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Thousands mourn as West Bank arson victim, mother of slain child buried

Riham Duwabsha was the third victim of the arson attack, which is believed to have been committed by Israeli settlers
The brother of Riham Duwabsha holds Ahmad Hassan Duwabsha, Riham's brother-in-law, as they both mourn the loss of family members (MEE/Abed al Qaisi)

DUMA, Nablus - More than a thousand mourners marched in the streets of Duma, a small village outside of Nablus in the northern West Bank, on Monday morning, as the procession carried the body of Riham Duwabsha, 27, to her final resting place.

Riham died of her extensive burn wounds just after midnight on Monday morning, after fighting for her life for more than a month.

Riham’s brother-in-law, Ahmad Hassan Dawabsha, told Middle East Eye at her funeral that he is devastated to have lost so many loved ones in such an attack.

“No one ever thinks something like this could happen to their family,” he said.

Riham was the third victim of the arson attack, which is believed to have been committed by Israeli settlers. Riham’s 18-month-old son, Ali, was burned alive on the scene, while her husband, Saad, died from his wounds one week later.

The couple’s four-year-old son, Ahmad, who is in critical but stable condition, is the only remaining survivor of the attack.

Ahmad Hassan told MEE, that while he is heartbroken Riham has died, he believes that perhaps it was for the best.

“Maybe it would be better if she lived to be with her son Ahmad, but sometimes death is better,” her brother-in-law said among the thousand others mourning Riham’s death. “The way she was burned, it is hard to think about. I think maybe it is better that she is with Ali and my brother Saad now. She is with them and she isn’t hurting anymore.”

Marchers at the funeral carried Palestinian flags and called for revenge against those responsible for the arson, as members of the Palestinian military headed the procession.

Mourners chanted “God is great,” as they reached the cemetery and surrounded the dug-out grave.

A similar scene was played out for the third time in a little over a month, as family members lowered Riham into the dry ground next to the graves of her husband and toddler.

Said Dawabsha, Riham’s cousin, reiterated Ahmad Hassan’s sentiments, telling MEE that he was comforted to know Riham is with her husband and child.

“I have never seen two people love each other so much,  Saad and Riham were partners meant to be together,” Said said. “I am heartbroken to lose her after we already lost so much, but after seeing her placed next to her husband, it seemed right.”

The attack, which happened in the earliest hours of the morning on 31 July, is believed to have been committed by Israeli settlers who entered the village wearing masks, carrying firebombs and spray paint.

The attackers threw the fire bombs through the windows of two family homes in Duma, torching the homes and killing 18-month-old Ali. The words “Revenge!” and “long live the Messiah,” were spray painted along with a Star of David outside of the home.

Riham suffered third degree burns on 90 percent of her body.

Neighbours said when Riham was recovered she was clutching an armful of rolled up blankets; they said they believed Riham thought she was holding 18-month-old Ali.

Mourners carry the body of Riham Duwabsha, 27, to her final resting place (MEE/Abed al Qaisi)
Mourners carry the body of Riham Duwabsha, 27, to her final resting place (MEE/Abed al Qaisi)
A mother and a teacher

Thekra Khaled Awwad, a student of Riham’s at Coris High School for girls told MEE that Riham was her favourite teacher.

“I feel our school is empty without her,” Awwad said through tears. “She didn’t have a daughter, but she treated me like her daughter, I was always visiting her house while we were on holiday for the summer. I will miss her so much I can’t even say.”

Neighbours told MEE that Riham was known in the village for being a well-educated caring teacher.

Riham’s aunt, Salma Dawabsha, said seeing the children in the village go back to school this year, knowing Riham would not, was heartbreaking.

“Her children were the only thing she loved more than teaching. I just knew that if Riham was here she would be so happy to be starting a new school year,” Salma said, her face red and puffy from crying. “Every time I see the girls off to school I think of Riham. Everything reminds me of Riham and that little baby.”

Salma said when photos of the Syrian young toddler Aylan Kurdi washed ashore after drowning during his family’s attempt to reach Europe started spreading across the media last week, she cried for the entire day.

“All of the village was speaking about Ali that day. That poor Syrian boy was just like our Ali, and he lost his mother too,” Salma said, no longer able to hold back her tears. “They both died because the world has stopped caring about Arabs and Muslims and what happens to us.”

‘We have no closure’

There have been no suspects arrested in relation to the arson.

Ahmad Hassan believes the Israeli government is not taking the search for the culprits seriously.

“It feels like the Israeli government supports what has happened, they have done nothing to catch these people, it seems they are happy for it,” he said.

“We would never do something like this to Israelis, but if we did they would arrest our entire village. But we are humans, not like the people who did this. If [Palestinians] even throw rocks we are shot, or at the very least arrested. These people have burned a family to death and nothing has happened.”

Ahmad Hassan said his family has lived in fear since the attack.

“I am not scared, but my sons take my wife and I from room to room in our house. They don’t want to be alone. I just want to tell them that the bad people have been caught, but I can’t. We have no closure.”

According to documentation by the United Nation’s office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli settlers have carried out 142 attacks against Palestinians and their property since the beginning of 2015.

According to a recent report by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, only 7.4 percent of more than 1,000 complaints it has dealt with in the past decade have ended in indictment.

The family and friends of the Duwabsha family all agree on one thing – they want justice.