August 4, 2015

“Rush to Judgment”

In the early hours of last Friday morning, in the Arab village of Duma, in Samaria, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a home, causing a fire that killed a toddler, Ali Saad Dawabsha, and severely injured three members of his family.

A man shows a picture of 18-month-old Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha who died when his family house was set on fire by alleged Jewish extremists in the West Bank village of Duma on July 31, 2015. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

A man shows a picture of 18-month-old Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha who died when his family house was set on fire by Jewish settlers in the West Bank village of Duma on July 31, 2015. The Palestinian toddler was burned to death and four family members injured in the arson attack on two homes in the occupied West Bank. AFP PHOTO / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH
A man shows a picture of 18-month-old Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha who died when his family house was set on fire by Jewish settlers in the West Bank village of Duma on July 31, 2015. The Palestinian toddler was burned to death and four family members injured in the arson attack on two homes in the occupied West Bank. AFP PHOTO / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH

Graffiti spray-painted on the wall led to the wide-spread assumption – in some cases tentative and in others not so tentative – that it was an attack by Jews: the graffiti consisted of a Jewish star and the Hebrew word nekama, which means “revenge.”

A Star of David and the Hebrew word ‘Revenge’ are spray-painted on the walls of a Palestinian home which was burned down by arsonists on July 31, 2015 in the Palestinian village of Duma, near Nablus (Zacharia Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights)

Credit: Zacharia Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights

Elsewhere on the wall was written, “Long live King Messiach” (HaMelech HaMoshiach):

The Hebrew phrase ‘Long live the king messiah’ is spray-painted on the walls of a Palestinian home which was burned down by arsonists on July 31, 2015 in the Palestinian village of Duma, near Nablus (Zacharia Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights)

Credit: Zacharia Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights

Author and academic Daniel Gordis, whom I quote here only by way of demonstrating a particular perspective, wrote, “it is almost universally assumed that the attack was the work of right-wing Jewish nationalist extremists.” Certainly Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reflected this assumption when he declared, “We intend to fight Jewish terror with determination and without compromises.” But I would not call this assumption “almost universal” (more below on this).

What has been widely suggested is that the perpetrators were “radical settlers” from a nearby Jewish community – with “settler,” in this context, a pejorative. The fact is, however, that there are as yet no suspects who have been identified.


The shock and horror that ran through Jews in Israel on receiving the news of this attack was multilayered. The situation is complex and should not be viewed simplistically.

There was, first, a stunned sorrow, on learning that a baby had been destroyed, that a family had been attacked in their home. This simply should not happen. No matter the circumstances. No matter the perpetrator.

But then there was the difficulty of taking in the fact that it may have been Jews who did this. Jews are not supposed to behave thus. It felt – a gut reaction – as if such an act demeaned us as a people, shamed us. The question that haunts: Is this what we have been reduced to?

The answer, of course, is no, for “we” collectively, “we” who mourn and condemn such acts, know that this is not the way we are as a people. This is not what we condone.

I think Prime Minister Netanyahu set a proper tone after the news broke. Without pointing a finger, he spoke of the “horrific, heinous” crime that is “a terror attack in every respect,” and declared that “the State of Israel deals forcefully with terror, regardless of who the perpetrators are.” The meaning here was clear. The Israeli government, he said, was “unified in its fierce opposition to these awful, base acts.”


Subsequently, the prime minister went to visit members of the Dawabsha family in Tel HaShomer Hospital. There were demonstrations to register opposition to terrorism; rabbis who spoke out forcefully against use of violence for resolving societal problems; editorials that decried what our society was in danger of becoming and demanded communal soul-searching.

And so, there was a way in which it was possible to say, you see! We have demonstrated that this is not what what we are! We have demonstrated among ourselves and before the world that we are different. We stand against violence.

And yet there was a point at which all of this ceased to resonate positively with me. There was too much breast-beating, a tone that echoed a sort of communal guilt that was not appropriate. Because, damn it, we ARE different, and should be secure in that knowledge. Condemning the terrorism implicit in burning a baby, whether done by Jews or not, is one thing. Assuming that our whole society is on the verge of condoning terrorism – or is generating a terrorist mentality – is something else.


For me, the heart of the difference between our Jewish Israeli society and that of the Palestinian Arab society lies in the different responses to suffering in the face of violence. The Arabs call for vengeance – more violence (and I will come back to that), while we come together to pray and speak about building in the name of the murdered victim. (And for this we are roundly criticized, are we not?). This difference is evident on the face of things, for all those with eyes to see.

In another context, columnist and author Ruthie Blum commented today, with considerable clarity, that when Palestinian Arabs commit terrorist attacks, they are being called “lone wolves,” but when a Jew is a terrorist – or commits acts of great violence – it is somehow said to be the fault of the whole society.


There are Jewish victims of Arab terrorism who were also deeply unsettled by what was they saw happening. Why the official rush to attend to the Arab victims of a terror attack? they ask. Was our suffering any less important? Any less worthy of attention?

“Adva Biton, whose daughter Adelle was murdered in a terror attack, told Arutz Sheva Sunday that the government’s concern for the murder of a one-and-a half-year old baby in the Arab village of Duma last week was touching, but perhaps a bit hypocritical.

“’I don’t recall President Rivlin, whom I have great respect for, visiting my daughter in the hospital after she was struck by a rock. I don’t recall him calling for a public protest when Adelle was attacked. Something is wrong here.’ Neither, she said, did Prime Minister Netanyahu visit her in the hospital…

“’Daily we see incidents, many of them serious, in which Jews are attacked in Judea and Samaria,’ said Adva Biton. ‘We never hear about these things in the media. I truly regret the attack last week, obviously it was a terrible thing. But what about us? Here they are blaming all the religious Zionists for this murder, but I am the victim of a murder too.’”

Adele Biton, Courtesy Biton Family

Adva is precisely correct. We have gone through a horrendous year, with a large number of attacks by Arabs, little noted by the world. While I, living in western Jerusalem, bought a pepper spray, in case. This is the classic man-bites-dog vs. dog-bites-man scenario.


Add to this the way in which our political adversaries and enemies chose to use the terror act in Duma to attack Israel. And in which leftist Israelis sought to use this as a weapon against “religious Zionists,” “nationalists” – representing them as violent crazies who must be restrained.

The so-called “Rabbis for Human Rights” (which is shorthand for Rabbis for Arab Human Rights only) irked me greatly. You may have noted that the pictures of the graffiti were put out by this group. A field worker for them, the very same one who took the photos, said that this ‘terrorist action” was “one of the more heinous ones that has occurred in the West Bank.”

Really? I thought. What about what was done four years ago to five members of the Fogel family, murdered by Arabs while they slept in their home. The perpetrators – monsters! – declared themselves proud of what they had done, which included mutilating the body of the Fogel’s two-month old baby. (Which fact gave me nightmares.) Don’t remember Rabbis for Human Rights speaking out on this most horrendous attack – but then, the Fogels were “settlers” of a religious orientation.

And the murder of the three boys – Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shayer and Naftali Frenkel – by Arabs last year was not heinous? They were shot in cold blood. Just because. But they too were religious, and studying in Judea.

What about Shalhevet Pass, ten months old, who took a fatal bullet to her head some years ago, when an Arab sniper deliberately aimed at her. Her religious family was in Hevron.


As for the EU, I know full well that we can expect no fairness from them. And still, their response to this incident was vile:

“The Israeli authorities should … take resolute measures to protect the local population. We call for full accountability, effective law enforcement and zero tolerance for settler violence,” declared a spokesperson for Federica Mogherini, head of foreign policy for the EU, in a prepared statement.

When, ever, did you hear an EU spokesperson say to Abbas or other PA leaders that it was time for them to take full accountability for the violence visited upon Jews by Arabs living in PA areas? When did they demand zero tolerance for violence? Rhetorical questions, truly. The EU continues to defend the PA and its right to a state, even as the PA pays “salaries” to terrorists in Israeli prisons, and names streets after terrorists. The EU does not see fit to predicate support for the PA on its accountability with regard to terrorism, never mind demanding “zero tolerance” for Arab violence. And yet Mogherini’s spokesperson had the gall to speak about protecting the local Arab population.


Abbas, meanwhile, imagined he could utilize this situation to make political points and weaken Israel: He called for an ICC investigation into what happened.

And then there was Hamas: I alluded above to the fact that the Arab response to violence is revenge, with more violence. And this is precisely what we saw from Hamas, which declared that “Every Israeli is now a legitimate target.”

If there was any protest against this attitude, either by the EU or Rabbis for Human Rights, I seem to have missed it.

And sure enough: There were Molotov cocktails thrown at a moving car near the Beit Hanina intersection in Jerusalem yesterday. The car was completely destroyed and a woman within the car was taken to the hospital with burns; two others that the car struck were also injured.

Credit: AFP


And I come to the final issue: certain facts that I have encountered seem to cast doubt on the likelihood that it was Jews who killed Ali Saad Dawabsha.

I take care to qualify my remarks: in the end it is still possible that it was Jews who committed this terrorism. But what must be understood is that there is absolutely no reason to believe with any degree of certainty right now that this is the case. A healthy dose of skepticism and an open mind are required here, if justice is to be done.

Consider this along with me:

Hillel Fendel wrote an article in Arutz7 yesterday, in which he describes a visit to pay a condolence call to the family in Duma. With one exception, those who went to offer condolences are on the far left. The exception was Yonadav Tapuchim who wrote about it on Facebook:

“When we arrived at the village, we were surrounded by Arab photographers. We were informed that the original plan had been changed, and that before visiting the actual mourning family, we would first see the burnt houses. Thus, a bunch of Jews with the heads held low were photographed near and in the burnt houses and the Hebrew graffiti there. A representative of the family and the village then gave a short speech (‘the settlers should expect the worst!’ he warned). We were then told that actually the village is quite up in arms and that it would not be convenient for us to actually comfort the mourning family, and that we had better leave fast.

“I and others felt that this whole thing was a media trick to get the ‘Yahud’ [Arabic for ‘the Jews’] to take part in a humiliating set of photos near the buildings, and that they had never planned to allow us to come in contact with the actual family.”

Fendel mentions (emphasis added) that “there have been reports of an ongoing, 18-year feud between two clans in Duma that might be related to the murderous arson.” “Revenge” might well apply to a feud, might it not? With the Jewish star thrown in to redirect attention.

What Tapuchi did feel was that there was something suspicious about the nature of the alleged arson, with “curious aspects” in the story.

“I would start with the fact that the two houses [an empty one was also firebombed] are located in the center of the village, and that in order to get there we had to travel a number of minutes from the entrance. Duma is spread out over a gigantic area, and the houses are situated at the end of a winding road, among fences and yards.

“I would start with the fact that the two houses…[an empty one was also fire bombed] are located in the center of the village, and that in order to get there we had to travel a number of minutes from the entrance. Duma is spread out over a gigantic area, and the houses are situated at the end of a winding road, among fences and yards.

“According to the Duma version, the attackers burnt one house, then saw that it was empty, and so they went to set fire to the next house. The second house is enclosed by a fence, and the windows are covered by a dense lattice; a firebomb cannot be hurled through the windows, and in any event it is very hard to reach the windows behind the fence….”


Most of the time, when terrorists enter a village, they aim for attack on the houses close to its periphery. Such attacks are random in nature – the Fogel family, for example, was, to the best of my understanding, just in the wrong place, not singled out specifically for attack.

The logical question here is why Jewish terrorists would have taken themselves way into the center of the Arab village, where the chances for being seen or apprehended were much greater, rather than staying on the periphery. After all, presumably, the intent was to hit “a” family, not to target any particular family.

But if the terrorist belonged to a clan that is feuding with the Dawabsha clan, then there would indeed be a specific family that had been targeted. And a specific reason for going so far inside the village. What is more, if the terrorist belonged to a feuding Arab clan, then he was, according to the report shared by Fendel, already a resident of the village and not someone who had to make his way from the outside.

Food for thought.


Keeping this report in mind, let us then carry this one step further:

On the front page of today’s hard copy Jerusalem Post, there was a feature story about the family that owned the empty house that had been firebombed. They were supposed to be in the house that night, but were delayed in Nablus. And guess what? Their name is also Dawabsha – they are cousins to the family that was attacked. How about that?

Was this truly random then? An attack by Jews from the outside? Or an attack by people who knew and were after members of the Dawabsha clan specifically? Reasonable questions.

What was explained by Emam Dawabsha is that the arsonists “torched the backroom of their home where they typically slept on hot summer nights.”

So then, one last question: Was it simply a random act by Jewish terrorists, who happened to torch the room where this family would have been sleeping even though it was at the back of the house? Or was the attack by people who knew full well where the family was expected to be?


One final observation here, for now (although more may follow – there is so much to say!): Some commentators have taken a close look a that “HaMelech HaMoshiach” graffiti. Clearly, it suggests, or is deliberately designed to suggest, a “radical religious settler.” However, this specific term is directly associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement today. (If you doubt it, Google it and you will see.) But Chabad – probably the most open and moderate of hassidic groups – is really not likely to be associated with terrorism. Was this term written by a radical religious settler? Or by an Arab who wrote Hebrew and got his religious groups just a tad mixed up?


With all this said, in the near future, there may be arrests of Jewish men, said to be suspected of being involved. Of this I would not be surprised at all. For there is pressure for this – a charge on the left that the government is “too lenient” with right wing religious nationalists. In this way does the government seek “credibility.” Perhaps I am wrong and the Jews will be charged and indicted. Or, just perhaps there will be no definitive proof and they will be released.



  1. Here is the letter I wrote and emailed to Mr. Naftali Bennett regarding his apology letter that was published a few days ago in NYTIMES. Your article is spot on.

    RE New York Times article by Naftali Bennett
    Dear Naftali
    Your article unintentionally has given ammunition to the anti Semites in the
    world who know can boast of “Jewish terrorism” and they can point to your
    article and (to Rivlins) as proof that Jews are terrorists too. They know have
    backing for “moral equivalency.” Because you are a spokesman for nationalist
    Zionist Jews, your statement provides tremendous support for their positions.
    Although I do not live in Israel, your apology for Jewish terrorists and your
    acknowledgment that there is such a thing called bu that name hurts Jews both
    here and around the world. No doubt I will be told by many that I cannot
    criticize because I don’t live in Israel, but I point out that your remark was
    made to an American paper.
    What I would have much rather seen is the use of a different phrase and a
    recognition that we don’t know who fire bombed that house, and we have seen no
    reports that Israeli arson investigators have determined that the cause of the
    fire was arson rather than some other source. In particular, there has been no
    publicly reported investigation showing that Jews have not been framed for this
    Any Arab could have written those words in an attempt to frame Jews, and let’s
    face it, clan wars between Arabs are notorious.
    Let me ask the question clearly, have Israeli investigators determined the
    source of the fire? And what steps have been taken to rule out the possibility
    that Jews have been framed for this crime?
    Even if this was done by Jews, since we haven’t caught the perpetrators, we do
    not know whether they are part of any organization,or the precise nature of
    their ideology. Therefore it is premature to blame any group of rabbis or
    settlers, or “radicals”. More to the point since we have caught no one, we
    cannot rule out that Jews have been framed for this
    You are a sophisticated business man and are surrounded by intelligent people.
    Why in the absence of knowledge of the identity of the perpetrators, would you
    either apologize on behalf of the Jewish people or blame anyone for this?
    This raises the larger problem: Is every Jew in Israel or in the world for that
    matter directly responsible for the criminal acts of any Jew worldwide. The
    stabber of those Jews at the Gay Pride Parade was an individual crazy. The fact
    that there are rabbis who oppose gay marriage does not make Jews killers or
    permit a pogrom against religious Jews. The evidence is that this man acted
    alone. By what right do we seek out or blame others for this man’s action?
    We do not bear collective guilt. We have been charged with deicide , and with
    poisoning wells, and with every other charge. Our communities have been
    destroyed by anti Semites for the acts of individuals. Our compulsive need to
    beg for forgiveness for acts which we did not commit is a remnant of our ghetto
    mentality. A free people does not apologize for that which they did not do.
    Nor does a free people accept gilt where they are in fact not guilty. The
    truth is that Israel is a tolerant society, and gays are not attacked and if
    they are, the perpetrator is punished.
    Likewise, Israeli society will punish whoever set that fire assuming it really
    was arson. And I would hope that Israeli sosiceyt would also punish anyone who
    sought to frame Jews or anyone else for these crimes. An entire nation does
    not have to apologize for an act of arson by one individual or a small group of
    individuals. We cannot be held to that standard, because no one else is.
    I regret that his comment is so long but the error that you committed it
    writing that NYT article requires a detailed refutation. I promise you that
    the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people are licking their chops when they
    read editorials like yours
    You have done the Jewish people no favors, Mr. Bennett

  2. It is still unknown who torched the home of the Dawabsheh family.
    See picture of the graffiti on the wall of the Dawabsheh home, picture number 6 on
    The calligraphy of the Hebrew lettering is not at all typical of a native Hebrew writer, and is more reminiscent of graceful Arabic calligraphy. The spelling of the Hebrew word had two mistakes, and in effect was NAKMA [instead of NEKAMA]. The form of the word NAKMA is like the form of the familiar Arabic word NAKBA


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