The July attack killed a Palestinian baby and his parents and left another child badly injured.
Duma, occupied West Bank – Ibrahim Dawabsheh woke in the early hours of Sunday morning to the sound of glass smashing, followed by a loud explosion next to him. Immediately he saw the flames, climbing higher at the foot of the bed.
“I pulled the bedsheets away and took my wife out of the room,” Ibrahim told Al Jazeera. “I told her to wake up my family, and so she went downstairs to wake them.”
Ibrahim’s concrete second-storey home stands in the heart of the West Bank village of Duma. It is around 25 metres away from the house where 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh was killed in a horrific arson attack last summer. Both of Ali’s parents, Saad and Reham Dawabsheh, later died from their wounds; only their four-year-old son, Ahmad, survived.
Ibrahim, a relative of the victims, witnessed parts of that attack and is due to be called in mid-April as a state witness in the trial of those accused, including Amiram Ben-Uliel, a 21-year-old Jewish settler living in an illegal outpost near Duma, and an unnamed 17-year-old.
After making sure his wife was safe on Sunday morning, Ibrahim, 24, tried to re-enter the bedroom and salvage personal items, but he was unable to locate anything amid the thick smoke.
He says he then rushed to a window in an adjacent room overlooking the western slopes of Duma, in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the perpetrators.
“I saw two people dressed in black, running away from the house through the fields towards the road,” he said. “I thought about trying to catch them, by cutting them off at the road. I started to run, but Bashar, my brother, stopped me and brought me back to his house.”
In the meantime, a few dozen villagers had arrived at the scene of the fire. With rubber hosepipes, they began to tackle the blaze. Ibrahim returned to his home again, but the smoke made him feel ill.
“I went back downstairs and then I passed out,” he said. “When I woke up, I was in Rafidia hospital.”
Villagers said that they managed to bring the fire under control within 15 minutes, while a Palestinian fire truck came soon afterwards to put it out completely.
Among those who pitched in was Bassam Dawabsheh, Ibrahim’s brother-in-law, who lives across the street. “I heard screaming, so I looked out of my window and saw the smoke and the flames,” Bassam told Al Jazeera. “I was the first to arrive from the village, and the family was already outside and safe.”
He said the scene immediately awakened memories of the arson attack last summer.
“I knew right away it was the settlers who did this, because of the past experience that we’ve been through,” Bassam said. “Everyone in the village feels that they are being targeted. Everyone is afraid that next time, it might be them.”
Israeli police, however, have cast doubt on the allegation that Israeli settlers carried out the latest attack. In a joint statement with the Shin Bet security service, police said on Sunday that “evidence found at the scene of the crime does not have the characteristics of a targeted arson by Jewish perpetrators”, without offering further details. A police spokesperson declined Al Jazeera’s request for further comment.
Straddling both Areas B and C of the occupied West Bank, security in Duma is the sole responsibility of the Israeli army, according to the Oslo Accords. Under that agreement, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) security services are not allowed to operate in these areas.
In the aftermath of last year’s arson attack, groups of villagers set up night-time patrols to try to provide a Palestinian security presence. The volunteer operations carried on for a few months, but slowed down as winter set in.
“We were hoping to reach an arrangement with the PA to provide official patrols at night … but so far we have not managed to reach an agreement,” said Abdelsalam Dawabsheh, 45, head of the Duma village council.
“I am upset and frustrated,” he added. “People trust me and hold the council responsible for protecting everyone here. But we can’t do anything to protect them. Duma is in danger.”
For three nights before Sunday’s arson attack, Ibrahim and his wife said that they noticed strange noises coming from near their home. Huddled under a blanket in the corner of her in-laws’ living room, Yaqin Dawabsheh recalled the fearful, sleepless nights.
“We heard weird sounds around the house. We called the neighbours, but they didn’t see anything. It sounded like people walking, moving around outside the house. When we turned the lights on, the sounds stopped,” she told Al Jazeera.
“I was so scared that I thought about sleeping downstairs, but we checked outside and everything seemed OK, so we went to sleep in our house,” Yaqin added. “On Saturday, we went to bed around nine or 10pm, after the final prayer. When I woke up, I saw that our bed was on fire.”
Sitting on a plastic chair in front of his family’s home, Ibrahim said he believed he was targeted by settlers because he was due to give evidence in the trial next month.
“It never crossed my mind that this was going to happen again. Now, I am preparing myself for the worst. I’m not scared because I believe in God, but I know that it’s more likely that something horrible could happen again.
“No one has offered me any protection, and I’m not even listed as a witness who is supposed to be protected,” he added. “But I’m not scared, and I am still going to testify at the trial.”