Skip to main content

Palestinian toddler killed, family in critical condition following attack by Israeli settlers

Villagers in Duma woke on Thursday night to the sound of screaming from the Dawabsha family
A man shows a picture of slain 18-month-old Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha (AFP)

DUMA, Occupied West Bank – In the middle of Thursday night, a Palestinian baby was burned to death after a group of radical Israeli settlers hurled Molotov cocktails toward the windows of his house in the West Bank village of Duma. The infant’s five-year-old brother and parents were evacuated to an Israeli hospital and reported to be in critical condition.

A second house was also attacked, however, the family of seven was out of town at their second home in Nablus at the time of the attack, say witnesses who rushed to the scene just before 3am local time and reported catching sight of two Jewish settlers as they fled.

“The village woke up this morning to the screaming of the family,” says Zuhdei Dawabsha, a community leader.

“We’ve had an instance of a car being burnt in this area, but never of a death,” he said in the bedroom of the family where the two boys and their parents slept beside one another. The room is now a pile of charred rubble and still reeks of fire.

The perpetrators are believed to be activists with the ultra-nationalist settlement “Price Tag” group, which declares that every time Israel attempts to hurt the Jewish settlement movement in the West Bank, it will “exact” a price in return. In the past, it has vandalised churches, mosques and the olive orchards and private properties of Palestinians.

On the walls of the home in Duma, they graffitied the slogans, “Revenge,” and “Long Live the Messiah,” alongside a star of David.

The violent attack comes after buildings were demolished in the illegal West Bank settlement of Beit El this week, a move which was almost immediately followed by a government decision to approve 300 more houses in the same location.

Israeli politicians across the board condemned the attack as terrorism on Friday, and demanded that those who carried out the attacks be brought to justice.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the events a "shocking and heinous act of terrorism," and said that he had “ordered the security forces to use all means at their disposal to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice forthwith”.

In the past, though, he has been accused of being lax on perpetrators of Israeli terrorism, and in addition to the Beit El housing plans, announced earlier this week that there would be additional construction in a contested neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.

Mustafa Dawabsha, a native of the village, who like his neighbours was deeply shaken by the death of the toddler, Ali Saad Dawabsha, said this crime went beyond the parameters of the conflict. 

“This is a tragedy not because we are speaking of a child of Palestine, or a child of any other place, at the age of one year he is only a human being,” he said. “We are a village of peaceful people, and this is the first time that something so extreme has happened.”

A Palestinian boy amid the burnt out rubble of the Dawabsha family home (MEE/Shira Rubin)

Duma, a village of 2,000 just north of Nablus where most residents work in agriculture, security or as day labourers in Israel, is considered Area B, controlled jointly by Palestinian and Israeli security forced, though it is surrounded by Area C, controlled solely by Israel.

Unlike the number of Israeli settlements surrounding it, it has no security services or guards at its entrance.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that he intended to request that the attack be investigated at the International Criminal Court as a war crime. Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Israel Radio that "such a crime would not have occurred if the Israeli government did not insist on pursuing settlements and protecting settlers". 

“This kind of criminal activity is justified and encouraged by Israel,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Israeli security forces, he said, have systematically failed to bring violent Israeli settlers to justice, such as in the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, a teenager who was kidnapped and burned to death last year in an incident that eventually snowballed into the outbreak of war in Gaza.

Hamdallah said that the crime was the responsibility of the international community, and promised locals, several of whom waved Palestinian flags superimposed with a picture of deceased Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat, that he would do everything possible to have the crime measured against international law.

“We are demanding an end to settlement activity and the continuous criminal activity of the Israeli occupation,” said Hamdallah.

Mohammad Rashid Dawabsha, a relative of the family in the second house, said that while politicians may visit on the day of mourning, “We know that in two or three days, they will soon forget.”

“We are on our own here,” he said.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.