Palestinian cave dwellers' plight becomes Israeli human rights cause
January 26, 2000
From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel
HEBRON HILLS, West Bank (CNN) -- Two months ago, the Israeli army evicted 40 Palestinian families from their homes. Now Israeli human rights activists have taken up their cause.
The 300 Palestinians' homes are caves just beyond the rocky Hebron hills on the West Bank.
"There's a parable in the Bible," said Rabbi Arik Asherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, "when the prophet Nathan comes to King David and tells the story of a wealthy man who has flocks, land, everything. Yet to serve dinner to a guest, he takes the one little lamb that is left to a poor man. That's what's happening here.
"These people are the poorest of the poor."
While many of the families have been reduced to living in tents, some have been given sanctuary in other small villages in the area.
Treating people this way, complained seven of the country's most famous writers, is not in the spirit of the Israeli army. They have asked Prime Minister Ehud Barak to reverse the evictions.
"It makes me feel ashamed. I am absolutely ashamed," Israeli poet Dahlia Rabikovitch said about the plight of the cave dwellers.
Israel evicted the residents when it designated the area a military firing range. However, there's no evidence it is used for that.
A week before the eviction orders were served, Barak ordered a group of Israeli settlers out of a nearby unauthorized outpost. Some speculate the expulsion of the cave-dwelling Palestinians from their homes may have been a counterbalance for the settlers and perhaps part of a broader battle in the context of the peace process.
While the cave homes remain empty, Barak has ordered defense officials to report to him why the Palestinians should not be allowed to return home. However, he has set no time frame for the report.
Some Palestinians feel the fate of these displaced families should have been pressed more firmly by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
"We are asking the Palestinian Authority to be here to keep care of these people," said Saker Abu Ayyash of the Palestinian Land Defense Committee.
In the meantime, the cave dwellers can only wait in their temporary quarters.
One of them, Amnah, is carrying her seventh child. She fears that, unlike her other children, the new baby won't be born in the cave home where she and her parents and grandparents were born.
Another cave dweller, Mahmoud, has been defying the ban by coming back to feed his donkey from his storage of grain in one of the caves. The cave next to it is the one from which his family of 11 was forced out when the evacuation orders came.
The cave dwellers are hoping the political pressure within Israel will get them back home. But, says one woman named Khadra, if it doesn't, they'll take the risk of trying to return without permission. It can hardly be worse, she says.
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