt that Israel will provide that,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said to reporters on the afternoon his foreign minister submitted the motion.
“There is a culture of hate that has been developing in Israel by supporting settlements and Apartheid,” said PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat, a vocal advocate for bringing Israel to the ICC. “The assassination of the Dawabsheh family reflects the clear connection between hate speech, settlement expansion and the impunity granted to Israel by the International community.”