No one is put on trial when a Palestinian family is burned alive

Three years before the attack on the Dawabshe family, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a taxi, burning and seriously wounding members of the Riyada family. Despite incontrovertible evidence showing settlers were behind the attack, the case was closed after a two-week investigation.

By John Brown* and Noam Rotem

August 2012. A Molotov cocktail is thrown at a cab, burning an entire Palestinian family. They miraculously survive. Nearby the police find a red bag with a plastic bottle full of gasoline, white latex gloves, and a black lighter with DNA belonging to a Jewish minor from the Bat Ayin settlement.

Despite the evidence, not a single person was ever put on trial for this act of terror, a fact that undoubtedly allows these attacks to continue taking place, the last of which led to the burning alive of 18-month old Ali Dawabshe, his father Sa’ad’s death, and life-threatening wounds for his brother and mother, Ahmed and Riham. “We will do everything to catch those responsible and bring them to justice,” promised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But nothing happened.

The following article will reveal the police’s case file on the burning of the Riyada family — an investigation that lasts two weeks and ends with no results. It is hard to imagine the same thing happening had the family been Jewish. “We did not find evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that proves the identity of the criminal, the investigation will continue,” said the Jerusalem district attorney. But the investigation did not continue.

A photo of the cab carrying the Riyada family after it was firebombed, allegedly by Israelis from a nearby settlement. (photo: Israel Police)
A photo of the cab carrying the Riyada family after it was firebombed, allegedly by Israelis from a nearby settlement. (photo: Israel Police)

In the afternoon of August 16, 2012, the Riyada family got into a taxi in the village Nahlin, in order to take them to the Rami Levi supermarket at Etzion junction. As the cab took a turn near Bat Ayin, a man holding a Molotov cocktail in his right hand threw the petrol bomb with all of his might at the oncoming car. The intensity of the collision caused the gas to spread throughout the vehicle and burn the family, including small children.

The driver continued for a few dozen meters, exited the car, removed the family, and told them to roll on the ground in order to put out the families. An Israeli vehicle carrying a Jewish-American family passed by, however the passengers decided not to stop and help, but rather call the police. Six members of the Riyada family were hospitalized, two of them in serious condition.

Police and army forces arrived on the scene, including an IDF tracker, and quickly recognized the red bag near where the Molotov cocktail was thrown from. In addition, they found tracks belonging to an adult, along with those of two children, leading from the scene of the crime to Bat Ayin, known for its extremist settlers.

As opposed to other cases in which Palestinians are the victims of violence, this time around the evidence was gather quickly and efficiently, and was sent to a forensics lab at the main police headquarters. There DNA samples were taken in order to compare them with those of the suspects. Shin Bet investigators and policemen raided the settlement. Many children and teenagers were questioned regarding their activists, at least one of them younger than 12, often against regulations and without the presence of their parents.

Soon thereafter, three names belonging to children aged 12 and 13 stood out. A number of witnesses claimed that they would often throw rocks at Palestinian cars, and within several days, large police forces broke into their family homes in the early hours of the morning (despite the fact that children can only be arrested after 7 a.m.) and took the suspects in for interrogation.

License to Kill: Stone-throwing while Palestinian could get you killed

At first, two of them gave their version regarding where they were when the Molotov cocktail was thrown. However, from the moment they met with a lawyer from the pro-settler organization “Honenu,” they maintained their silence and no longer spoke with the investigators. Later the children would describe how their interrogators would pull on their headlocks or blow the shofar to provoke them.

The DNA samples taken from the red bag matched that of A., the 12-year-old suspect who lives in the settlement. A report by the forensics lab leaves no room for doubt: A.’s DNA is all over the bottle, its cap, the black lighter, and the bag. The chance that these tests were mistaken is less than 1 in a billion, writes the forensics investigator in a report handed over to the court. There is no room for doubt. The bag did not contain any other matching samples.

A. remained silent during his interrogation. He continued to claim that it was a politically-motivated interrogation. Throughout, several residents of Bat Ayin went to the police in order to provide an alibi for some of the children. Their testimonies are full of internal contradictions, and contradict other alibis given by residents of the settlement. None of them were accused of obstruction of justice, despite the fact that some of them lied to the police.

The investigators tried and failed to find nearby security cameras that may have caught the incident. A.’s cellphone contained a photo of a Palestinian vehicle that was likely taken the previous April, along with photos of Jewish terrorists, photos of Jews that were killed by Palestinians with written calls for revenge, along with materials associated with the outlawed far-right terrorist group “Kach.”

The Palestinian witnesses were interrogated in the hospital. The taxi driver told them about a masked man around the age of 25 in a long sleeved shirt. The mother of the family, Jamila, said that she saw a group of settlers hiding on the side of the road, and that the person who threw the Molotov cocktail was a young man of average weight with short, black hair, a small, white yarmulke and short, black side locks. “They always throw stones at us there, an I didn’t believe they would throw a Molotov.”

The victims’ testimonies led to the release of the detained minors. If the witnesses saw an older man throwing the bottle, why did the police arrest children? This argument could have worked if not for incontrovertible evidence: tracks belonging to an adult and two children who escaped in the direction of the settlement were found at the scene of the crime; the mother saw one person who threw the Molotov cocktail, with a group of people nearby; the DNA of one of the children was found on the bottle. However, at the end of December of that year, the state attorney came to an arrangement with the suspects’ attorneys and closed the case for lack of evidence.

Palestinians from the village Duma gather at the Dawabshe house, which was attacked by two arsonists Friday morning. Ali , an 18-month-old toddler, was burned to death in the attack. His parents and four-year-old brother are currently hospitalized in Israel in serious condition. (photo: Oren Ziv/
Palestinians from the village Duma gather at the Dawabshe house, which was attacked by two arsonists Friday morning. Ali , an 18-month-old toddler, was burned to death in the attack. His parents and four-year-old brother are currently hospitalized in Israel in serious condition. (photo: Oren Ziv/

According to the case file, the investigation lasted a mere two weeks, beginning on August 16 and ending on September 2. Dozens of policemen, rescue workers, soldiers, and members of the Shin Bet were involved. Incontrovertible evidence was found, showing that at least one of the minors was involved in throwing the Molotov cocktail. And yet, the state attorney decided to close the case.

Until today, over three years after the day of the attack, the Riyada family has been denied justice. Meanwhile, the criminals have continued on in their life without paying for their deeds. From our deep knowledge of other cases, in which the suspects were Palestinians and the evidence was far from incontrovertible, the state attorney did not hesitate to file a suit. The message Israel’s law enforcement sends goes as follows: harming Palestinians will go unpunished, even when the evidence leaves no doubt as to the identity of the perpetrators. This message was well understood by the group of terrorists that burned the Dawabshe family alive in their sleep in the beginning of August, as well as by other groups that have been behind hundreds of attacks on Palestinians and their property over the past several years.

Not only do Israeli soldiers receive a “license to kill” from the state, without ever having to pay the price. This license, as we have seen here, is also bestowed upon Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Three years after the Riyada family was burned, a Molotov cocktail tossed into a home in August 2015 burned a child and his father to death.

Israel Police have yet to issue a response.

*John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and blogger. Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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