the southern tip of the West Bank, situated on the slope of a mountain,
there is a small village of Palestinian cave-dwellers. Its name is Jinba,
and it is home to roughly three hundred inhabitants. A visitor might see the
sheep grazing on a nearby hill and a tractor plowing the fields. An idyllic
scene, especially following the rainy season, when the desert has turned
But here too, the ostensible tranquility is little more than an illusion.
Not unlike other cave-dweller villages in the Mount Hebron region, life in
Jinba has become unbearable, and the small rural community is now on the
verge of being annihilated.
A few hundred meters south of Jinba the Israeli military set up a training
camp and confiscated acres and acres of agricultural land which had
previously belonged to the inhabitants. Armored vehicles and jeeps travel
unrestricted even on fields adjacent to the village which the military has
not expropriated, and thus destroy crops and frighten young children.
A few hundred meters to the north, along the mountain ridge, a series of
Jewish settlements and outposts have been constructed. The settlers threaten
any Palestinian who climbs the mountain slope, thus preventing the residents
of Jinba from plowing their northern fields and grazing their sheep. In
addition, these settlers have also blocked the path between Jinba and Yatta,
the major town in the region where the cave-dwellers buy basic foods and
obtain medical services.
Hence, the military and settlers have successfully restricted Jinba’s
residents to a miniscule piece of land which barely suffices to sustain the
population. The inhabitants have been confined to a desert island of sorts,
and in many ways their lives are now similar to the lives of thousands of
Palestinians who are trapped between the separation barrier -- a complex
series of trenches, roads, and fences -- and the Green Line, the pre-1967
border; it is extremely difficult for them to travel into the West Bank and
impossible to enter Israel. Their movement has been severely restricted, and
they have, in a sense, been imprisoned.
Two months ago, the cave-dwellers suffered yet another blow. On January 15,
a small plane sprayed some of the fields the villagers still had access to,
destroying the crops that had been planted just a few weeks earlier with
chemicals. What could not be carried out from the ground was accomplished
from the air.
To the inhabitants of Jinba the message was clear: You will not continue
living on this land for long.
The method is to destroy the infrastructure of existence so that the
inhabitants will leave their land “of their own volition.” In Hebrew it’s
But who is behind this sinister plot?
On February 4, Ta'ayush
activists (Jewish-Arab Partnership), together with an attorney from the
Association for Civil Rights and a fieldworker from Physicians for Human
Rights, visited Jinba. While they were there, the attorney made a phone
call to the Hebron police, asking them to look into a complaint involving
settler harassment of Palestinians. Little did she know what was to ensue.
Four nights later, at about 3 am, three cars arrived in Jinba. The visitors
seemed to be security officers from the nearby settlements. They woke the
cave-dwellers, separating the men and women. Children were screaming and the
elderly crying, but the armed men were unimpressed. They took the
Palestinian men aside and threatened them.
“Don't you dare walk in the direction of Mitzpeh Yair (an illegal outpost),
and don't come near Bir El-Ad (the route to the regional capital Yatta),”
the settlers shouted, thus reducing even further the villagers’ living
Before leaving, the settlers threatened that if the villagers were again to
cooperate with lawyers or with Ta'ayush activists, their lives would be
turned into hell.
The settlers cannot directly prevent Israeli activists from visiting the
cave-dwellers so instead they terrorize the local Palestinians. Their threat
is also directed at the peace activists: Every time you come to gather
evidence, we shall make the lives of the locals more miserable. This is a
paradigmatic example of how settlers try to torpedo the work of Israelis who
are struggling to protect the basic rights of the indigenous population.
The well-orchestrated plot to embitter the lives of Jinba’s inhabitants
indicates that in the Mount Hebron region the breakers of the law work in
concert with those who are paid to protect it: an unholy alliance has been
established between the settlers, on the one hand, and the military and
police on the other. Who told the settlers that a lawyer had visited Jinba?
Who sprayed the fields? And who has allowed the soldiers to trample and
destroy crops with their armored vehicles?
The enormity of the danger facing the cave-dwellers becomes even clearer
when one takes into account the rapid construction of the so-called
separation barrier. According to the maps published by the Israeli
government, the barrier will pass north of the cave dwellers’ villages.
Thus, like the villages in the north, they too will be stuck between the
barrier and the Green Line.
The ongoing harassment of the cave-dwellers as well as the attempt to
undermine their infrastructure of existence should accordingly be considered
as part of a war of attrition. By the time the separation barrier is erected
in this region, the inhabitants’ hold on the land will be very fragile. It
will, therefore, be relatively easy to uproot and expel them from their
homes so that the land can be annexed without Palestinians.
The situation in South Hebron is but a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict at large, which the current Israeli government conceives as a
demographic war: it wishes to grab as much land as it can without upsetting
the Jewish majority within the State. In Hebrew, as mentioned, this kind of
scheme is called "transfer."
Those wishing to support Ta’ayush’s (Arab-Jewish Partnership) campaign in
South Hebron can contact Neve Gordon at
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion
University, Israel, and can be reached at
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