Defying all odds: Palestinians hold on to land, turn caves into homes
As the Israeli occupation forces pursue their arbitrary expulsion policy of the rightful owners of the land, Palestinians continue to defy the usurping occupation and revert to archaic means of living so as not to abandon their homeland.
Amid the ongoing illegal expulsions, demolitions, and displacement of Palestinian families, Palestinians in Masafer Yatta have been turning underground caves into habitable homes in a bid to defy the Zionist campaign of uprooting the Palestinian people from their land.
In May of this year, the Israeli Supreme Court approved the forced expulsion of some 1200 Palestinians from villages so that the Israeli occupation army could use the land as a military training ground that they call "Firing Zone 918."
The so-called firing zone was illegally conceived by the occupation forces in the early 1980s under the pretext that the residents of the villages were "seasonal" residents.
Between October and November 1999, an estimated 700 residents were expelled by the IOF on the basis that they were "illegally living in a firing zone." So, technically, as per Israeli notions, firing zones established in residential areas were erected before people inhabited these areas.
Since then, several petitions were launched by human rights groups to demand the return of the land to the rightful Palestinian residents.
At some point, in 2013, the Israeli occupation insolently proposed a “compromise” to allow Palestinians to live in their own homes for only two months a year, or on weekends and Jewish holidays when the military wasn't carrying drills in the area.
For all the obvious reasons, the proposal was rejected.
But starting in 2006, orders for the demolition of residential structures began to be issued, and Israeli authorities have long demolished homes and other structures in the area, citing alleged violations like a lack of building permits, which the Israeli government rarely gives to Palestinians.
Would you destroy your own home if forced to?— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) January 17, 2022
Recently, #Palestinians are being forced to demolish their own homes with their own hands, the same houses they have been living in long before the Israeli occupation. #Palestine #SaveShiekhJarrah #SaveNaqab pic.twitter.com/vpDTGa8pBl
It is worth noting that as part of the Israeli arbitrary practices in the occupied land of Palestine, Palestinians often build their homes without a permit because it is almost impossible to get one, and the reason is that the mayor and city council attempt to keep the city’s Palestinian population at a bare minimum and multiply its Jewish residents by approving the construction of thousands of new housing units in illegal settlements.
All throughout the petition periods, the occupation forces were engaging in a series of 'coercive measures' intended to make life unbearable for Palestinians, such as confiscating land and vehicles and revoking the permission to build schools and other facilities.
The residents kept rebuilding, until May 2022, when the occupation court officially declared it rejected the petition, just like that.
When the verdict was issued, a UN expert said "the displacement of the Masafer Yatta communities may thus amount to a war crime."
Meanwhile, the residents have been patiently waiting to see what happens while preparing their caves.
Wadha Ayoub Abu Sabha, 65, a resident of the village of Khirbet Al-Fakheit, in a rural area of the occupied West Bank that the military is planning to seize told sources, "We have no home to live in and no tent — we have no option but to live in the cave," she said. "The beginning of my life was in the cave, and the end of my life will be in the cave."
🇵🇸#Palestine | 18 Members of Abu Sabha family are under the threat of forced displacement after demolishing their home in Masafer Yatta, southern Hebron Hills. The occupation forces issued a final demolishing order for the home and the animal shelters. pic.twitter.com/67ap6ioXhs— Dana_jaber (@Danajab53810910) January 5, 2022
The Abu Sabha family is one of many that have been fighting against Zionist efforts to expel them from homes where they resided for decades, with deeds proving that the land was theirs prior to the Israel occupation in 1948, and is still theirs.
After the third time being expelled, the Abu Sabha family's home was once again demolished.
They initially moved to an unused clinic while preparing their next home for themselves and their sheep in their village: A cave.
Palestinians in Masafer Yatta region, south of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, are denied construction permits by the Israeli occupation authorities. Some of them are living in caves as a result of being denied a decent home.— Friends of Palestine 🇵🇸 (@PalFriends2020) January 15, 2020
#Palestine 🇵🇸 pic.twitter.com/4uYAQ3u5Tf
The wife of Ahmad Abu Sabha recalls living in the caves during her teenage years as her family once lived in them.
“They say we weren’t here before the ’80s, but I was born here in 1964 in another cave,” she said.
Noa Sattath, the executive director of the "Association for Civil Rights' in "Israel", said, "Forcible transfer is contrary to the Geneva Conventions, and the transfer does not always mean packing people up in trucks and taking them away," he said, adding that "a slow mistreatment of the population in order to motivate them to leave is also considered a forced transfer."
Palestinian authorities have explicitly made it clear that the illegal expulsion of Palestinians amounts to ethnic cleansing, as it is experienced elsewhere on the Palestinian territory, where residents are systematically pushed out of their territories to have Zionist colonial settlers in their place.
Since 2020, residents of Masafer Yatta have been resorting to living in caves to avoid further expulsion and as a token of defiance and insistence not to leave their homeland. Although this doesn't mean that they will be immune to expulsion orders, it would be harder for the occupation forces to remove them.
But even in cave homes Palestinians face Israeli evictions:— Petra Schurenhofer (@PetraSchur) October 23, 2022
"I don't understand how they can prevent me from living in a cave. Animals live in caves and are not thrown out. So let them treat me like an animal and let me live in the cave."#Palestine https://t.co/2zKzrMhUE9
Through the work dedicated to turning caves into habitable homes, residents of Masafer Yatta have shown great persistence and determination in defying the Zionist aspirations of ethnic cleansing.
Lawyers who backed the petition collected enough evidence to prove that the residents have rebuilt homes over and over again in the past 45 years.
Despite all the evidence, the Israeli occupation court agreed with the Israeli Security Ministry that Palestinians were only living on a seasonal basis.
"Over the years, the closure order was violated by Palestinians, who began building illegally in the area," the Israeli military said in response to questions sent by The New York Times. "The court ruled that the petitioners acted in bad faith and illegally built in the area while an interim order was issued, and rejected any attempted compromise offered to them."
It also claimed that declaring the area a firing zone is consistent with international law governing military occupation.
UN humanitarian coordinator, Samer Abdel Jaber, said during a visit to the area in May that "as the occupying power, the Israeli authorities’ responsibility is to protect Palestinian civilians," adding that "forcing 13 communities out to make room for military training is contradictory to that imperative and simply inhumane and illegal."
The contradiction in these statements lies in that the organization recognizes the existence of "Israel" as legitimate, therefore the UN inadvertently supports the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as much as the Zionists do.
Nonetheless, the knowledge and practice of living in caves are not unusual for this small community of brave Palestinians given their ancestral ties to the land and their familiarity with their surroundings, which facilitates living in rough conditions.
Their unbreakable defiance of the Zionist entity remains a source of great courage and bravery, and their determination to resist the occupations' aspirations and to keep ahold of their land is worthy of recognition.
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