Douma, West Bank – It is close to midnight. The silhouettes of ink-black hills across the valley are outlined against a sky splashed with hundreds of stars. A cool breeze causes the branches of the surrounding olive trees to wave in unison while bringing relief from the heat wave currently scorching the Middle East.
This peaceful and picturesque idyll is suddenly broken when the headlights of a car on the sand road below prompts one of Douma’s four civil defence units, comprising 10 volunteers each, to spring into action from the top of the valley at the edge of the village’s perimeter where the group is stationed.
One volunteer shines a search light from the top of the pick-up truck searching the wadi for any signs of Israeli colonists.
Volunteer head Habib urgently phones members of the other guard units which are stationed at other points on the village outskirts to enquire about unusual movement or activity.
“It’s ok it’s not colonists. The car is from the village so we can relax but we will be on duty till 4am after starting our patrol at 10pm,” Habib tells Gulf News.
The volunteers will not give their names as they are afraid of being arrested by the Israelis.
Before Gulf News could accompany the group, our credentials had to be verified for security reasons.
From the hill across the valley Israeli soldiers can be seen monitoring the village with binoculars and search lights.
Other soldiers are placed at the entrance of the village checking the IDs of all who enter and leave the village.
However, most Palestinians are too afraid to leave at night while Israeli colonists roam the roads freely under the protection of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF)
This scenario is taking place in dozens of Palestinian villages throughout the West Bank as Palestinians try to protect their homes, crops, livestock and lives from Israeli colonist attacks which are becoming increasingly deadly.
The night Gulf News spent on patrol with Douma’s civil guard followed the morning funeral of Sa’ad Dawabshe, the father of baby Ali Dawabshe who was burned alive last week following an arson attack on their home in Douma by Israeli colonists.
Sa’ad was in intensive care fighting for his life for a week before he succumbed to his wounds.
His wife Riham remains in intensive care with third degree burns to 90 percent of her body, while Ali’s brother Ahmed, 4, too fights for his life in an Israeli hospital.
Thousands of Palestinians, including those from surrounding villages, government officials and various dignitaries attended the funeral.
Following the burial the palpable anger spilled over into violent clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces at the entrance to the village.
It was only a matter of time before Palestinians would be killed by fanatical colonists.
Through the years numerous attacks, including burning mosques, homes, crops, killing livestock and assaulting Palestinians, have become a way of life.
Israeli rights group B’tselem reports that since 2012 Israeli colonists have set fire to nine Palestinian homes, dozens of mosques, businesses, crops and vehicles in the West Bank.
“Additionally, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Palestinian taxi, severely burning the family on board. No one was charged in any of these cases,” reports the group.
“The vast majority of these cases were never solved, and in many of them the Israeli Police did not even bother to take elementary investigative actions.”
Yesh Din, another Israeli human rights organisation, has stated in annual reports “that the IDF and Israeli police are neither prepared nor willing to provide the necessary protection to Palestinians attacked by violent colonists.”
Furthermore, according to the group’s research “approximately 94 percent of criminal investigations launched by the IDF against soldiers or colonists suspected of criminal violent activity against Palestinians and their property are closed without any indictments.
“In the rare cases that indictments are served, conviction leads to very light sentencing,” adds the group.
Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack in Douma, official Israeli policy paints a different picture.
The Israeli government continues to expand current, and build new colonies, while pandering to the colonists economically and providing military support.
The Palestinians are virtually defenceless.
The civil defence units are armed with sticks, torches, phones, raw courage and seething anger only - against heavily armed colonists backed by the world’s fourth most powerful military.
The Palestinian security forces are impotent in terms of their inferior weapons and training but more specifically the security coordination between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel.
A security PA President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed to uphold despite the rising number of attacks on his people.
But a worrying development is the belief among Israeli peace activists and Palestinians that colonist elements in the IDF may be involved in the attacks or at the very least helping to facilitate them.
The IDF has military observation posts, armed with powerful cameras and other surveillance equipment, trained on Douma all day and all night from surrounding hill tops.
“I was told by Israeli members of the Peace Now group, who themselves have served in the IDF, that the attack which killed the baby was probably carried out by professionals,” a senior Palestinian policeman who spoke off the record told Gulf News.
“The night the attack was carried out there was an Israeli drone hovering over and observing the village for over four hours before the murders,’ Anwar Dawabshe, a village elder and family member of the murdered baby tells Gulf News.
“The attackers came into the middle of the village and they knew what they were doing.
“They first threw Molotov cocktails inside the house and when the parents ran out they used a chemical substance because the bodies continued to burn after the fire had been doused and they then attacked Riham and Sa’ad with machetes.
“How could the Israeli soldiers, in the military observation towers and the drones not have seen anything?” asks Dawabshe.
-Mel Frykberg is a freelance journalist based in Ramallah