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On 31 July 2015, the radical settlers’ hate crimes reached an all-time low. When his family home in Duma was set alight in the middle of the night, the Palestinian infant Ali Dawabsheh was burned alive. The parents of the 18-month-old boy and his four-year-old brother were also severely injured; the father later died. Although some radical settlers have been arrested, the perpetrators of the arson attack are still at large.
“They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses,” wrote Israeli member of the Knesset (Jewish Home party) Ayelet Shaked on her Facebook page in May 2015. She continued: “They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.” This was posted a day before Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair was kidnapped and burned alive, allegedly by six Jewish Israeli youths. The post was shared more than a thousand times and received almost five thousand “likes” on Facebook. After the elections in March 2015, Shaked was appointed the new minister of justice.
“[Palestinians] are beasts, they are not human,” stated member of the Knesset Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan in August 2013. In December of that year, he added: “A Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual.” Ben-Dahan is currently Israel’s deputy defence minister, in charge of the army’s Civil Administration branch, responsible for all non-military aspects—such as planning, building, and infrastructure—of the occupation in Area C of the West Bank. The Civil Administration also maintains the Palestinian population database and is responsible for granting and revoking entry and travel permits for Palestinians.
“Those [Israeli Arabs] who are against us, there’s nothing to be done—we need to pick up an axe and cut off their heads. Otherwise we won’t survive here,”said Avigdor Liebermann (Yisrael Beitenu party) during the election campaign in March 2015. He was Israel’s foreign minister at the time.
These are just three of many examples of Israeli politicians who showed no reluctance to dehumanize Palestinians or advocate violence against them. Radical settlers—Jewish Israelis who, for ideological reasons, live in settlements or outposts on the occupied West Bank— especially seem encouraged by this kind of rhetoric.
Since 2010, the UN has documented between 300 and 400 cases annually of violence committed by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, including at least 120 attacks since the beginning of 2015. In the vast majority of cases, the settlers have not been prosecuted.
There are two systems of law in the West Bank: civil justice for settlers and military law for Palestinians. This leads to significant differences in adjudication. Palestinian suspects are found guilty in 99.74 percent of cases, whereas settlers are convicted in only 1.9 percent of the cases, according to data from the Israeli human-rights organization Yesh Din (“There is Law”).
The Price-tag Terrorists
The sentencing of Nahman and Shlomo Twito, from the West Bank settlement of Betar Illit, was a rare exception. The brothers, aged 18 and 22 respectively, confessed to the hate crime that targeted the famous Jewish-Arab Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem on 29 November 2014. After setting a preschool classroom alight, the brothers spray-painted Hebrew graffiti on the school’s interior walls: “You can’t coexist with a cancer,” “Enough of assimilation,” and “Death to Arabs.” On 22 July 2015, they were sentenced to 30 and 24 months in prison, respectively, and fined 25,000 shekels (about $6600). According to the brothers, the crime was “worth the price,” and they burst into a song after the court session.
The Twito brothers are part of a gang of violent young Jews, called price-tag terrorists. The group, identified by the Shin Bet security service only last year, has the ultimate goal of destabilizing the country, overthrowing the government, and establishing a regime based on Jewish religious law. To promote their goals, they practise “self-sacrifice,” including their acceptance of long prison terms. “Price-tag” refers to the idea that Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank have to be held accountable for every measure the Israeli government takes that the settlers believe to be to their disadvantage.
On 31 July 2015, the radical settlers’ hate crimes reached an all-time low. When his family home in Duma was set alight in the middle of the night, the Palestinian infant Ali Dawabsheh was burned alive. The parents of the 18-month-old boy and his four-year-old brother were also severely injured; the father later died. Although some radical settlers have been arrested, the perpetrators of the arson attack are still at large. They are assumed to be part of the group of price-tag terrorists.
The Israeli government quickly condemned the crime. “The State of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated. “The Government of Israel is united in its strong opposition to such deplorable and awful acts.” Naftali Bennet, the minister of education, added: “They represent no one but themselves. They are terrorists. And just as Israel has done in our previous wars on terror, we will defeat them with all the means at our disposal.” For the first time, these means include “administrative detention,” a controversial measure that was previously reserved for Palestinians.
It was the right way, the only way, for Israeli politicians to respond to this dramatic event, which obviously drew a great deal of attention from the international media. But various commentators accused the government of creating the atmosphere in which such crimes are committed. “Do Israel’s democratically elected leaders bear responsibility for acts of racism?,” asked Israeli journalist Judy Maltz. Her colleague Gideon Levy even suggested that all Israelis are guilty of burning the Palestinian family.
On 8 August, Ali’s 32-year-old father Saad succumbed to his injuries in Soroka Hospital, where he had been treated for second-degree burns over more than 80 percent of his body. He was buried that same day in Duma, next to his son. Thousands of people attended the funeral. The Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas called on Palestinian civilians to join neighbourhood watch groups to protect themselves from “settler aggression.” For now, it is perhaps the West Bank Palestinians’ only option.