Suspected Jewish extremists carried out an arson attack that killed a Palestinian toddler in the occupied West Bank Friday morning.
Masked perpetrators entered the village of Duma, outside Nablus, and broke the windows of two Palestinian homes, sprayed Hebrew graffiti and threw firebombs that ignited the homes. An 18-month-old child was killed and three of his relatives have been hospitalized in Israel with severe burns.
Ibrahim Dawabsheh, a Duma resident, said he heard people shouting for help from the house and rushed to it. “I saw two masked men outside,” he told Reuters. He went to get help and when he returned they had gone.
“We found the parents outside with burns, they said there was another son in the house. We brought him out and then they said there was another boy inside, but we couldn’t reach the bedroom because of the fire. He was left inside until rescue forces came,” Dawabsheh told Reuters.
Pictures circulated by Palestinian media on the Internet showed a smiling, chubby-faced boy, named as Ali Dawabsheh. Footage from the house showed blackened walls and singed family photos scattered across charred belongings.
His parents, Saad, 32, a construction worker, and Riham, a 27-year-old teacher, were being treated in Israeli hospitals along with their other son, Ahmad.
Several hundred people marched at his funeral procession calling for retribution. “With our souls and blood we shall redeem you, martyr,” they chanted as the child’s small flag-draped body was carried through the village for burial.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack an act of terrorism and said that he had ordered security forces “use all means at their disposal” to find the perpetrators.
According to news reports, the Israeli Defense Forces suspect that Jewish extremists are behind the “price tag” attack. “Price tag” attacks are perpetrated by radical Israeli settlers against Palestinian property, sometimes in “revenge” for Israeli government efforts to evacuate settler outposts deemed illegal by the Israeli government, or for Palestinian violence.
The attacks in Duma included the telltale signs of such an attack, including Hebrew graffiti with the terms “price tag,” “revenge” and “Long live Messiah the king.”
It was also the most extreme instance of Jewish civilian violence against Palestinians since the 2014 murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir.
After visiting the toddler’s brother at hospital, Netanyahu told reporters he had phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and said Israel was committed to find the assailants.
Earlier, Abbas said he would submit the attack as evidence to the International Criminal Court. “It is a war crime, a humanitarian crime,” he told reporters.
A spokesman for Abbas held Israel responsible. “Such a crime would not have occurred if the Israeli government did not insist on pursuing settlements and protecting settlers,” Nabil Abu Rdainah said.
Part of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition is the pro-settlement Jewish Home party. Its leader Naftali Bennett was quick to denounce the attack, but Palestinians accused the party of laying the ground for it.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement it “condemns in the strongest possible terms last night’s vicious terrorist attack.” The European Union, Jordan and other countries also issued condemnations.
Hamas spokesman Hussam Badran called for retribution. “This crime has made occupation soldiers and settlers everywhere legitimate targets,” he said.
Fearing the killing would provoke violence in Jerusalem, police restricted entrance to al-Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers to men over the age of 50 and to women. Police increased their presence in areas where stone-throwing clashes often occur.
Over the past eight years, Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups have documented dozens of such attacks on Palestinian homes, olive groves and places of worship.
But according to a recent report by Yesh Din, an Israeli right organization, only 7.4% of investigations of Israeli civilian violence against Palestinians have led to criminal charges.
Israeli police have a price tag task force. In March 2013, Netanyahu said he had launched an effort to curtail such attacks.
Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the human rights group Btselem, said that her group had yet to see the effects of the supposed Israeli crackdown.
She said that price tag attacks are encouraged by a culture of impunity, because the perpetrators are so rarely brought to justice.
“It sends a message to assailants that they won’t get caught.”
Naomi Zeveloff is the former Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.