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Brand Israel pretends the burning of a Palestinian baby is the act of extremists

Israel wants us to believe the burning of a Palestinian toddler was done by fringe elements but the reality is that targeting children is woven into the fabric of Israeli society

Israeli settlers in Palestine used petrol to set fire to Palestinian homes in the village of Duma on Friday, burning to death 18-month Ali Dawabsheh and critically wounding and maiming four members of his family. Faced with growing international disquiet, Israeli military spokesperson said, “This attack against Palestinian civilians is a barbaric act of terrorism.” Such forceful repudiation of Israeli terrorism is unheard of, and consequently, some, including the Palestinian Authority, have hailed it as a breakthrough. However, as the overwhelming evidence shows, the military's words are meant as damage control, for international public consumption. It's “Brand Israel” pretending that the killing of a Palestinian child is the act of fringe “extremists,” when the reality is that targeting of Palestinian children is woven into the fabric of the Israeli military and settler movements

In the words of Khaled Quzmar, Director of Defense of Children International-Palestine (DCI-Pal), “Israel's condemnation of this heinous act rings hollow as the state's policies have led to the climate of impunity that makes such violence possible.”

According DCI-Pal, soldier and settler violence claimed the lives of 1895 Palestinian children since 2000, yet there is not a single instance where an Israeli is currently serving time for the murder of a Palestinian child. In contrast, there are hundreds of Palestinian children who languish in Israeli jails, tortured, denied counsel, denied their parents, and placed in solitary confinement, like 16-year old Diyaa, on mere suspicion of having committed offenses.

Less than 27% of all Palestinian fatalities are investigated. Of those, approximately 90% are closed without indictment. According to DCI-Pal, there's only a 1.4% chance of indictment when Palestinian children are murdered by Israelis. Further, in the rare instances where an Israeli is brought to trial, they are almost always acquitted. In the extremely rare cases where conviction occurs, there is little or no punishment. One such rare example (the only one I'm aware of in the last 20 years) is the case of Nachum Korman, a 36-year old settler who went hunting for Palestinian children in 1996, caught 11-year old Hilmi Shusha, beat him, then pinned the boy under his boot and clubbed him to death with the butt of his rifle. The court first acquitted Korman, but after conviction in a higher court, he was sentenced to community service and ordered to pay a fine of $11,000. It took Israeli courts five years to find him guilty, but even then, he got no prison time for bludgeoning a small child to death in front of other terrified children. By way of comparison, a Palestinian man was sentenced to 18 months in prison in a criminal trial on charges of rape for having consensual sex with an Israeli woman, who felt violated after she later learned the man was Arab.

Last summer, after Israeli politicians in the highest offices put out blood curdling calls for vengeance following the murder of three Israeli teens, settlers kidnaped 14-year old Mohammad Abu Khdeir from his village, beat him, forced him to drink petrol and burned him alive. Although the perpetrators confessed to the crime, they have yet to be convicted or sentenced in a trial that has been described as a sham. Likewise, settlers who attacked and set fire to an elementary school in Jalud in 2013 were not brought to justice, nor were settlers who broke into and torched the home of Ruwaida Dar Khalil in Sinjil. In contrast, Palestinian children as young as 12 face up to 20 years in prison for throwing stones at heavily armored occupation vehicles that roll through their neighborhoods.

Among the hundreds of Palestinian children killed last year, two received particular scrutiny. Nadeem Nawara and Mohammad Abu Daher, both unarmed teenagers were shot dead by Israeli snipers. International attention to the killing compelled Israel to conduct an investigation, which promptly found no wrongdoing by soldiers and concluded that no live fire was used. However, forensic evidence, including autopsy and analysis of CCTV footage along with footage from a CNN cameraman left no doubt that they were deliberately killed in cold blood with live fire. The independent investigation was even able to identify the snipers from the CNN footage, but they remain free.

There are too many examples demonstrating a culture of impunity for Israelis who murder Palestinian children. Like five year old Enas Khalil, killed after an Israeli settler ran her over in a car in her town of Sinjil, or 13-year old Bahaa Badr, shot in the chest by a sniper the same week. That number grows exponentially when statistics of the wounded and maimed children are included, like six year old Mousab who lost his right eye to a rubber coated steel bullet. Then there are the hidden traumas, the psychological effects of living under Israel's violent military occupation, which has resulted in a staggering rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among Palestinian children.

Israel is a nation that has on its state payroll rabbis who provide religious authority sanctioning the killing of gentiles, including infants. Its justice minister has called for the genocide of Palestinians, including babies, whom she referred to as “little snakes.” The Deputy Speaker of its parliament laid out a multi-phase extermination plan for Gaza. These ethos are not on the fringes of society. They represent a supremacist majority culture of impunity that sees Palestinian life not only as lacking value, but as a menace.

The burning to death of baby Ali should come as no surprise, nor is it without well-documented precedent. It's just that Israel is trying a new public relations tactic this time.

- Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian-American writer and bestselling author. THE BLUE BETWEEN SKY AND WATER (Bloomsbury, 2015) is her most recent novel.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Relatives carry the body of 18-month-old Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha, who died after his house was set on fire by Israeli settlers, during his funeral in the West Bank village of Duma on 31 July, 2015.

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