More than 300 people from the Gush Etzion area joined in a prayer vigil on Sunday evening for the victims of Friday morning’s Molotov cocktail attack in Duma, which killed 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha and left his parents and brother in critical condition.
“We are here to pray because we are people of faith and we open our hearts to pray to God, and because as people of faith we are optimistic and hope our faith will create waves of love,” said one of the organizers, Sarel Rosenblatt, a rabbi at Yeshiva Machanayim next to the Gush Etzion Junction, where the vigil was held.
The event was billed as a prayer vigil for settlers and Palestinians, but only three Palestinians attended.
Sheikh Ibrahim Ahmad Abu el-Hawa, who is involved in a number of coexistence projects, praised the large turnout. “God brought you here to show we are all one, all the children of Abraham, to show the whole world we are against what happened,” he said. “We are all guests on this earth and we must live in love and peace.”
“The act of burning a baby is the depths of evil,” Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) told the crowd of largely religious settlers. “No God wants that, neither for Ali Dawabsha or Shalhevet Pass, nor for the Dawabsha family or for the Fogels,” he said, referring to terrorist attacks on both sides.
Ziad Zabateen, an activist with the settler/Palestinian coexistence group Roots/Judur/Shorashim, blamed the Israeli government for not taking a strong-enough stand against Jewish terrorists.
“If this was a Palestinian terrorist, they would have already destroyed his house,” he said. “They need to act in the same way against terror from the other side, the Israeli side.”
Many of the speakers talked about the importance of meeting the “other” in order to form personal connections and start a grassroots effort towards peace.
But with only three Palestinians in attendance, the organizers also said they understood that this was not the correct forum for Palestinians to reach out to the Israeli side.
“Lots of Palestinians wanted to be here but because of the media, they were afraid of being revealed,” Rosenblatt told The Times of Israel after the event. “They can’t be seen with kippa-wearers, especially settlers. So we have a lot of quiet connections.”
A similar vigil took place in the same spot, attended by many of the same people, in June 2014 after the kidnapping of three Israeli teens from the area near the junction.
“There are meetings; they’re just not mentioned in the media,” explained Yagel Barok, a 23-year-old student at the Otniel Yeshiva, who attended the rally along with 25 other students and alumni from the yeshiva, located south of Hebron. “If there’s an awareness, that’s the first step, that causes things to happen,” he said.
“These are exactly the people that need to meet [the settlers and the Palestinians], because this is where the conflict is,” explained Yedidya Esh Shalom, an alumni of Otniel now in college in Holon. “These are the people that are living together. They’re buying at the same store as here at [grocery store] Rami Levy. One single terrorist doesn’t represent us.”
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, one of the founders of Roots/Judur/Shorashim, said he hoped the large turnout helped send a message to both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides. “[The Palestinians] understand the importance of what we’re doing, but they must act in a sophisticated fashion because they’re walking on thin ice,” he stated. “They must make connections with radical extremists — that’s us — but they can’t do it in a way where they’ll lose credibility in Palestinian society. And I don’t want them to lose that credibility,” he continued.
Many of the speakers referenced the difficult events of last summer, including the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens and the murder of East Jerusalem teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned to death.
“The last time we were here was for the three youth who were kidnapped,” said Rabbanit Hadassah Froman, the widow of chief rabbi of Tekoa Rabbi Menachem Froman. “And now we are here again. Our hearts are crying out again. How can it be again that a child is burned to death? Death brings death, and blood destroys the land beneath our feet.”