In Um Fagarah, Cave Dwellers Struggle to Remain on their Land

12:00 Jul 19 2012 Um Fagarah

UM FAGARAH, SOUTH HEBRON HILLS, July 19, 2012 (WAFA) - In the peaceful landscape of the South Hebron Hills, the occupation of the land is a daily struggle.
Whilst life seems to be quiet and smooth; the Palestinian communities often have to forget their basic daily life problems to focus on a main issue: resisting expulsion from their land.

In Um Fagarah, the 15 families are living in caves, tents and few stone houses, farming and grazing, as their ancestors have been doing for ages. Its population, originally from the nearby village of At-Tuwani, moved about 4 kilometers south to set up the village of Um Fagarah by the end of the British Mandate.

At first, it seems as if nothing has changed. Secluded on a hillside, Um Fagarah is accessible only by a rough dirt road. It stands quiet, facing the Naqab desert.

Its 160 residents, as in the 12 other hamlets of the firing zone, maintain a unique way of life, with many living in or beside dug caves.

Studies have shown that cave dwellers have been living in the southern Hebron hills since at least the 1830s. As families expanded, they build tents and a few stone houses. The community relies for its livelihood on growing grain and olives, husbandry of sheep and goats, and on the production of milk and cheese.

As 60% of the West Bank, the South Hebron Hills lies in the Area C, meaning it is under complete Israeli administrative and military control.

Palestinians residing in area C live under harsh conditions in terms of land confiscations, house demolitions, and access to water and electricity. Furthermore, a 7.5-acre area within the district of Masafer Yatta, including 12 Palestinian villages or hamlets, it was designated by the Israeli defense force as “Firing Zone 918” or closed military area in the late 70s.

As families extended, they built few stone houses in the ‘80s; but then, with the expansion of the four nearby settlements, the Israeli Civil Administration wouldn’t deliver building permits anymore.

In 1999, they issued evacuation orders and expelled the inhabitants of the villages, claiming that they are non-permanent residents and ignoring their ancient culture. Only several months later the inhabitants were allowed to return to their homes.

In 2007, the community decided to build a new mosque and one 60 square meter brick house. And in 2011 they intended to build utility poles to connect the village with the electricity net, but Israeli army bulldozers demolished them in November and days later knocked down the house built in 2007 as well as the mosque and the container for the collective power generator.

Most of the villages of the South Hebron Hills have been forcibly displaced or demolished many times over with the building of new settlements.

Moreover, according to the Israeli Peace Now group, between 2000 and September 2007, 94% of the building permits requested in Area C by Palestinians were turned down. This means that while only 91 permits were issued to Palestinians, 18,472 new homes were built in order to expand the Israeli settlements, which currently house 400,000 people.

Heavy restrictions on freedom of movement, work and business isolate these communities and increase poverty among the population.

Furthermore, the closed area has no physical infrastructure. There are no paved roads leading from the villages. They are also not linked to a power grid, telephone lines, a running-water system or a sewage system.

“We are harassed on a daily basis by settlers, soldiers, police, and border police. But we are determinate to behave the opposite way of their actions. We will get Um Fagarah back on the map again and bring its people from the caves within to the outside in houses,” said Mahmoud Hussein Hamamdi.

The community of Um Fagarah, supported by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, launched in May the campaign “Um Fagarah R-Exist” to build 15 bricks houses. Every Saturday since the launching, Palestinian, Israeli and International activists gathered to build the houses and support the community in its struggle to stay on its land.

But on June 10, while only three houses had been built, Um Fagarah received stop working orders from the Israeli Civil Administration, and on July 16, they sent a demolition order concerning the first house built which should be implemented within three days.

Like nearby village of Susiya and many other villages from the Area C, the existence of this community is jeopardized.

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