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by David Bloom

The Palestinian village Twane, south of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, is home to a unique culture of cave-dwellers, who have inhabited homes dug into the hillsides since at least the early nineteenth century. Twane has come under a systematic campaign of violent harassment by local Israeli settlers in recent years, which residents say is part of a design to annex their lands. Now, a particularly brutal attack on two Christian pacifist aid workers in the village brings the issues facing the community into sharp focus.

On Sept. 29, masked men, clothed all in black, came down from the direction of the Jewish settlement colony Maon Farm, and attacked Kim Lamberty, 44, and Chris Brown, 36, both US citizens working with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). At the time of the attack, they were escorting Palestinian children to school on a path where the students often face stone-throwing and other attacks from the militant settlers of Maon. The five assailants were armed with chains and baseball bats. Brown sustained a facial laceration and a collapsed lung. The men bashed him with chains and kicked him with their boots. They threw Lamberty to the ground, breaking her knee and arm. The victims were on the ground 30 minutes before they were evacuated to the Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva, Israel. The children ran away during the assault.

"We saw them come down from the Maon ranch," Lamberty, who was released from the hospital Oct. 1, told the press. "The children fled screaming, but they let them go. This [attack] was clearly planned. Chris and I both started to run. They caught me quickly, choked me, threw me to the ground and then beat me." Brown's injuries were more serious, and he will remain hospitalized for several more days.

"I heard them say, 'take her phone,' in English," Lamberty later recalled. After the attackers beat her and moved onto Brown, they spotted her trying to call for help. They stripped her of her fanny pack and phone, and then fled up the hill, she said.

Despite the fact that the only items taken were Lamberty's fanny pack and phone, the Israeli police have termed the incident a "robbery" and not an assault, and say they have no leads. Lamberty maintains the attackers were highly ideological American Jewish settlers from Maon Farm, an officially "illegal" settlement outpost that is a satellite to Maon, a fenced-in settlement of some 50 families.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director of the Israel-based Rabbis for Human Rights, quipped to reporters: "I don't know how many Palestinian baseball teams there are in that area. It is quite clear that the attackers were settlers."

The CPT volunteers had only recently arrived in Twane. One of their primary purposes was to walk the children to school in the village of Tubas, a two-kilometer trip, that takes the students by Maon Farm. To completely avoid the settlement would be a ten-kilometer trip.

Asked why he thought the settlers assaulted his colleagues, CPT spokesperson Cal Carpenter said the settlers "didn't like what we were doing, namely escorting Palestinian kids to their schools."

Carpenter said the CPT volunteers would not be daunted. "We will go to the village tomorrow and we will escort the kids to their school," he pledged.

According to local Palestinians, the nearby settlers despise the Christian activists for "helping the Palestinians stay in the area." Several other groups have come to the aid of these Palestinian villagers, including the organization Taayush, and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Both have had many incidents with the settlers.

In March of 2003, Tom Wallace was the media coordinator for ISM. He spent a few days over Shabat (Jewish Sabbath) with members of Taayush, protecting the villagers of Twane. According to Wallace, it was on weekends (during Shabat) that the most vicious settlers from the outposts would show up to terrorize the villagers.

One attack on an Israeli member of Taayush--while Israeli soldiers looked on--was filmed and aired on Israeli television. The scandal prompted a crackdown--first on the settlers and then on Taayush.

Despite the fact that the recent attack on the American volunteers was the most serious yet, the world press was slow to cover the incident. Many papers avoided using the word "settler" since the men were masked. At first, the BBC put "settlers" in quotes. The Jerusalem Post, a traditionally right-wing newspaper which has just had an editorial change to the more centrist David Horowitz, carried the quote from Rabbi Ascherman, emphasizing the implausibility of the attackers being anybody but settlers.


Maon and Maon Farm are part of a cluster of settlements and satellite outposts built in the last ten years. They are known to be among the most ideological of the settler movement. Maon, and its satellite outposts Maon Farm, Nof Nesher, Beit Hever and Susiya were all created in the 90's on the hills around a valley. On these hillsides is a very unique culture of cave-dwelling, sheep-herding Palestinians. The cave-ridden hills look like they probably did 2000 years ago--but for the fact that many residents have cell phones.

No one knows how many live in the valley's Palestinian villages, some 13 in all. There has been no reliable census. But some say 1,000 may live in caves dug into the soft clay-like rock of the hills. Just how long the cave-dwellers have lived here is also a matter of dispute. Mitch Potter in the Toronto Star quotes the leader of al-Musafir Yatta, one of the cave-dwelling communities, as saying, "How blue is the sky?"

"We live as we did in the time of David," Hamash, a local cave dweller, told the UK Observer, referring to the Old Testament king. "We have no electricity, radio or television. We are happy to retain our dignity by living without politics." Not all of the villagers make the same choice--some do have televisions and electricity, and are involved in the politics of the situation. Confrontations with settlers over grazing rights have become frequent.

Joel Greenberg, in a February 2000 New York Times article, claims the cave-dwellers have lived there since the Muslim conquest of Palestine in the seventh century. A 19th century account by American bible geographer Edward Robinson referred to cave-dwellers in a book published in 1841. The cave-dwellers possess Ottoman-era deeds of ownership, and some Jordanian deeds.

The mayor of Twane explained to Wallace that the villagers have lived under various forms of rule and occupation. But whether it was Ottoman, British or Jordanian, they had not been terrorized until the Israelis.

"I was born in this cave," Haj Issa Omoor told the Toronto Star. "My [10] children were born here. That is why it is so important to us. The Israelis are trying to squeeze us between two sledgehammers, but we will never leave. We belong to this land. I will die in this cave." The sledgehammers Omoor is referring to are the Israeli army firing range in the valley blow, and the aggressive settlers up above.

It is the presence of the firing range in the valley that was first used to place restrictions on the movements of the cave-dwellers. Eventually they were evicted, though some have been allowed to return. But the cave dwellers see the real reason for their eviction as an Israeli plan to annex their territory, and bring them inside the separation barrier, attaching their lands to Hebron and the major settlement of Kryat Arba. But this plan may have been abandoned due to political considerations, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided Maon and other nearby settlements will remain outside the barrier, and that the route will be closer to the Green Line. Sharon will be sending the new route to his cabinet for approval soon.


Omoor's cave and lands lie below the lands of Yacov Taljah, 47, the burly patriarch of his own family--three children, and his parents. The Jewish settler was asked by settlers in nearby Beit Yatir to take this particular hilltop, He said no four times. "Nobody else had the guts to come," he recalls. "They knew it would be a battle." At the time, 17 Arab families occupied the top of the hill. The fifth time it was offered, Taljah said he would do it if the move would be backed by full Israeli documentation of ownership. The papers were signed by Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin himself, only weeks before he was assassinated in 1995. With papers in hand, Taljah built himself a perimeter fence around his "property," guarded by a jeep full of soldiers. "I came because I believe in God. I want to see God come back to this land."

There's something that makes Taljah a little different from most settlers. Talhjah is a convert to Judaism, as are his parents, who live with him. He is also an Afrikaner by birth. "The people I come from, the Boers, are supposedly the most racist people in the world," he harrumphed to a reporter from Haaretz. "But they are really the least racist of all. Apartheid only means apart. And that's what I want: to live apart. You don't see any Arabs around here. And you don't see any Jews, either. I don't like too many people around me." Taljah says this despite the fact that he has two Palestinians working on his property--"good Arabs," he calls them.

Just as apartheid started to fall in South Africa, Taljah had a propitiously-timed conversion experience. "I was going to be a Christian preacher, like my father," Taljah remembered with a laugh. "But I came to realize I was on a side-road of faith. Now, I am on the main road." Taljah has met once with Omoor; each took out their contradicting land deeds.

But some don't even see the point in obtaining a deed. "I don't plan to argue with them about the Tabu [the Israeli land registry] and ownership deeds," one settler from Susiya Farm told Haaretz. "My Tabu is the Bible. They're our enemies and they're sitting on land that isn't theirs and they have to be thrown off. There's no such a thing as an Arab fellah who only wants to tend to his little garden, they've been murdering us for over 120 years."

(SOURCES: Haaretz, Sept. 26; UK Observer, Sept. 26; Toronto Star, Sept. 19; Jerusalem Post, Sept. 19; BBC, Sept. 19; CPT Press Release, Sept. 19; Ha'aretz, Sept. 4, 2004; NYT, Feb. 19, 2000)


Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, June 5, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution


Reprinting permissible with attribution.