Palestinians take their fight for justice to the mountains

Palestinians are not going anywhere. This is the gist of seven decades of Palestinian struggle against Zionist colonialism. The proof? The story of Ahmed Amarneh.

Amarneh, a 30-year-old civil engineer from the northern West Bank village of Farasin, lives with his family in a cave. For many years, the Amarneh family has attempted to build a proper home, but their requests have been denied by the Israeli military. In many ways, the struggle of the Amarnehs is a microcosm of the collective struggle of Farasin; in fact, of most Palestinians.

Those who are unfortunate enough to live in the parts of the West Bank that were designated by the Oslo II Accord of 1995 as Area C are in a perpetual limbo. Area C constitutes nearly 60 percent of the overall size of the West Bank. It is rich with resources — mostly arable land, water and ample minerals — but is relatively sparsely populated. It is not surprising that right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to annex this region. More land, with fewer Palestinians, has been the guiding principle for Zionist colonialism from the outset.

Although Netanyahu’s annexation plan, or at least the de jure element, has been postponed, in practice de facto annexation has been taking place for many years — and lately it has accelerated. In June, for example, Israel demolished 30 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, mostly in Area C, rendering more than 100 Palestinians homeless. Additionally, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli army bulldozers also destroyed 33 non-residential structures in the same month. This is “the same number (of homes) demolished throughout the entire first five months of 2020,” OCHA reported.

Unfortunately, Farasin, like numerous other Palestinian villages and communities across Area C, has been singled out for destruction. A small population of about 200 people has been subjected to Israeli army harassment for years. While Israel is keen on implanting Jewish communities into the heart of the occupied West Bank, it is equally keen on disrupting the natural growth of Palestinian communities, the indigenous people of the land, in Area C.

Israeli forces invaded Farasin on July 29, terrorizing the residents and handing out 36 demolition orders, according to the head of the village council. This is the onset of the ethnic cleansing of the entire population of the village.

Amarneh and his family were among those to receive a demolition order, even though they do not live in a concrete house. They live in a mountain cave. “I didn’t make the cave. It has existed since antiquity,” he told reporters. “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.”

Amarneh’s emotional outburst is not misleading. The Israeli rights group B’tselem has listed some of the deceptive methods used to forcefully remove Palestinians from their homes in Area C or to block any development whatsoever within these Palestinian communities. “Israel has blocked Palestinian development by designating large swathes of land as state land, survey land, firing zones, nature reserves and national parks,” the group stated.

Judging by the systematic destruction of the Palestinian environment in the West Bank, Israel is hardly interested in the preservation of animals either. The ultimate goal is the allocation of “land to settlements and their regional councils,” B’tselem argues.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that, as of November 2017, only 16 of the 180 Palestinian communities in Area C had been approved for development. The rest are strictly prohibited. Between 2016 and 2018, of the 1,485 Palestinian applications for construction and development permits in Area C, only 21 were approved. These unrealistic and draconian measures leave Palestinian families with no option but to build without a permit — eventually making them targets for the Israeli military bulldozers.

Hundreds of families, like the Amarnehs, have opted for alternative solutions. Failing to obtain a permit and wary of demolition if they build without one, they simply move to mountain caves. This phenomenon is particularly manifest in the Hebron and Nablus regions.

In the mountainous wasteland on the outskirts of Nablus, the wreckage of abandoned homes — some demolished, some unfinished — is testimony to the ongoing war between the Israeli military and the Palestinian people. Once they lose the battle and are left with no other option, many Palestinian families take their belongings and head to the caves in search of a home.

However, the fight often does not end there, as Palestinian communities, especially in the Hebron hills region, find themselves being the target of more eviction orders. The war for Palestinian survival rages on.

The case of Amarneh, however, is unusual, for rarely, if ever, does Israel issue a military order to demolish a cave. When their cave home is destroyed, where else can the Amarneh family go?

Once they lose the battle and are left with no other option, many Palestinian families take their belongings and head to the caves.

Ramzy Baroud

This dilemma, which is symptomatic of the larger Palestinian quandary, reminds one of Mahmoud Darwish’s seminal poem “The Earth is Closing on Us,” which reads: “Where should we go after the last frontiers? Where should the birds fly after the last sky? Where should the plants sleep after the last breath of air?”

However depressing the reality may be, the metaphor is undeniably powerful: That of savage colonialism that knows no bounds and Palestinian steadfastness (“sumoud”) that is perennial.

Often buried within the technical details of oppression — Area C, home demolition, ethnic cleansing, etc. — is the tenacity of the human spirit, such as that of the Amarneh family and hundreds of others like them, who have turned caves into loving homes. It is this unmatched perseverance that makes the quest for justice in Palestine achievable, despite the innumerable odds.

  • Ramzy Baroud
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