AFP / August 10, 2020
Civil engineer says Israeli authorities twice refused him permission to build a house.
Ahmed Amarneh’s home, with a wooden door opening onto cushion-lined rooms, is not the first Palestinian residence in the occupied West Bank to receive a demolition notice from Israel.
But it may be the first built inside a cave which the Jewish state has threatened to destroy.
Mr Amarneh, a 30-year-old civil engineer, lives with his family in the northern West Bank village of Farasin, where Israel insists it must approve any new residential construction and can tear down homes built without permits.
“I tried twice to build [a house], but the occupation authorities told me it was forbidden to build in the area,” he said.
The Oslo peace accords of the 1990s gave the Palestinians self-rule in parts of the West Bank. However, about 60 per cent of the territory dubbed Area C, where Farasin is located, remains under full Israeli civil and military control.
The United Nations considers Area C as occupied Palestinian Territory.
But Israel has increasingly allocated land there for construction of Jewish settlements – communities considered illegal under international law.
Convinced he would never get Israeli approval to build a home in his village, Mr Amarneh set his sights on a cave in the foothills overlooking Farasin.
He said he figured that as an ancient, natural formation, Israel could not possibly argue that the cave was illegally built, while the Palestinian Authority (PA) agreed to register the land in his name.
Mr Amarneh, whose handyman skills are considerable, sealed the entrance to the cave with a stone wall and installed a wooden door at its centre.
He fashioned a kitchen, a living room and sleeping areas for himself, his pregnant wife and their young daughter. There is even lodging for guests.
He had been living there for a year and half when he received a demolition notice from the Israeli authorities in July, along with 20 other Palestinian families in Farasin.
The Israeli military branch responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank, Cogat, told AFP demolition notices were served to some Farasin residences because of “structures that were illegally built, without the necessary permits and approvals”.
Those demolitions began on Monday, with Israeli troops destroying one home in Farasin and a water tank.
Mr Amarneh, whose home was not targeted on Monday, said he was “surprised” to learn that he had built anything illegally.
“I didn’t make the cave. It has existed since antiquity,” he said, holding his young daughter in his arms.
“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.”
Arab residents established the village of Farasin in 1920, said local council head Mahmud Ahmad Nasser.
It was abandoned during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the year Israeli occupation of the West Bank began.
But from the 1980s, former residents began to return to the area. Nasser put its current population at around 200.
Farasin looks less like a village than a small collection of houses spaced widely apart.
The PA officially recognised the community of Farasin in March, but the coronavirus crisis has prevented it from providing electricity to the area, the local council said.
COGAT had indicated in April that it might suspend some scheduled demolitions due to the pandemic.
But, according to the Israeli anti-settlement campaign group B’Tselem, Israel in June demolished 63 Palestinian structures.
Roughly 450,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, alongside some 2.7 million Palestinians.
Farasin residents had been fearing the possible arrival of Israeli bulldozers for weeks and Mr Amarneh said Monday’s demolition had sparked concern about what might happen next.
The soldiers “came and told the people in the house that they had one minute to collect all their things”, he said.
“They told us, without any shame, to leave the village,” he said, and added that his wife and daughter were “in shock”.