US must take action on Israeli settler violence
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The sound of shattering glass startles you awake. Your lungs fill with the acrid smell of burning petrol. You lunge out of bed, the house ablaze, your body engulfed by the flames. In your haste to escape the inferno, you grab a blanket which you pray holds your infant son safe from the flames. After fleeing your house, to your horror, you discover the blanket is empty and you watch your baby burn to death before your eyes.


This nightmare became reality for Riham Dawabshe of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank village of Duma last month, as related by her brother-in-law Nasser, when Israeli settlers firebombed her house in the middle of the night.

Today, Riham remains in critical condition at a hospital suffering from third-degree burns covering 90 percent of her body. Her 4-year-old son Ahmad is hospitalized as well. One-year-old Ali perished in the arson. Her husband Saad, who suffered third-degree burns on 80 percent of his body, succumbed to his wounds and died last Saturday.

The Dawabshe family is the latest victim of attacks against Palestinians and their property by Israeli settlers who live on expropriated Palestinian land, many of whom desire the land ethnically cleansed of Palestinians to make way for Jewish-only control of the area. These attacks frequently injure and kill Palestinian civilians, damage and destroy their homes, uproot their agriculture and desecrate their places of worship.

The killing of Ali and Saad Dawabshe is not an anomaly, but is sadly part of an organized and systematic campaign by Israeli settlers to terrorize Palestinians. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory recorded 27 settler attacks leading to Palestinian casualties and 35 attacks leading to damage to Palestinian property and land in the first quarter of 2015. In 2014, there were 110 settler attacks leading to Palestinian casualties and 221 attacks leading to damage to Palestinian property and land.

Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disavowed this attack, he nevertheless presides over a government which provides virtual impunity to these setters, rarely holding them accountable for their actions. The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din reported that between 2005 and 2014, more than 91 percent of all concluded investigations of settler attacks against Palestinians were closed without an indictment.

The State Department appropriately condemned this attack "in the strongest possible terms" as a "vicious terrorist attack."

Since 2010, the State Department has included Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians civilians and their property in its annual Country Reports on Terrorism. As the State Department noted in its most recent 2014 report, these attacks frequently are accompanied by racist graffiti and incitement to genocide such as "Every Arab is a Criminal" and "Death to Arabs and Christians and all those who hate Israel."

The State Department cites a handful of cases in which Israel prosecuted perpetrators of these attacks, but noted that "investigations by the Israeli authorities in the majority of such attacks did not result in prosecutions," confirming Yesh Din's findings.

Despite the State Department's acknowledgment of Israel's failure to hold most perpetrators accountable, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner expressed an unwarranted "faith in the [Israeli] system" to bring Ali's killers to justice even after failing to cite an example, as asked during the press briefing, "where actually the Israelis held these terrorists accountable and put them in prison."

The United States must not only condemn terrorism. Engaging in wishful thinking that Israel will crack down on settlers who terrorize Palestinians only exacerbates their sense of impunity and emboldens them further. Instead, the United States must take action, without regard to the nationality or religion of the perpetrators, to deter and sanction all acts of terrorism.

For example, the State Department should investigate Israeli organizations that support, advocate for or participate in such terrorist attacks and add these organizations to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. One such organization that merits consideration is Lehava, whose leader Benzi Gopstein recently justified burning down churches.

Likewise, the Treasury Department should investigate individuals involved in these terrorist attacks and add them to its list of Specially Designated Nationals, a move which would freeze their U.S. assets and prohibit U.S. persons from dealing with them. In addition, the IRS should investigate which 501(c)(3) tax-deductible, charitable organizations provide material support to such organizations and individuals and strip them of their tax status.

Nasser Dawabshe told participants in an anti-terrorism rally in Tel Aviv that his sister-in-law "Riham went to sleep wishing her baby sweet dreams and they came and burned a family, sound asleep. A family that loved its life and doesn't believe in violence. ... We are a people who believe in life. And we ask the world to stand with us." It is long past due for the United States to do so by taking action against Israeli terrorism.

Ruebner is policy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.