Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Without a home: Palestinians are living in caves to save their land

By Yehudit Tzfat - November 18, 2019
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [Settlement Expansion]

Bending over the well, Arafat, tugged at the rope, pulling it toward himself until a blue bucket filled with water emerged. He then dumped the bucket into a trough and water splashed throughout the basin and poured into nearby pipes. This is how the 20-year-old Palestinian gets his water, using a system of wells and water tanks. His simple, rural life comes with the basic amenities: electricity, water, sewer and even internet. But unlike ordinary livestock farmers, he’s not living quaintly in a barnyard house. Instead, Arafat resides in a cave.


Arafat collects water from the well above his home.

Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank are living in caves. For years, Palestinian families have taken refuge in caves as Israel continuously demolishes their homes and restricts building permits. Most of the caves are populated near Hebron and Nablus. 

Arafat and his uncle, Yousef, grew up in caves. Unlike other families, their original home wasn’t destroyed by Israeli authorities. The men have a house in a village near Nablus, but choose to dwell in caves to stop settlers from taking over the land. 

“The main reason we are living here is to keep the land, because if I leave the land, the settlers will take it,” Yousef said.

The caves vary in luxury and convenience. Some are simple dwellings and some are what Marouf Alrefai of the Colonisation and Wall Resistance Commission described as a “five-star hotel” renovated with bathrooms and furniture. The natural insulation of the caves makes them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Yousef and Arafat’s cave is equipped with electricity powered by solar panels installed by An-Najah National University. They don’t have a shower but do have a toilet located in a steel box outside. They have internet access through a router and a television with a satellite dish. They used to have a registered car, but the Israeli army took it so they bought an illegal car for around 2,000 shekels.  


Yousef stands near the entrance of his cave.


Inside Yousef and Arafat’s cave.

The threat of Israeli forces seizing cars, animals and tents is imminent for cave dwellers. Just last week, the Israeli army took Yousef and Arafat’s tent. The Israeli army will often confiscate the Palestinians’ animals and equipment. The families are forced to pay for the livestock’s housing and food while in Israeli captivity, and then must pay a fee to the government to get their animals and belongings back. 

“Many times the military tells them 'We will take this area for one or two weeks for military reasons so you have to leave this land after one or two weeks you can come back,’” said Abu Lino, public relations officer the Beit Furik Municipality, southeast of Nablus.

In other cave communities, Palestinian journalist Mohammad Hamdan mentioned that the possibility of arrest is frequent. 

“The army tells the settler 'Go there and make a problem with [the Palestinians],’” said Hamdan, explaining how the settlers will cause clashes with the Palestinians and capture the Palestinians defending themselves and their land on camera. “So when they go to the court, the settlers can then say 'Look at the people, they were violent,’” Hamdan said. The jailed Palestinians will typically stay in prison for one or two months. 

Surrounding Yousef and Arafat’s cave are dozens of other caves with around 35 families inhabiting them. But among the fly-swarming, desolate hills are remnants of homes. Chunks of crumbled cement, tires wrapped around trees, crushed steel and furnished living rooms without walls are what remains. The Israeli government destroyed the buildings near the caves three years ago. 


A home near Nablus in Area C that was demolished in 2016.

This cement and stone house was designated as a mosque to prevent the Israeli army from tearing it down. Farmers will often live in this home during the winter.

Outside of the house.


What’s left of the school Israeli forces demolished twice in 2016. A new school stands just down the road.

While displacement is still a threat — even in the caves — a host of organisations are ready to help these Palestinians. Alrefai said the Colonisation and Wall Resistance Commission, Palestinian governors, Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Red Cross and Council on American-Islamic Relations help with replacing supplies seized by Israeli authorities, offering legal aid and providing money for prisoners or for Palestinians to retrieve their animals and items from Israel. The commission also helps with renovating the caves. Yet despite the constant struggles, the Palestinian people remain resilient and resistant. 

“They can kill me, but I will not leave the land,” Yousef said. 


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