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Cave dwellers south of Hebron

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 19.05.2008:

Israeli Policy Leaves Palestinians Homeless in the South Hebron Hills of the Occupied Territories


Ahmad Jaradat, Alternative Information Center (AIC)


AIC website

22 April 2008

In the south hills of Hebron, ever since Jewish settlers arrived to colonize the region, we witness a comprehensive and ongoing policy of mass deportation of Palestinians from the area in order to create space for the expansion of surrounding Israeli settlements.

The main settlements surrounding the area—Susya, Karmel, Maon and Yatir—are known to be inhabited by some of the most militant and violent settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The area was originally inhabited by a small Palestinian population of approximately 2,000 pastoralist herders and farmers living in caves carved out of the hillside, hence, their designation as “cave dwellers.” Their way of life is unique in Palestine, as they have survived by farming the rocky hillsides and tending their flocks for at least 170 years. Before this, they were poor Palestinian families living in villages in the southern Hebron region, who bought land 20 kilometers away. About two centuries ago, they started to live in caves spread out across the area, gaining their livelihood from the mountains and surrounding fields. Some generations later they succeed in developing a culture and a way of living based on sheep herding, agriculture and cave dwelling.

However, since the occupation of the region by Israel in 1967, the Israeli authorities have been confiscating their land, first using military justifications and then for the purpose of building and expanding settlements.

In the beginning of the 1990s, the Israel Civil Administration, with the support of the military, began to implement a policy of deportation, removing the residents from their traditional huts and forcing them to move to the town of Yatta and its surroundings. The frequent settler harassment, which has resulted in the destruction of nearly 80% of the Palestinians’ cave-homes and the poisoning of wells, was intended to further the policies of deportation and settlement expansion.

The majority of those who lost land were located in what is now the Susya settlement. Those villagers who managed to return to work their land were faced with increasingly violent acts of vandalism by the settlers, who have prevented them from working on their own land by beating people, destroying their caves and their wells, ripping up their fields and olive trees and killing their cattle.

According to a list compiled by residents and given to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 300 Palestinians in this area have been expelled from their homes. The Israeli Civil Administration has continually denied this number, referring to a report from the Red Cross which counts no more than 100 people displaced. The administration considered cave dwellers as seasonal farmers who lived in the caves for few months out of the year, when they were cultivating their land and grazing their flocks, while actually maintaining houses in the neighboring town of Yatta. For this reason they never accepted their stable presence in the area. Instead, the Israeli authorities intend to permanently expel them from their villages and seize their lands for the settlers.

The case has had some level of international recognition and is followed by several human rights organizations, included Israeli ones. The most active international group in the area is the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), which undertakes nonviolent civil disobedience actions against the Israeli military and attempts, through its permanent presence there, to protect the Palestinian residents from settler attacks and soldier violations.

In 2004, the Israeli High Court of Justice decided that the Israeli army was not allowed to destroy and evacuate the inhabitants from Susya. They suggested trying to get building permits from the Civil Administration, an institution which mainly consists of settlers. But the inhabitants of Susya were not allowed to rebuild the destroyed ruins of their homes, and therefore, they live in tents and shacks. Israel is now claiming that they live illegally on their own land, without proper building permits.

This is why, up to the present, Israel’s policy of house demolitions is continuing in the area.

It appears that the same fate as the Susya cave dwellers is waiting for other Palestinian villages in the area, which host at least 10,000 inhabitants. Years ago the Israeli military declared that several villages on the south hills of Hebron were a closed military area. Six-thousand dunam of land have been already confiscated by Israel to build military bases and expand settlements, and has meant the loss of many jobs as farmers and the possibility to feed their goats and sheep.

Only last month, on 19 March, the Israeli Army demolished six houses in the area. A spokesperson from the Yatta Regional Council reported that tens of soldiers came at six in the morning with their bulldozers and demolished two houses in the al-Dairat village, located to the west of the Karmel settlement. The houses belonged to the residents Yesser and Ismail Odra. An additional three houses and a hut have been demolished in the Eqwaiqees village, close to the Beit Yatir settlement. The houses belonged to Ibrahim No’man Abu o’ram, Abdel al-Azeez Na’aseen, A’ed Salama and Ibrahim Khaleel. The third village targeted was Imnazil, where, in the last years, hundreds of residents have already been deported from their homes.

Abdel Hadi Hantash, from the Land Defense Committee, reported that these most recent demolitions are intended to open a new settlement road in the area. The new road will link the Ze’ev settlement to Karmel. According to Hantash, this is only the beginning. More and more houses are going to be destroyed to attend this project.

On the same day, the Israeli military destroyed another six houses in the Borto’a village, to the southwest of Jenin. According to a leader of the village, the demolitions took place without previous orders being handed to residents.

Another three houses have been demolished in al-Jeeb town, to the northwest of Jerusalem, which belonged to families from the Ka’abna Bedouin tribe. Salem Abu Dahook, the leader of the Bedouin community in the Jerusalem area, said: “we lived in these houses for more than 10 years. A lot of our families have demolition orders on their houses and huts, and several houses and tents have already been destroyed by the military. We know that there is a plan by the Israeli government to deport all our Bedouin tribes in order to replace the area with Jewish settlers and to leave space for the Separation Wall.”

In only one day, the Israeli military was able to demolish 15 houses in different locations throughout the West Bank.

But if wider political plans underlie these actions, this will only be the beginning of a catastrophe.

More than 300 people have already been left without homes in the south of Hebron. Another approximately ten villages are threatened with the same fate. This difficult situation is very alarming. Why does the world remain silent while the Israeli government implements the deportation of Palestinian people against international and humanitarian law? Where are these people supposed to go? What future is waiting for them?

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