Scores of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have made homes in caves on the outskirts of Al-Khalil (Hebron) because the Israeli occupation authorities continue to prevent them from building homes on territories earmarked for illegal settlements for Jews. Noaman Hamamda, 57, told Anadolu that he and his fellow Palestinians in this predicament have tried to build homes with bricks and cement, but the Israelis demolish the structures on the grounds that they have been built without a permit. It is very rare for Palestinians to be given a building permit by the occupation authorities.
Hamamda and his 13-member family currently live in a cave covering around 30 square metres; they have no basic amenities. Nevertheless, he and other Palestinians in the area say that they would rather suffer such harsh living conditions in the caves than abandon their ancestral land to Israeli settlement projects.
“The occupation keeps trying to evict us,” said Hamamda while his wife Rasmiya prepared tea with primitive utensils, “but we refuse to give up the land. Life is hard for us here, but you get used to it.”
The family’s cave is split into three sections: one for sleeping, another for storing grain; and a third for receiving guests. Outside the cave is a wood oven that Rasmiya uses for cooking and baking bread. “We live a primitive life, but we endure it for the sake of protecting our land,” she said.
Hamamda’s is one of about 15 Palestinian families living in caves in Al-Khalil’s mountainous Al-Mafqara village, one of a cluster of Palestinian villages nestled between five affluent illegal settlements reserved for Jews and built by Israel on confiscated Palestinian land. Israeli troops have entered the area in force repeatedly in recent years to demolish structures built by Palestinian residents.
The most recent raid by Israeli forces on Al-Mafqara was in 2013, when army bulldozers destroyed an electricity generator that had provided residents with power for a few hours each night. During the same raid, the Israelis also levelled a local mosque.
“I can’t watch television any more because Israel destroyed the electricity generator,” said 11-year-old Adam, Hamamda’s youngest son. He and his friends in Al-Mafqara must walk three kilometres every day to reach their school in a nearby town. “When I come back from school, I either tend to the cattle or play with my friends,” he added.
The boys also suffer from assaults by Jewish settlers. “Sometimes they chase us. If they catch us, they beat us,” said Adam.
The ill-fated villages fall within so-called “Area C”, which accounts for nearly two thirds of the West Bank’s total territory and remains under “full Israeli security and civilian control” as per the US-sponsored Oslo Accords. Signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1993 and 1995, the agreement divided the West Bank into Areas A, B and C. Typically, Israel prevents Palestinians in Area C from erecting structures on the grounds that the land falls under “Israeli administration”.
“Scores of Palestinian families in Al-Mafqara and surrounding areas live without basic facilities like water and electricity and have to use animals for transport,” Rateb Al-Jobour, coordinator of Al-Khalil’s popular resistance committees, told Anadolu. “The [Israeli] occupation is trying relentlessly to force residents from the land so that it can be used for expanding settlements,” he pointed out.
According to Al-Jobour, some 50,000 square kilometres of land in Al-Khalil are threatened with confiscation by Israel for building additional settlement units or military training camps. He said that Jewish settlers living near the villages routinely assault Palestinian residents. “Settlers frequently attack women and children from the villages,” he added. “They also routinely cut down trees and poison cattle.”
Two months ago, Peace Now, a left-leaning Israeli NGO, said that the Israeli government had issued tenders for 450 new settlement units to be built in the occupied West Bank. International law considers the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be occupied territories captured by Israel in 1967; all Jewish settlement building on such land is illegal. Palestinian negotiators insist that Israeli settlement building must stop before the stalled peace talks can resume.
Images from Anadolu Agency.