Justice for a Palestinian toddler and his parents killed in an arson attack is still only a remote possibility despite arrests made by Israel, human rights activists say.
Israeli police announced on Thursday the arrests of a “Jewish terror group” suspected of connections to an arson attack in July, in which sleeping 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Dawabsheh burned to death after settlers firebombed his family house in Duma village, south of Nablus city, in the occupied West Bank.
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A police statement did not say how many suspects were in custody.
“Indictments are a rarity when Israeli soldiers or settlers resort to violence against Palestinians and investigations can last for years before being closed, absolving perpetrators of any wrongdoing,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children International – Palestine, told Al Jazeera.
“In a context where impunity is the norm, any number of reasons could see these suspects either walk free or receive lenient sentences. Israel’s record of seldom holding perpetrators of violence against Palestinians to account speaks for itself.”
A week after the attack, Ali’s father, Saad Dawabsheh, died from his wounds.
The toddler’s mother Reham Dawabsheh, 26, died in September, succumbing to third-degree burns over at least 80 percent of her body.
Four-year-old Ahmed Dawabsheh, the elder son, is still receiving treatment after sustaining burns to 60 percent of his body.
“Children and their families increasingly live in villages and towns hemmed in by expanding and often violent settler communities. Attacks on schools, assaults on individual homes, and the physical abuse of children are occurring throughout the West Bank as a result of close proximity to settlements,” added Parker.
“Safe, child-friendly spaces have long been lost to these children. Stationed throughout the West Bank, Israeli soldiers, police and private security firms protect settler populations at the expense of Palestinian civilians. In this hyper-militarised environment, symbolised by the Dawabsheh case, disproportionate physical and psychological violence is inflicted on Palestinian children.
“We’re still a long way away from justice for the Dawabsheh family. It remains unclear how many of the alleged perpetrators will be charged with murder, and from that point we’re months away from a verdict.”
Slow response slammed
The attack was roundly condemned around the world, including by Israeli leaders, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ringing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and saying they must fight “terrorism” together.
The US state department condemned the “vicious terrorist attack” in “the strongest possible terms”, urging Israel to “apprehend the murderers” and calling on both sides to “avoid escalating tensions”.
But Palestinians have slammed Israel’s slow response in finding those who were responsible for the arson attack, saying that the lack of progress in the case is a symbol of an unfair system that discriminates against them.
“With cases like that of the Dawabsheh family, the fact is that arrests don’t always end up leading to proper indictment, or that the sentences given are too light for the crime,” said Amjad Iraqi, the international advocacy coordinator at Adalah, an organisation that advocates for the legal rights of Arabs in Israel.
“One of the key concerns is that any punishment won’t be consistent with the way authorities deal with Palestinians,” he said.
“This case has had a lot of media attention. If there wasn’t [any media coverage], you wouldn’t see a response by the authorities.”
According to the UN, at least 120 attacks by Israeli settlers have been documented in the occupied West Bank since the beginning of 2015.
A recent report by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation, showed that more than 92.6 percent of complaints Palestinians lodge with the Israeli police go without charges being filed.
“In our opinion, the henious crime against the Dawabsheh family is a main factor in the recent escalation of tension in the West Bank,” said Rafat Sub Laban, lobbying and advocacy coordinator at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
“Israel’s policy of ignoring settler attacks against Palestinians and its unwillingness to investigate these attacks and hold perpetrators accountable signifies its complicity with these crimes.
“The delay in these arrests … signifies the impunity that Israel grants to settlers and its complicity with their crimes and terror against Palestinians, and the protection Israel affords to Israeli settlers by hiding their identity.”
Follow Anealla Safdar on Twitter: @anealla