Analysis

Deadly West Bank Arson Surprised No One in Israel's Defense Establishment

The arson on Friday morning in which a Palestinian infant was burned to death was preceded by attempted attacks, which miraculously failed.

Chaim Levinson
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Damage to home in West Bank village of Doma after arson attack leaves toddler dead. July 31, 2015.Credit: AFP
Chaim Levinson

The torching of a house in the West Bank on Friday morning, in which a Palestinian infant was killed, caught no one in the defense establishment by surprise. For two years, the police and Shin Bet security service have identified a pattern of predawn attempts to set Palestinian houses on fire, with the intent of burning it along with its inhabitants.

The first incident occurred in November of 2013 in the village of Sinjil. A house along route 60, the main transportation artery in the West Bank, was set on fire and sprayed with graffiti. By pure chance, a mother who had just woken up to nurse her baby noticed the flames and alerted people in the house, allowing them to escape harm. On two other occasions it was only luck that saved families from being burned alive. This happened in 2014 in Hawara and South Hebron Hills, when several houses were torched in pre-dawn attacks.

None of these incidents led to any prosecutions. In the incident south of Hebron, three suspects were apprehended. They were subsequently released and instructed to stay away from the West Bank and Jerusalem under administrative order.

Torching houses goes a step beyond that of torching mosques. Predawn attacks on mosques pose little danger to people whereas torching a house is simply attempted murder. This is the way the Shin Bet relates to these incidents, taking over the investigation of these cases.

Charges were filed on Thursday against Moshe Orbach, a right-wing extremist. Orbach is suspected of composing  a document that details methods for committing "Price Tag" attacks. Although this term has become short-hand for hate crimes in Israel, Jewish extremists originally used it to describe vandalism and violence that targeted Israelis as well as Palestinians and was aimed at preventing or avenging evacuations of West Bank settlers.

Orbach devotes an entire chapter to torching houses, which he ranks as the most violent option for a "price tag" attack. 

“Sometimes we’re fed up with only destroying property and we want to deliver a blow that will clarify to the accursed that if we could we would. So we simply want to torch a house and its inhabitants” writes Orbach. He explains that “this is an attempt to murder, considered much more gravely by the Zionists.” He says that this is work for professionals “with experience” (written with spelling mistakes in Hebrew). He recommends using a bottle filled with a gasoline-soaked rag (a firebomb), as was the case early Friday morning. He recommends placing burning tires outside the front door, to prevent anyone from escaping.

The assessment is that Friday morning’s arson in the village of Douma was carried out by a group of people who knew what they were doing. The building selected had only one storey; it wasn't a multi-storied one in which people usually sleep on the upper floors. The house was on the outskirts of the village, with other houses nearby. The bottle thrown into the house immediately ignited the bedroom, killing 18-month-old Ali Saad Daobasa and severely wounding his 4-year-old brother and parents. 

The Daobasa family had no time to react before the perpetrators fled the scene. Hundreds of people arrived at the scene very quickly, which destroyed evidence. 

As of now there are no clues that would lead to the perpetrators. The police and Shin Bet hope to rely on collaboration, even with elements in extreme right-wing circles. However, even among those who don’t support such acts there is still a code of silence that stops them cooperating with the authorities, which makes it difficult to collect information even from people who aren't extremists. It is possible, however, that shock over the murder of a baby will lead to the authorities obtaining valuable information.

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