“We saw the fire eating the house”

“This was the kitchen,” the young man who led my friend Tovah and me to the house told me yesterday as I entered. “The bedroom is in the back.”

The smell of burnt debris penetrated before I had the chance to process what I was seeing. A simple white stucco doorway, charred at the top, led into an interior so thoroughly scorched it was impossible to determine what I was looking at.

I was in the Nablus-area Palestinian village of Duma, where, earlier yesterday morning, Israeli settlers had poured flammable liquid into the window of the home in which I now stood, and then tossed molotov cocktails inside.

The mother (Reham) and the father (Sa’ad) and their 4-year old son (Ahmed) sustained severe burns and are currently fighting for their lives.

Their 18-month old son and brother, Ali Dawabsheh, was burned to death.

The young man led me to the bedroom where the family had been sleeping when the firebombs had been thrown in through the window he now pointed out to me. I stood in the middle of blackened detritus, unsure of whether to photograph, film, or just be in silent witness. I tried to imagine, and then tried not to imagine, the terror that must have gripped Ali’s mother and father when they realized their home was burning around them and their children. I tried to imagine, and then tried not to imagine, the screams of panic that must have emanated. I imagined, and then tried not to imagine, toddler Ali alive, playing, beginning to walk and to talk in this very home whose scorched remains surrounded me.

Hakam Dawabsheh, a distant relative and a teacher in a neighboring village, was one of those who rushed to the house shortly after the blaze began. He had been using internet on his computer at 2:30am when his younger brother alerted him that there was a fire in the village. At first, Hakam assumed it was a grass fire that had grown out of control. Approaching the site of the fire, he heard people screaming that a house was burning.

“We ran as fast as we could, and came here,” Hakam told me, exhaustion and grief etched onto his face. “We saw the fire eating the house.” The parents had already been removed from the inferno before Hakam arrived. But, “[People] said that there is a little boy in [the house.] And many people tried to save the boy but they couldn’t enter the house because of the big fire. And we tried our best but no one could reach the boy.”

Hakam realized that the fire was caused by arson only after he saw the graffiti that had been spray painted on the walls next to the house. “Revenge” and “Long live the messiah.”

“The boy is dead,” Hakam said. “May Allah accept him in the top of paradise.”

Sixteen-year-old Lina, who lives in the house neighboring Ali’s, was sleeping when the smell of the smoke and sounds of shouting and crying woke her. She ran to her roof, where she could see the burning house, the police and emergency vehicles, and her panic-and-grief stricken neighbors. “I was crying,” she said. When I asked her to tell me about Ali, she described him as a kind and sweet 18-month old.

Horrific as this individual incident was, Lina had a point she wanted to make to me, and to the world: violence from Israeli settlers is all too familiar for Palestinians.

“We live this action every day. We want to live. We have children, the same as you. We have people who want to live, the same as you. We are humans, just like you are.  For all those who can hear me: We want to live. We deserve to live…Enough is enough. Enough with war.”

A man from Duma peeks into the bedroom in which toddler Ali Dawabsheh was burned to death

A man from Duma peeks into the bedroom in which toddler Ali Dawabsheh was burned to death

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