In the early morning hours of Friday 31 July 2015, Israeli settlers armed with petrol bombs attacked the home of Saad and Riham Dawabsha in the West Bank village Duma. The fire killed their 18 month old baby boy Ali. Over this past weekend, his father Saad Dawabsha died too, of severe burns.
Why did the settlers do it? Because they can. They want Palestinians gone, and they know that there is no real risk of being held to account for their violent actions. On the contrary, the Israeli government continues to reward them with permission and resources to expand their settlements, while foreign governments, such as the UK, continue to turn a blind eye.
Incidents like this one are not exceptional. As the human rights organisation Al Haq states: ‘Incidents of settler violence against Palestinians – involving the use of live ammunition, other forms of assault, and the destruction and denial of access to property – have intensified in frequency and severity over the course of the last several years, becoming one of the primary concerns for the safety of the Palestinian civilian population in the West Bank.’ Settlers frequently set fire to Palestinian homes, mosques and churches. They also poison water sources and livestock, uproot and burn olive trees, and attack farmers as they are harvesting crops.
When Palestinians attend the funerals of those killed, or hold demonstrations against settlement expansion, Israeli soldiers violently repress their protests, often critically wounding or killing more people in the process. This is how fifteen year old Laith al Khalidi died a few days after the arson in Duma. He was shot in the back by Israeli forces.
Exceptional violence is the norm
Israeli officials would like us to see all of these incidents as unconnected, individual blips in an otherwise smooth picture of a democratic Israel, where everyone is equal and happy. When reports of brutal settler violence do make the news, Israeli officials issue swift and loud condemnations to deflect attention from the larger structural violence of Apartheid that allows for, and depends on, these types of attacks to occur.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu used infant Ali Dawabsha’s murder to condemn terrorism, yet while his PR machine pumped out images of him looking stern and sad, dozens of Israeli military jeeps and more than a hundred soldiers descended on Duma in the middle of the night to interrogate and intimidate residents.
Meanwhile, the UK government took the opportunity to applaud Israel for its public performance of ’regret’, just hours after the UK FCO Minister had praised “the strength of the UK-Israel relationship” while politely suggesting “that the expansion of settlements makes it increasingly difficult for Israel’s friends to defend it against accusations that it is not serious about peace.” Put in plainer language - come on, Israel, at least show some remorse for your crimes every now and again so we don’t look so bad while we arm you and defend your criminality.
UK government’s talk is cheap: time for BDS
Israeli settlements are not an aberration; they are a structural aspect of Israeli settler-colonialism. Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank simply reflects Israeli military attacks on all Palestinians under Israeli control. All of this happening under a regime of Apartheid. So long as the UK continues to arm and do business with the Israeli regime, it is responsible for this violence.
The UK government has a responsibility here, but we know it will not act on its own. It’s why we must continue to push our BDS campaigns. Yes, we have to mourn, and be shocked, and horrified and angry, but most importantly we have to act.