You can’t blame the Jewish colonists on the West Bank from believing they can get away with murder. For one thing, they are a privileged class with superior lifestyles subsidised by the state. For another, the ultra-religious are taught to dehumanise their Palestinian neighbours; they think of the rightful owners of the land as little more than inconvenient squatters on the territory the colonists refer to collectively as Judea and Samaria. Whereas they get to live in elevated modern houses surrounded by landscaped lawns and fountains, which are guarded 24/7 at great cost to Israeli taxpayers, Palestinians below struggle to get building licences to renew theirs and suffer from frequent water shortages preventing them from watering their orchards and crops.
Until now, crimes committed by the colonists against Palestinians — beatings, theft of water, destruction of olive groves, mosques and businesses and murders — have passed under the international radar. But a recent arson attack on the home of a Palestinian family in the town of Duma near Nablus, carried out by four as yet unnamed assailants believed to be ‘colonists’ could be a game changer because an 18-month-old infant was burnt alive.
The child’s four-year-old brother and parents are in hospital with burns covering up to 70 per cent of their bodies. Daubed on what was left of the family house were the words “Long Live the Messiah, the King” and “Revenge”. Photographs of baby Ali Dawabsheh strewn over the floor add to the poignancy of a life wasted by religious fanatics.
It’s incomprehensible to me how self-ascribed religious individuals or groups can commit such heinous acts in the name of their faith whose pillar is “thou shalt not kill”. How do they reconcile their consciences let alone their faith with such bestiality? For the first time, not only are Palestinians enraged, but also Israel’s government and representatives of the Israeli army, which are characterising the attackers as “Jewish terrorists” while vowing to bring them to justice. The sad fact is that there’s been an average of 400 attacks by colonists on Palestinians or their property annually in recent years and 85 per cent of assailants detained never see the inside of a courtroom, while those that do receive derisory sentences. Two of the Orthodox Jewish youths who poured petrol over Mohammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager, last year, were allowed to file pleas of insanity. Released by a judge, they promptly went home and played the guitar.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to label the attack as “an act of terrorism in every respect” and, surprisingly, his sentiments were echoed by Naftali Bennett, the head of the colonists’ favourite party Jewish Home who called it “a horrendous act of terror”. Directors of the US-based pro-Israel lobbyist group, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) are clearly embarrassed; they’ve declared that “expressions of outrage” by the Israeli leadership “are no longer enough.”
However, it’s hard to accept Israeli expressions of sympathy for the Dawabsha family, when over the years, the Israeli army, the Israeli Air Force and police have killed hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese toddlers amid a deafening silence from the international community — and, in particular the US which unfailingly stands up for Israel’s right to defend itself. On this occasion, however, the Obama administration hasn’t pulled any punches. The US State Department issued a statement calling on both sides to “maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions” in respect to this “vicious terror attack”.
Such comforting words mean nothing to the Palestinian people. They’ve been abandoned, defenceless, by the world. Their kids get locked up for years just for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers protected by riot gear, while Israelis who murder Palestinians get off lightly. They know that justice isn’t on their side but when they turn to the streets in protest, they are targeted by tear gas, rubber bullets or live bullets. Two Palestinians protesting the killing of baby Ali have already been shot dead by Israeli security forces.
Israel’s colony policies that have resulted in colonisation of the West Bank and the cleansing of Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem are the main obstacles to a two-state solution. The idea put about by Israel that colonists were pioneers set on turning the desert green has been quashed by the rabid gangs terrorising the Palestinian population.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he intends to ask the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate the recent incident as a war crime. “When the Israeli government encourages colonies everywhere, they’re also encouraging these thugs to carry out these attacks. This is a war crime and a tragedy for all of us,” he said.
Netanyahu and his cabinet colleagues need to do more than make feel-good statements. If Israel continues dehumanising an occupied people it will eventually bleed support from its traditional friends. With the advent of social media nothing can be hidden and it’s only a matter of time before it will be made to reap what it’s sowed.
By Linda S Heard
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