Vigilante Effort After a Child’s Death Underlines Stark Change in West Bank

04DUMA-master675 DUMA, West Bank — Early one recent morning, a few residents of this sleepy hilltop hamlet heard that Jewish settlers were hurling rocks at a house. Almost instantly they started posting messages on Facebook, rousing neighbors — then somebody’s brother called a friend, who called his cousin, who called the Muslim preacher, who rushed to the mosque, flicked on a megaphone rigged to the minaret and shouted: “Citizens must gather to repel the settlers!” said Hatem Dawabsheh, a Duma resident, recalling the early Sunday morning episode. “It was faster than Facebook,” he laughed. “Everybody heard it at the same time.” Tens of Duma’s young men headed into the olive orchards, using their cellphones for illumination and wooden broomsticks for protection, hoping their presence had shooed the attackers away. The impromptu vigilante effort underscored a stark change in this West Bank village after Jewish extremists were suspected of firebombing a house on Friday, killing an 18-month-old boy, Ali Dawabsheh, and severely burning his parents and 4-year-old brother. Duma, an isolated village, had long ago found a peaceful accommodation in an otherwise tense area. Its residents helped build nearby settlements, taking jobs in construction, and were not very involved in issues of governance and local politics. But now, with a mixture of anger and ambivalence, they run security patrols — and clash with Israeli forces. With newfound vigor, they loudly criticize their Palestinian representatives, furious that officials co-opted the slain child’s funeral to appear instead as a festival of allegiance to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. Now, some speak of uprising. “Can we explode against the occupation, without exploding against the authority?” asked Mohammad Dawabsheh, 32 (most residents of the hamlet share the same family name). “No. You don’t fix your garden before fixing the house,” he said. But this shift — to lashing out, to vigilante patrols, to vociferously condemning Palestinian governance — is bleeding out across the West Bank amid rising frustration. Weary of conflict after the violence of their second intifada, Palestinians speak of deep unease over the future, and despair with their present. Peace talks have been stalled for years, and Palestinian efforts to hold Israel accountable in international forums — particularly the International Criminal Court — are unlikely to bring results in the near future. The Palestinian government, led by Mr. Abbas, 10 years into what was supposed to be a five-year term, is increasingly seen as neglectful and corrupt. Justice in local courts is equally elusive. The Israeli rights group Yesh Din reported in May that the prospects of a Palestinian complaint leading to criminal conviction are just 1.9 percent. The group, which investigates law enforcement in the West Bank, estimated that 85.3 percent of all investigative files were closed because of “the failure of the police investigators to locate suspects or to find sufficient evidence to enable indictment.” “There’s no clear message to enforce the law and protect Palestinians,” said Ziv Stahl, the director of Yesh Din’s research department. Palestinians “tell us they don’t even want to bother to file with the police, and basically they are right.” In tit-for-tat violence, on Monday, assailants thought to be Palestinians hurled a firebomb into a vehicle in an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem, moderately wounding the driver, who lost control of her vehicle and crashed into another car, said Luba Samri, an Israeli police spokeswoman. Some fear the specter of another uprising is inching closer with each fatal shooting of a Palestinian by Israeli forces — six in recent weeks — and with each attack by extremist Jews. “We throw stones because nobody has guns,” said Moustafa, 18, in the Jalazoun refugee camp, where mourners were holding a wake for a teenager who was fatally shot in a clash with Israeli soldiers on Friday. He and other protesters commented on the situation under the condition of only providing their first names. “If we had any encouragement at all,” said his friend, Amir, 20, “all of us would rise up.” In Duma, the first protest against Israel came on Saturday, a day after the arson attack, when dozens of youths, hurling rocks and burning tires, clashed with Israeli soldiers. “The elders told us to go demonstrate,” said another young man, who sat with his friends at Duma’s elementary school, transformed into a large mourning tent, as Palestinian dignitaries gave speeches, largely ignored by a sweating crowd on a recent blazing summer’s day. “If this happened a month ago, only 15 people would have turned up, and the old people would have told us to stay home,” he said. Instead, the youths have taken up the all-too-familiar pattern of throwing rocks and dodging security forces. Moustafa and Amir headed to a junction near a Jewish settlement, where they were met by another young Palestinian. With a red scarf wrapped around his face, and a rock clutched in one hand, he directed vehicles away with the other. About a dozen other youths waited, projectiles handy, to hurl at khaki-clad Israeli soldiers who shimmered behind a wall of smoke from a burning tire. “I am afraid that such a situation will breed very unpredictable circumstances,” said Basem Ezbidi, a professor of political science at Birzeit University who is currently lecturing at Qatar University. Mr. Ezbidi said Mr. Abbas would move forcefully against any Palestinian attempt to ignite a conflict with Israel, but also noted Palestinians could easily rise up against Mr. Abbas. “The anger is against the authority.” In Duma, Palestinians shrugged when they heard their government planned to file a suit with the International Criminal Court over the arson. “How will it help us?” asked a man who sat with his friends at the elementary school. “They can send all the files they want, but who will protect us here?” The Dawabsheh family were not Fatah supporters; their neighbors described them as Islamists. The grandmother of the dead child, Rihab, 66, described the family as devout Muslims. Her husband was the village’s preacher for 35 years, until he lost his vision, and she learned to read at 59, spending her days reciting the Quran to her blind husband. Yet the villagers also reached out in ways that contradicted their newfound anger, indicating their weariness and ambivalence toward escalation. It suggested the push-and-pull of residents who, unused to the hard politics of Palestinian nationalism, basically hoped for a peaceful resolution to their problems. The group of friends said they intended to present a list of services they needed to the Palestinian Authority-sponsored village council, hoping for a response. The village even hosted religious Jewish Israelis in the funeral tent, showing them the burned-down house where the arson attack occurred. “I feel pain, sadness” said Mordechai Zeller, 35, a skullcap-wearing resident of Maale Gilboa, a religious kibbutz. “I thought of my own children,” he said, as a line of women wearing black face veils and robes walked past. The sight of religious Israelis in other villages would be startling, particularly after such a violent attack, but not in Duma, even in the wake of the attack. The visitors were left alone, even though one of the veiled women who had walked past, Alaa Dawabsheh, 34, said she believed Jews had no place in her homeland. Members of the Dawabsheh family reached out to Israelis: The dead child’s uncle spoke at a rally in Tel Aviv condemning violence, and his grandfather wrote an op-ed for the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth, begging that his grandson Ali be “the last victim of this terror war.” “We are simple people, who pursue and want peace,” wrote Hussein Dawabsheh. “For God’s sake, enough. How much longer? We want life.” Source