By Rania Khalek
02 August, 2015
Relatives carry the body of 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Dawabsha at the toddler’s funeral in the occupied West Bank village of Duma. The boy died and his parents and 4-year-old brother were critically injured when Israeli settlers set fire to their house. (Oren Ziv/ ActiveStills)
The savage burning alive of 18-month-old Palestinian baby Ali Dawabsha in the occupied West Bank village of Duma has elicited energetic condemnations from Israeli leaders.
To anyone paying attention to the widespread expressions of hatred emanating from many quarters of Israeli Jewish society, these stern platitudes are not only unconvincing, they are an obvious handwashing performance meant for external consumption.
It is difficult to find a single Israeli cabinet minister who has not encouraged or perpetrated racist violence against Palestinians, largely because this kind of incitement – and worse – gets them elected.
Ali was killed in the middle of the night, early Friday, when persons, later seen by witnesses fleeing back to the settlement of Maaleh Efraim, smashed the windows of the child’s family’s home and threw Molotov cocktails and flammable liquid inside.
His parents and 4-year-old brother barely survived the attack – they are fighting for their lives with burns covering almost their whole bodies.
An autopsy found that Ali’s “body was completely blackened, his features had melted, parts of his extremities disintegrated from the burns, while parts of the lungs and rib cage had melted,” Ma’an News Agency reported.
Burning children, from Gaza to Duma
The attackers spray-painted a Star of David and the Hebrew words for “Revenge” and “Long live the Messiah King” on the walls of a neighoring house which they also burned – no one was injured in it – leaving no confusion about their motive.
Similar nationalist and racist graffiti was found on the walls of homes occupied by Israeli soldiers in Gaza during last summer’s military assault.
This is just one of many reasons the award for most disingenuous posturing goes to the Israeli army, which issued statements condemning “this barbaric act of terrorism” and vowing to intensify efforts “to locate those responsible.”
The notion that the same Israeli army that protects and allows settlers to harass and attack Palestinians with impunity is going to hold the Dawabshas’ attackers accountable is far fetched.
This is also the army that completely destroyed or severely damaged more than 25,000 homes in Gaza last summer, wiping out entire families sheltered inside, “including nineteen babies and 108 preschoolers between the ages of 1 and 5,” according to an AP investigation.
The only thing that separates the Israeli soldiers responsible for those killings from the settlers who burned baby Ali is a uniform and explicit orders from the state.
Less than 24 hours since vowing to bring the killers to justice, the Israeli army has shot dead two Palestinian teens – Muhammad Hamid al-Masri in Gaza, and 17-year-old Laith al-Khaldi in the West Bank – while the killers of baby Ali remain at large.
From killer to leaders
As for the Israeli officials who rushed to denounce the Duma attack as “terrorism,” all have well-documented histories of engaging in anti-Palestinian incitement. Some have even killed Palestinians themselves and later bragged about it.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the architect of last summer’s 51-day assault that killed 551 Palestinian children in Gaza, responded to the settler attack with a statement that his government is “united in strong opposition to such deplorable and awful acts.”
This is the same man who, following the discovery of the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens one year ago, issued a call for blood vengeance, essentially lighting the match that burned alive 16-year-old Palestinian Muhammad Abu Khudair.
As journalist Dan Cohen observed, it seems vigilante burnings of Palestinian children have become a yearly Israeli ritual.
Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Habeyit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party, said, “Arson against a house in Duma and the murder of a baby is a disgusting act of terror.”
This is the same Bennett who famously bragged, “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there’s no problem with that.”
Perhaps the settlers who murdered baby Ali were following in the footsteps of Bennett, who rose to prominence after playing a key role in triggering Israel’s April 1996 massacre of more than 100 civilians and UN peacekeepers sheltering at a UN base in Qana, Lebanon, during that year’s Israeli invasion.
Over half of those killed in the attack were children.
Had the settlers who burned baby Ali been wearing Israeli army uniforms when they set fire to the Dawabsha house, Bennett would likely be praising rather than denouncing them, much like he did in response to international outrage at the Israeli massacre of the four Baker boys on the beach in Gaza last summer.
Appearing on CNN at the time, Bennett accused Palestinians of “conducting massive self-genocide” to make Israel look bad.
Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon referred to the killing of baby Ali as “horrible terror attacks that we cannot allow” and promised to “pursue the murderers until we bring them to justice.”
This is the same Yaalon who guaranteed that Israel would not hesitate to kill Palestinian and Lebanese civilians including children, if it felt it had to, in any future war between Israel and its neighbors.
Like most Israeli leaders, Yaalon has a pattern of engaging in violent incitement and of acting on it.
During his stint as Israeli army chief of staff, he likened Palestinians to a cancerous threat that can only be eliminated by “applying chemotherapy.”
If the murderers of baby Ali are anything like Yaalon, they will evade justice and advance their careers while doing it, as Yaalon has successfully done time and again despite his participation in war crimes.
In Israel, killing Palestinians and advocating for genocide builds political careers.
Violent demagogues occupy key positions in government, not in spite of their anti-Palestinian incitement or the killings they have perpetrated, but because of them.
After endorsing a call last June for Palestinian mothers to be slaughtered in their beds to prevent them from birthing “little snakes,” Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked was rewarded by being appointed justice minister.
Killings babies permitted
Eli Ben-Dahan, the settler rabbi in occupied East Jerusalem who decreed that “[Palestinians] are beasts, they are not human,” is Israel’s recently appointed deputy defense minister.
He is now in charge of the “Civil Administration,” the name Israel gives to the military body that rules Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
It is no accident that clerics like Ben-Dahan have been largely silent about baby Ali. After all, they inspire an extreme messianic, eliminationist version of Judaism that drives settler violence.
Two of the most notorious are Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, who in 2009 co-wrote Torat Hamelech (The King’s Torah), a guidebook on when it is permissible to kill non-Jews.
The authors claim that Jewish law permits “killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”
Elitzur and Shapira run a hardline yeshiva – Jewish religious school – in the settlement of Yitzhar, home to some of the most violent settlers, not far from the Palestinian village of Duma.
In July 2014, Dov Lior, a leading West Bank settler rabbi who has endorsed Torat Hamelech, issued his own ruling that the complete “destruction of Gaza” was permissible.
“At a time of war, the nation under attack is allowed to punish the enemy population with measures it finds suitable, such as blocking supplies or electricity, as well as shelling the entire area … to take crushing deterring steps to exterminate the enemy,” Lior wrote.
Israeli settlers, who see themselves in a perpetual state of war against an “enemy population,” would certainly take heed of such clerical guidance.
In February, the Israeli army raided Yitzhar and confiscated weapons that settlers there planned to use against Palestinians, including flammable liquids, tear gas canisters and black face masks.
Despite the horror expressed by Israel’s most prominent politicians, they have yet to utter a word against the rabbis who incite attacks on Palestinians in the name of their extreme version of Judaism.
Meanwhile, this broad ideological spectrum of hate has consequences that extend beyond the settlements.
A recent report by the Coalition Against Racism in Israel revealed a sharp rise in anti-Arab attacks since 2013, which coincided with racist incitement by Israeli elected officials and decisionmakers during last summer’s attack on Gaza and the February elections.
Over the last year, the report documented 237 racist attacks, with 192 of them directed at Arabs, up from 113 in 2013.
This tally excludes settler attacks in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The culture of hate and extremism that led to Ali Dawabsha’s slaying is rooted not just in the settlements, but within the very fabric of Israeli political culture, its discriminatory regime and the Zionism that underpins them.
Politicians that rule a society where Palestinian babies are routinely called a “demographic threat,” and where many joyfully celebrate their slaughter, cannot claim innocence and purport to be “shocked” when settlers burn Palestinian children alive.
Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized