While we toured Israel/Palestine with Interfaith Peace-Builders, we woke up to the news on the morning of July 31, 2015 that settlers committed an arson attack on two houses in the village of Duma in the West Bank, burning 18 month old Ali Dawabshe alive. His parents Riham and Sa’ad suffered burns over 80% of their body and his 4 year old brother Ahmed was also hospitalized in serious condition.
Photo by Oren Siv
Things were tense on the ground that day. We witnessed Israeli border police tear gassing children who were throwing rocks over a wall in protest as well as amplified military and police security all around Old City in Jerusalem in preparation for demonstrations set to happen after the mosques let out. On the news, a small picture of Ali’s face stayed in the corner of the screen as a reminder of the shock and sadness over the loss of an innocent child. The death of Ali Dawabshe launched the hashtag #Hewasburnedalive. When I asked a Palestinian family I was staying with at the time if showing martyrs’ faces continuously during broadcasts was normal, they said no, this was just because it was a baby and everyone was upset by this. *Note, Palestinians use the term “martyr” to denote anyone killed by the state, military, or settlers, not necessarily as the West portrays it as “suicide bombers.”
When the delegation ended, we spent a few days in Bil’in and Aqqaba with some Palestinian friends. When our friends from Aqqaba picked us up from Bil’in on August 9th, they offered to take us to the Dawabshe family’s burned house in Duma. We thought we were just driving by but when we got to the village, there was a memorial service going on as Sa’ad Dawabshe, Ali’s father had just died from his injuries the day before.
Our friend Samer offered to translate if we wanted to speak with anyone at the service regarding what had happened. He found Nasser Dawabshe, Ali’s uncle, who agreed to be interviewed, describing what happened on the terrible evening of the attack. He also told us that this was not the first time settlers had harassed the people of Duma. Previously they have burned their olive trees and cars, but this was the first time they attacked homes. Sadly, he also described the horror when Riham, Ali’s mother, brought something out of the burning home thinking it was her young son, but once she looked down and saw it wasn’t Ali, she knew he had died in the house.
After we spoke with Nasser Dawabshe, we were offered a tour of the burned home. We saw the bedroom where the Ali, his parents, and his brother slept when they were attacked.
A Quran that was burned intentionally, was pointed out to us.
Inside the kitchen, a stroller sat with a baby doll wrapped up in a kuffiyeh and Palestinian flag with a white ribbon wrapped around it with the words in Arabic, “He was burned alive” written on it.
The family wants to keep the house as it is so people can see what happened here. When we walked outside of the house, we saw “Revenge” spray painted in Hebrew with the Star of David on the side of the home.
The house right next to the Dawabshes was also burned. We met with the owner who reported that luckily he and his 6 other family members were out of town that night and decided not to come home for some reason. This act potentially saved their lives.
At the time of this writing on September 5, 2015, I learned from my friends in the West Bank that Ali’s mother Riham just died from her terrible injuries. I cannot imagine the pain the Dawabshe family must be feeling right now or how 4 year old Ahmed lost his parents and baby brother all at once. It’s simply unfathomable.
It was heartbreaking to see where a family was murdered, a village in mourning, and a first hand account from a relative. As of now, while some extremists believed to be responsible for the attack were detained, some were released, and to my knowledge, no charges have been filed.