The Final Cave Dwellers of Palestine

  • GAURAV TEMBE
  • Sep 11, 2015
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We climbed down trees, started walking upright, invented tools and weapons, discovered fire and agriculture, and started living in nomadic communities. Eventually, we built towns and cities and voila! Here we are today. The human race has indeed come a long. 

Can you imagine going back in time and trying to live how we used to? Can you give up your modern comforts and live off the land like our ancestors did? You might think that all that is behind us, but there is one community in Palestine that still does it with aplomb.
1,500 Palestinians still live in caves of Masafer Yatta, located in the West Bank region of Palestine. They have been maintaining that lifestyle since the time of Prophet Abraham which scholars believed to be the period roughly between 520320 BC; thats way before the Israeli occupation began in 1967 and they deemed this region a closed military zone for training in the 1980s.

The lives of these Palestinians will take you back to a simpler time. They live inside cave dwellings in harmony with the shifting seasons, harvest their fields and take care of their flock of animals, usually sheep and goat. Living inside caves is said to be an ecological adaptation by the aboriginal nomadic settlers in the region as a defence strategy against tribes and armies that regularly passed through the land. Pretty ingenious, isnt it?

This is how a typical cave dwelling appears. A stone doorway leads into chambers that have been dug out of soft clay-like rock and the walls have been plastered. A shaft for ventilation and light is dug into the ceiling which is also used to bring in vegetables. Alcoves are cut into the walls to provide storage for the families belongings. These dwellings do not have kitchens. Instead, food is prepared and eaten on the ground itself. They even have space to keep their livestock inside during the winter. They usually use electricity through power generators to light the caves. Most families use simple cooking cylinders, however, some families who can afford them now have stoves. The caves provide a good respite from the oppressive heat during the summers and the bitter cold during the winters and are quite comfortable to live in.

Their quiet lives have been disturbed significantly since the Israeli occupation began. Their families have grown which has forced some of these people to build houses over their caves to accommodate new members. Any expansion to their dwellings, however, is prevented by the Israeli Defence Forces and these houses are regularly raided and taken down because these extensions are deemed illegal. The community also has no running water. There are only two wells which serve the families. The residents are forbidden to build any new wells and even a system to harvest rainwater has not been allowed. Agricultural harvests suffer because of the lack of water and the fact that most of the land has been occupied by the IDF and little remains for growing crops.

After the villagers were forcibly evicted in 1999 and their caves filled with rubble, in 2012, these communities faced fresh eviction notices because the Israeli Defence Forces believed that the area was not suitable for permanent residence as it was a live military training zone. 25 of Israels best-known authors including David Grossman and Amos Oz wrote a petition and came to the rescue of these unique people, the last of their kind.

They have been maintaining this unique tradition for countless years and it is our duty to preserve their culture. The least we could do is learn a little about their difficult lives. These brave-hearts are trying to continue an age-old tradition in the face of adversity. Kudos to them!

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