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Caved In

Aharon Granot

Just a few miles from modern civilization, entire families of “cavemen” inhabit the caverns and grottos along the terrain of the Southern Chevron Hills. It’s not that they left the modern world — they never joined it. But where did they come from? Are they squatters who moved into these caves from the surrounding villages in an underhanded landgrab, or are they indeed the remnants of an ancient tribe — that might have actually been Jewish?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A hot desert breeze blew on our faces as we scaled the side of the mountain. Our jeep remained at the bottom, as a precondition our hosts had set: We could come, but without any modern inventions that would mar the tranquility of the region or compromise our hosts’ chosen lifestyle.These people are not meditating spirit seekers who fled the modern world for the silence of the desert, nor are they recluses, who chose nature over human society. This clan, ensconced in their caves near the community of Maon in the Southern Chevron Hills, never left the modern world because they never joined it. For them, progression and advancement was left behind hundreds of years ago. They don’t even have houses — instead, they live in caves. Only the bricks that have been used to reinforce the mouths of the caves reveal that this clan is actually a member of the 21st century.As the bustling modern world melts away behind us, we come to a clearing of roosters and chickens wandering about, flocks of sheep grazing on the mountain slope, and one large family — from grandmother to children — harvesting the little bit of dry wheat that this past year’s arid winter yielded.Accompanied by our guide, Shalom Elkobi — a resident ofKiryatArbawho knows every crook in the terrain and is on friendly terms with its natives — we’re greeted with a smile and a handshake by Shahadi Salami, a thin man whose skin is tanned a leathery brown. “Welcome,” he enthuses as he comes out to meet us, and motions to the entrance of the cave.Salami might have expected his life to remain safely nestled in the previous centuries, but he’s actually discovered that the area he’s charted out as his homestead is state property that the Defense Ministry has earmarked as a training and firing range. For the last decade, these cave-dwellers of the Yatta district have enlisted left-wing civil rights groups such asB’tselemto plead their case, while the government would like to relocate them to Yatta and other Arab towns. 

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