SUSIYA, West Bank (Reuters) – Home for Palestinian Barakat Mour is a hillside cave in the West Bank, which he says is often under threat from Israeli settlers in the occupied territory.
“You’ll be sitting with your wife in the cave and the settlers will raid it without any notice,” Mour, 60, told Reuters about his family’s dwelling near the West Bank city of Hebron.
“Here is where I was born. I was born in this cave. Homeland is very dear and my land is very dear to me, it is part of me,” he said.
The Israeli military said that in recent weeks “there have been several reports of friction between settlers and Palestinians in caves near the village of (At-Tuwani)” and that troops worked to “separate the participants and restore order”.
Natural caves dot the southern Hebron hills. According to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, Palestinian cave-dwellers have been living there at least since the 1830s, using some caves as shelter for sheep and goats and others as homes.
Most have openings carved from stone and are divided into a living space, a storage area and a kitchen.
Mour and his 12 brothers live in the Palestinian village of Yatta, but spend most days in a cave and rotate sleeping there to deter settlers from seizing it at night, he said.
Mour said that in one incident last week around 70 settlers entered the cave and damaged property.
Some 440,000 settlers live among more than 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and that Palestinians seek for a future state.
Most countries view Israeli settlements in occupied territory as illegal under international law. Israel disputes this, citing historic, biblical and political links to the land as well as security needs.
Israeli and Palestinian activists have staged demonstrations outside the cave to support Mour’s family.
At one recent protest, on Jan. 23, activists banged drums and chanted “occupation, no more” towards a group of settlers before being dispersed by Israeli troops firing stun grenades.
The military said “a disturbance developed” during which a number of Palestinians violated an order to leave the area, resulting in soldiers employing “riot dispersal means”.
Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alex Richardson