Thousands attend funeral of Palestinian mother killed in firebombing

Riham Dawabsha’s body undergoes autopsy before burial in Duma; Netanyahu expresses sorrow, vows to catch the killers

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian security officers carry the body of Riham Dawabsha, 27, during her funeral procession in the West Bank village of Duma, near Nablus, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP/Nasser Nasser)
Palestinian security officers carry the body of Riham Dawabsha, 27, during her funeral procession in the West Bank village of Duma, near Nablus, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

Thousands of Palestinians attended the funeral Monday of Riham Dawabsha, who succumbed overnight to wounds she suffered in a firebomb attack on her home on July 31. She was buried in her home village of Duma, near Nablus in the West Bank.

Dawabsha died late Sunday at the Tel Hashomer hospital, near Tel Aviv, where she had been receiving treatment for burns to 90 percent of her body inflicted in the attack on her family home. It was her 27th birthday.

Her body was taken to the pathology institute in An-Najah National University for an autopsy. From there, the deceased mother was moved to the mosque in Duma, where she was laid to rest after midday prayers. Mourners carried Fatah and Hamas flags.

The autopsy was performed in part because the Palestinian Authority is planning to file a suit against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague over her death and that of her husband and baby boy. The fatal attack is suspected to have been carried out by Jewish terrorists.

Saad and Riham Dawabsha, with baby Ali. (Channel 2 screenshot)
Saad and Riham Dawabsha, with baby Ali. (Channel 2 screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed condolence to the Dawabsha family on the death of Riham, and said the Israeli security establishment was doing its utmost to apprehend those responsible and bring them to justice.

Palestinians called for a “day of rage” throughout the West Bank in response to the death. Israeli security forces were placed on heightened alert.

Riham’s grieving father Hussein complained bitterly at the apparent lack of progress in efforts to apprehend the perpetrators of the attack.

“There is no such thing as not being able to find them,” he said, according to the Hebrew-language Ynet news site. “It is not my profession and I am not the Shin Bet [domestic security service]. An entire family was lost here.”

Dawabsha was left fighting for her life for the past five weeks after assailants hurled firebombs through the window of the family home, killing her 18-month-old son, Ali, on the spot. Her husband Saad was also critically wounded and died days later. The family’s second son, five-year-old Ahmed, is being treated at Tel Hashomer for massive burns.

Ahmed’s condition has improved, and he has been seen on Israeli TV speaking and eating, and asking about his parents.

Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Saeb Erekat pleaded for international intervention Monday, saying in a statement that the Israeli government is to be held to account for the “martyrdom” of Riham Dawabsha, her son and her husband.

“We hold the Israeli government fully responsible,” he said. “Once again we call upon the international community to protect the Palestinian people under occupation, and to put an end to Israel’s culture of impunity.

“If Israel is not stopped and held accountable then Riham will not be the last victim of Israeli terror… The assassination of the Dawabsha family reflects the clear connection between hate speech, settlement expansion and the impunity granted to Israel by the International community.”

In Israel, Joint (Arab) List party leader MK Ayman Odeh said that the root cause of the problem that led to the deadly attack was the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

“The terrible crime of burning alive the Dawabsha family horrified all of us, but we must not forget the soil that gave root to this crime,” he said in a statement. “The occupation and the trampling of the basic human rights of Palestinians is what gave rise to those base murderers, who are still roaming free, perhaps even planning another crime.”

MK Omer Bar-Lev of the opposition Zionist Union party warned that “barbaric” extremist Jewish activists were “taking over” the country and destroying Israel’s democratic nature.

“The writing was on the wall,” he said in a statement. “Riham Dawabsha was another victim of a sick, messianic and barbaric cult that has taken over our country and is threatening to destroy us from within.

“The heinous, premeditated criminal act brings disaster upon us and opens a growing black pit in the fabric of the relationship between Jews and Arabs,” Bar-Lev continued.

MK Zehava Gal-on, who leads the left-wing Meretz party, also bemoaned the fact that there have been no arrests made in connection to the attack. She said Dawabsha’s death should serve as a wake-up call.

“The death of Riham Dawabsha is a reminder to anyone who was shocked last month and then forgot, to be moved to action,” she said in a statement. “To the education minister who must integrate into schools projects to campaign against racism. To the the prime minister, who visited the Dawabsha family after the arson, and immediately went back to fanning the flames of hatred. To the security and law enforcement authorities who have still not arrested one guilty person for the arson.”

The attack shook Israeli society and Israeli politicians roundly condemned the incident, but some opposition MKs from left-wing parties accused right-wing lawmakers and the government of generating a public atmosphere that enabled the attack. President Reuven Rivlin said at the time Israel had been lax in fighting Jewish terrorism.

In the wake of the attack, the security cabinet approved a request by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to employ “administrative detention,” or arrest without trial for terror suspects, against Jewish members of extremist organizations believed to be engaged in attacks against Palestinian civilians. Such detention is often used against members of Palestinian terror groups.

Several such arrests of right-wing activists have been made, but no evidence has yet been made public about any direct links between Jewish extremists and the attack in Duma.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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