Burned Alive: The Dawabsheh Family’s Struggle for Justice


Guest post and images by Sedina Sabanovic

Imagine if headlines came in reporting an 18-month-old American boy by the name of James Smith has been a victim of an arson attack after terrorists set fire to his family home. Immediately burning him to death and later killing both parents due to injuries sustained, while four-year-old brother Michael Smith held on for dear life suffering from 60-percent bodily burns. How would the world and the United States government react to this atrocious crime? For starters, the story would not be laid to rest until the perpetrators were found guilty and brought to justice.

Well, it wasn’t the American Smith family who fell to victim-hood of this heinous crime, but rather the Palestinian Dawabsheh family. The infamous arson attack committed by Israeli settlers on July 31st that set ablaze two homes in the village of Duma, south of Nablus City in occupied West Bank, received worldwide condemnation as the direct result of illegal settlement and occupation. 18-month-old Ali immediately burned to death, father Sa’ad passed two weeks later, mother Reham 5 weeks later, and four-year-old Ahmad is still receiving treatment for the burns covering 60-percent of his little body. The identified Jewish extremists have yet to be charged as the Israeli-led investigation proceeds slowly, arguably not proceeding at all. Reham fought for five weeks as she suffered from third-degree burns to 90-percent of her body. Tragically she passed on Sunday, September 6th at the intensive care unit of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. I arrived in Duma on September 8th to pay respects to the mourning village. My heart sunk as we offered condolences to each family member, “Inna Lilah” we said. The air was thick as mourners crammed in the family room with exhausted eyes and sniffling noses as they tried to hold back tears. I was told “you’re not allowed to cry in Palestine”, but holding back tears was inevitable at this point.

Ali’s grandmother looked us in the eyes and said, “please tell the world we’re not bad people, we didn’t deserve this”.

shot-2015-09-24_10-29-28Walking towards the charred home, we were caught in the middle of a child-led protest against Israeli occupation. The primary school aged children chanted with great passion in the name of prevailing justice. I later discovered a group of those children protesting were students of Reham Dawabshehs former elementary classroom. As I continued making my way towards the homes entrance, graffiti greeted the back walls with “revenge” and “long live Messiah” in Hebrew tagged by the settlers. Continuing I was plowed into thick, gusty smokey air as if the fire just recently occurred. The living room was dissipated as I walked by a incinerated tricycle, scorned couches, and burnt pages of the holy Qu’ran scattered across the parameter. The bedroom devastated what was left of my shattered heart. The walls blackened by the flames, furniture unraveled, broken glass and distressed clothing spread throughout the room. I looked down and noticed a crisped cloth-like article beneath my sandal. As I picked it up and took a closer look, I realized it was a t-shirt that belonged to little Ali. It then dawned on me, the Dawabshehs’s burned alive in here.

shot-2015-09-24_10-29-42The rest of the day consisted of testimony’s by the witnesses present during and after the attack. Accounts recalled the settlers beating the Dawabsheh parents as they attempted to flee their home. Reham entered her neighbors home belligerent as her skin melted off her body holding a blanket believing baby Ali was wrapped inside. Sa’ad pulled Ahmad out as the little boy hid behind the door while his father unsuccessfully attempted to rescue Ali before slipping away unconscious. A family member made his way into the room later only to find a fallen dresser laying on top of Ali’s unrecognizable burned body.

shot-2015-09-24_10-32-22I walked away that night torn and angry. MK’s Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint List) blamed Israeli policy for the deaths and said, “the murderers are still on the loose and terror and hate crimes against Palestinians continue to happen”. And that’s just it. Crimes and hatred perpetrated by the Israelis against the Palestinians continue to happen year after year, day, after day. There is no government in the world that receives as much immunity for crimes against humanity like the state of Israel does. The world remains silent after the initial rage settles down. Nothing but “calls” for justice and condemning statements by the international arena are made. No pressure is enacted, no action is taken, no justice is given. And in this way, what’s left of humanity dies along with the victims such as the Dawabsheh’s.

I mean what if it was a British boy named Harry Lewis instead of Syria’s Aylan Kurdi who washed up on the Turkish beach? What if Ali Dawabshesh was an American? Would their deaths then matter? The more I analyze cruelty and abominable acts that occur globally, the more I realize that it’s not the crime that matters. It’s who the victim is and where they are from that entitles them to the level of response or justice given.

Guest post and images by Sedina Sabanovic

Related links:
After Arson Murders, West Bank Village Waits in Vain for Justice
Two Jewish teens indicted for arson attack on Bedouin tent

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Jennifer Baker is the founder and editor of Revolution News - Contact us with inquiries, tips, corrections at - revnewsmedia@gmail.com