Emam Dawabsha believes God’s mercy saved her five children from the two arsonists who on Friday torched the back room of their home where they typically slept on hot summer nights.
Her family was in Nablus when the two terrorists, believed to be Jewish extremists, snuck into the West Bank village of Duma and threw firebombs through the windows of her home and that of her cousins, whose family bears the same last name, killing a toddler and leaving the rest of the family hospitalized.
Emam’s family had been scheduled to return prior to the attack, but a last minute construction job for her husband, Mamoun, kept them in the Palestinian city an extra week.
“If he [Mamoun] had not had that job, then maybe we would have been there that night, but God is merciful,” Emam said on Sunday, trembling slightly as she thought of her family’s near miss with death.
Terror attack in Duma
“Maybe I would no longer have children. Maybe you would see now an empty house,” Emam said.
The bottom floor of their three story home was destroyed in the fire; burned beams lined the rear of the stucco house, whose walls were partially black from smoke. Hundreds of pieces of burned clay tile and other debris covered the floor. The television in the back room melted from the fire’s heat.
“I did not want to see it,” said Emam of the air-conditioned room where her boys, ages six to 17, often camped out to escape the heat that permeated the rest of the building.
In the aftermath of the fire, Emam has tried to created a livable space on the second floor, which mostly survived the blaze.
From the upstairs porch, Emam can see the graffiti scrawled in Hebrew on the gray wall in the back yard that reads: “Long live our King, the Messiah!” She can watch the hundreds of visitors, politicians, neighbors and reporters who have come to see her home and that of her cousins, Saad and Reham, who lived next door with their two children Ahmed, 4, and Ali, the toddler who was killed. Palestinian flags hang from both homes.
It was from this porch that, on happier days, Emam would observe Ali, known as Aloush, play in the paved yard below.
A young member of the Dawabsha family walks among the ruins.
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Reham was always so worried that he would hurt himself, recalled Emam: “She would call to him, ‘Aloush, be careful, be careful.’” Emam added: “Aloush was a very beautiful boy. He always smiled.”
She last saw Saad and Reham a few weeks ago, when they came to Nablus to visit her.
“I hugged Reham so much... that my husband joked that we were acting as if we had not seen each other for years instead of just one month,” Emam said.
“She, Reham, loved her children very much. He [Saad] loved her very much. They were a happy family,” she said.
Emam spoke in English, with a scattering of Arabic, as she told her story of that Friday morning and the nightmarish days that have followed.
A patterned tan scarf with flecks of gray and black covered her head; dressed in stretch pants and a gray tunic, she sat on a small brown sofa.
Her voice cracked as she recalled how, shortly after 2 a.m., a phone call woke her and her husband, Mamoun, in their temporary Nablus apartment.
“I am sorry to tell you that your house is burning,” her sister-in-law said.
Her first thought was “Thank God, because the house is empty of any people,” she said, thinking that anything that was destroyed could be replaced because she did not yet understand that Reham, Saad and Ahmed were seriously injured in the blaze and that Ali had been killed.
Mamoun Dawabsha and one of his younger sons sit in the backyard of their home in Duma.
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Signs with Ali’s photograph now hang throughout the village, including in front of his home.
“I hope she [Reham] will be all right,” said Emam, as she burst into tears. “She is my friend, not just my neighbor. We would sit in her house and talk.”
When Emam and Mamoun arrived in Duma at 3 a.m. on Friday morning, the flames were extinguished but fire engines and dozens of people surrounded the two homes.
Saad, Reham and Ahmed were evacuated to the hospital, but firefighters were still searching for Ali amid the rubble because he never made it out of the house.
When they found his body, it was black and burned beyond recognition, Emam said.
Initially, Emam thought the fire was set by an electrical wire or by gas, but the graffiti of a Jewish star with the Hebrew word “revenge” on the wall of her home was one of the clues that led investigators to believe Jewish extremists had set the blaze.
When she thinks back to that dark morning, Emam said, she wishes Reham and Saad’s family had slept outside.
“But they had air-conditioning, so they stayed inside,” she said.