Before dawn on Friday morning, Ali Dawabsha, an 18-month-old Palestinian toddler, was burned to death in an arson attack on two homes in the village of Duma in the northern occupied West Bank.
The murder of Ali Dawabsha is not the first time Israeli settlers have burned Palestinians alive.
Given the impunity Israel grants its settlers, what chance is there really that Ali’s killers will be brought to justice?
“We saw four settlers running away keeping distance between each other,” 23-year old Musallam Dawabsha, one of the villagers who tried to assist, told Ma’an News Agency. “We tried to chase them but they fled to the nearby Maaleh Efraim settlement.”
The attackers also left behind graffiti making clear their racist motives: they painted a Star of David and the words “revenge” and “Long live the Messiah King” on the walls.
Ali’s mother is now in critical condition with serious burns over 90 percent of her body. His father has burns on 80 percent and Ali’s 4-year-old brother has 60 percent burns.
Following this horror, Israeli officials from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on down have put on an ostentatious show of condemnation and sorrow and vows to bring the killers to justice.
At the same time, the occupation has begun its collective punishment of Palestinians, moving reinforcements into the West Bank to repress potential protests and barring Palestinians from al-Aqsa mosque in occupied Jerusalem.
It is hard to imagine a more hypocritical display than the crocodile tears of the same leaders who perpetrated the massacre of 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza last year, more than 500 of them children, now feigning outrage at the murder of one more.
Of course the Israeli declarations have a specific goal: to try to paint the killing of Ali Dawabsha as an exceptional act and to obscure the reality that the violence of individual settlers is integral to the structure of Israeli colonial occupation and apartheid.
For Israel this is a mere public relations crisis and the expressions of outrage and “sorrow” are no more than the hasbara – propaganda – prescribed by spin doctors for the current news cycle.
Equally hypocritical would be any condemnations from the US administration of President Barack Obama which regularly boasts about how much it has done to arm and finance Israel and protect it from any accountability.
As the satirical Twitter account @Ask_Netanyahu put it so well:
“A matter of time”
“A burned infant was only a matter of time,” Israeli human rights group B’Tselem declared after this morning’s attack.
“This is due to the authorities’ policy to avoid enforcing the law on Israelis who harm Palestinians and their property,” the group added. “This policy creates impunity for hate crimes, and encourages assailants to continue, leading to this morning’s horrific result.”
“In recent years, Israeli civilians set fire to dozens of Palestinian homes, mosques, businesses, agricultural land and vehicles in the West Bank,” B’Tselem said. “The vast majority of these cases were never solved, and in many of them the Israeli police did not even bother to take elementary investigative actions.”
Impunity and laxness is the norm even in the most brutal and egregious cases.
Just over a year ago a group of Israeli youths abducted and burned to death the eastern occupied Jerusalem teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair.
In that case, Israeli police took their sweet time to find the suspects, despite the fact that they had video footage of their faces and getaway car (first published exclusively by The Electronic Intifada).
It was perhaps only due to the massive international outrage that they bothered to find them at all.
Their case is grinding its way through Israeli courts but there’s little reason to trust a system that treats Israelis who attack or kill Palestinians with exceptional leniency.
This month, two Israelis who burned a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem got a light sentence despite the fact that they were totally unrepentant. On leaving court, they declared that the crime was “worth it” in order to deter Jewish and Arab “assimilation.”
Burned in a taxi
Then there was the case of the family who settlers burned alive on 16 August 2012.
Jamila Hassan, her husband Ayman and their children Iman, 4, and Muhammad, 6, were riding in a taxi south of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, along with another passenger and the driver.
The car was hit by a Molotov cocktail. Ayman and the two children were badly injured. Muhammad suffered severe burns all over his body.
“We are lost, our life has turned upside down. The father, son and daughter are each in different worlds, our life is difficult and miserable,” Jamila told Ma’an News Agency two weeks after the attack.
Muhammad had just emerged in agony from yet another surgery. “He screams from the pain a lot,” his mother said.
At that time too there were Israeli promises of “justice.” But what happened?
Police arrested three minors from a nearby Jewish settlement and told the judge that they had found fingerprints at the scene linking the suspects to the crime.
According to Haaretz, Judge Yaron Mintkevich ruled to keep the boys in custody “with a heavy heart, due to their age” – they were reported to be between 12 and 13.
But in January 2013, Israeli prosecutors dropped the case, citing a “lack of evidence.”
Had they been Palestinian children accused of throwing stones at occupation soldiers, they would have been kept in custody for months, subjected to horrific abuse amounting to torture and forced to confess.
Obviously, that’s not how Israel treats its own settlers who are subject to Israeli civil law, while Palestinians, including children, are subject to Israel’s military kangaroo courts.
Dismantle Israeli apartheid
That built-in colonial inequality is a reminder that the settlers are not the cause, but merely an ugly manifestation of Israeli colonial violence, rooted in Zionism, that is fed from the top.
Who can believe that a “justice” ministry led by Ayelet Shaked – who in her notorious genocidal appeal last year called for the killing of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes” – can do justice for Palestinians?
Perhaps the settlers who burned little Ali to death had taken the words of Shaked or any of the other Israeli politicians who routinely incite against Palestinians in the most extreme and violent terms to heart.
The bottom line is this: the murder of hundreds of children in Gaza last summer, the burning of Muhammad Abu Khudair, the attack that killed Ali Dawabsha are all part of the price Palestinians must pay for Israel to continue to exist and expand on their land as a racist self-declared “Jewish state.”
The only way Ali Dawabsha or any other Palestinian can ever get justice from the Israeli apartheid system is if it is completely dismantled.