In the mountains
of South Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
lives a unique community of Arab cave dwellers. They
have lived in the hill caves for hundreds of years
but now their distinct way of life, rituals and beliefs
are under threat. The Israeli army wants to expel
them because Israeli right-wing settlers want them
out. Fortunately they have their defenders, among
whom one man stands out: Ezra Nawi, an Iraqi-born
This fifty minute film is the story of an ancient
community’s struggle against the sword of expulsion,
and the story of Ezra Nawi-the champion of their rights.
The nine Palestinian farmers were taken to the nearby
military base with their hands tied behind their backs.
There they were forced to sit on the ground for hours.
Whoever dared to ask why he was being held or complained
was kicked or slapped. The farmers’ only offence
was an unsuccessful attempt to plow their land.
The strategy of harassment takes many forms. Firing
on the farmers as they work their land. Damaging their
property. Terrifying their children on the way to
school. And lately it has taken the form of violence
The above incident happened at Yanon village as part
of an ongoing campaign by the Israeli government and
local Jewish settlers to make the Palestinian farmers
give up claims to their land.
Prior to 1967, this area was part of Jordanian-occupied
West Bank. In June 1967 the Israelis took over control
following the Six Day War. Now the army says it needs
the land for training and for use as a firing range.
The Jewish settlers see the area as potential land
for their own expansion. Many of the settlers are
hippie types from America, who emulate Arab dress
and lifestyle even as they drive the cave dwellers
away. Meanwhile critics say that their actions are
just part of a wider Government policy to make the
area an Arab-free zone that can be annexed to Israel.
So along came the tractors, the massive bulldozers,
the dinosaur-type rock diggers, and the huge earth
removing lorries. Ancient trees were uprooted and
the farmers prevented from tilling their fields. At
that point the Ta’ayush Organisation for Arab
Jewish partnership stepped in and appealed to the
Israeli Supreme Court for help. But while the big
transfer is still being debated the settlers’
In most cases the local army commander turns a blind
eye when not actively supporting the Jewish settlers.
Little is done to stop the constant sniping on the
Arabs at work. Members of the Civil Administration
have killed the farmers’ sheep under pretext
of preventing disease. And they have forbidden the
villagers to contact the Israeli peace activists who
had stoned the soldiers’ entrance gate to the
villages. Indeed the activists who tried to help the
Hebron cave dwellers were stopped, arrested and assaulted
by right-wing settlers.
One man above all has taken up the cause of the cave
dwellers. He is Ezra Nawi, a Jewish activist in the
Taayush peace organization. An unlikely hero, Ezra
is a middle-aged Sefardi plumber, and handyman, born
in Iraq, who seems to have devoted his total public
life to the peace movement. But his private life also
consists of an immense struggle. For Ezra is a Jewish
homosexual in love with Fuad, a Palestinian from Ramallah..
Ezra’s battle is to ensure Fuad can stay in
Israel. At present Fuad is in an Israeli prison where
Ezra visits him weekly. He knows that if Fuad is expelled
to the Palestinian territories he can very likely
meet a violent death at the hands of homophobic Moslems.
Ezra is a believer, an idealist . He thinks that
Jews like himself, who were born in countries like
Morocco, Tunisia and Iraq and are deeply familiar
with Arab culture can form a vanguard and a build
a bridge peace with the Arabs. He refuses to consider
that the reality might be different…and that
is Jews from the Arab countries who most distrust
the Arabs, and are to be numbered among the most militant
of the right-wingers.
There have been many battles in Ezra’s life,
but now the supreme one is to safeguard the rights
of the Hebron cave dwellers. Here he sees not just
the threatened forced transfer of a people but the
total and tragic destruction of an ancient way of
The Cave Dwellers of Hebron
South Hebron is about three quarters of an hour from
Jerusalem, on the way to Beersheba. Nearbye is historic
Hebron , a packed noisy hothouse city of over 200,000
Arabs constantly in dispute with the few religious
Israelis who live in its tiny embattled ancient Jewish
quarter. The cave dwellers are situated only a few
miles distant from all this but seem to be living
in an entirely different universe.- a universe set
two hundred years back in time.
Altogether there are twelve villages of cave dwellers
in the Hebron Mountains. with names like Twaneh, Yanon
and Jimba. Some of the villages consist of one hundred
or so caves, while the smaller villages are made up
of ten or twelve caves. Their way of life is one that
has changed little over the past hundreds of years.
Throughout the rule of Ottomans, British, Jordanians
and now the Israelis the South Hebron cave dwellers
have clung to a way of life with rare material values,
distinct beliefs, and hallowed rituals. Now these
traditions, their homes and their land are all under
The life seems harsh, difficult for a city dweller
to understand. The caves are dark, blackened with
the smoke of so many fires. There is no electricity,
and water is scarce. People have few belongings..
There are few amenities and few medical facilities.
When a barefoot child was bitten by a snake there
was panic until he could be taken to a distant hospital.
There is no grocery store and no kiosks. .If you want
provisions, you have to go into Yatta, the nearest
Arab town. But there is little transport and going
by donkey may be the only solution.
In the mornings the men go out to tend the fields,
and the sheep. They also prune the olive trees while
the women cook, or look after the goats. For the kids
there is a five mile walk to school. It is a difficult
life but one which the cave dwellers want desperately
to preserve for their children and for the generations
Our film will portray the ongoing struggle by showing
us the daily life of Abdulla, a cave dweller, and
that of his wife and their twelve children. We shall
see Abdulla and his neighbours as they try to work
under harassment, and withstand the army and the settlers.
We’ll see his home life. Join in his festivals
and traditions and follow his children to school.
We’ll be with him in court as he and his friend
Ezra desperately try to stop the expropriation of
the lands. And we’ll be with him in his face-to-face
battles with the local Army commander.
Parallel to Abdulla’s story we’ll be
following the work and efforts of Ezra.as he tries
to stop the land grab. We watch him trying to involve
friends in high places, lawyers, Knesset members and
others in the struggle. We’ll see him bringing
Israeli peaceniks to the area, disputing with the
soldiers and trying to bring in truckloads of clothes
for the cave dwellers. We’ll follow his behind
the scenes work at Taayush, and his legal efforts
on the behalf of the villagers, and show the orchestrated
harassment by the Israeli authorities to stop his
activism. We will illustrate his warm friendship with
Abdulla and his family, and watch his efforts to organize
a summer camp for the children of the cave dwellers.
This a camp to which Ezra will bring artists, musicians
and sculptors to brighten the lives of the children.
In spite of the efforts of the settlers to destroy
the effort by contaminating the children’s drinking
water, we’ll see the ultimate success of the
Finally we’ll look at Ezra’s own life
where the political struggle takes on a personal dimension
as he attempts to keep his lover Fuad from deportation.
Here there is a tragic irony in that Ezra is struggling
for a people whose own traditions and opposition to
homosexuality almost certainly would condemn his lover
to death back in Ramallah.
Can the battles be won or is the fate of Abdullah
and his neighbors sealed? In books the heroes always
triumph but life can be very different. This film
is the portrait of a struggle whose end looks predetermined.
The army will win, as it always does, and the cave
dwellers will leave. Nevertheless this is a tale that
has to be told. And it is the portrait of an idealist,
a simple Sefardi plumber and handyman who, when so
many Israeli leftists have given up the fight or changed
their views, still believes that compassion, love
and spirit can change the world.