Among the steep hills between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, in the shadow of settlements on both sides and with a view on the Holy City there’s a small shack built of wood and metal sheets, surrounded by olive trees and a flowery garden: a little spot of paradise among destruction and occupation. The man who lives there is a shining example of resistance: his name is Abed, the Caveman. Abdel Fattah Abed Rabbo is a 48 years-old man who decided not to give up his land and to stay. The Israeli government has already bought all the surrounding land but insists on its decision to acquire his five hectares of stony hillside. The purpose, Abed says, is obviously a new settlement which would become the biggest in the Jerusalem area.
Abed welcomes us in his “living-room”: an open space filled with flower pots and rickety couches, closed by curtains and decorated with paintings made by his supporters. A radio transistor dangling from the ceiling on a string buzzes in the background. He serves us a smoky herbal tea made with herbs from his garden, let us get comfortable and watches us while we get accostumed to this strange place. Then he starts telling, with the tone and the pace of a story that he has told a million times.
“This land belongs to my family since the time of the Ottoman empire: I have papers proving it from the Ottomans, from Jordan and even from the Israeli Government”. Shortly after 1948 and the birth of the state of Israel Abed’s mother had the presence of mind to register the land to the Israeli authority, while they were chased from their village and became refugees. Today Abed’s family, including his wife and his children live in Desheisheh refugee camp, but he prefers living in the nature. He’s been living here for twenty years now. “This is the only way I have to keep the land, but someone must always be here. I take turns with my son and I absent myself for maximum twenty minutes to go to the shop. I live waiting for the day that they’ll prevent me to come home”.
Many offers have been made to him so far, up to 50 million dollars. The last one was from Rami Levy, one of the biggest Israeli businessmen: he wanted to buy the place to build a wedding hall and promised Abed to return it to him in 5 years. When the American ambassador in Israel visited Abed he asked him: “What is that you want?”. His brillian answer was: “I want Obama to come here and have a cup of coffee with me“.
This is the truth: despite international law declared them illegal Israeli settlements keep popping up like mushrooms in all the strategic points of the West Bank and especially on the borders: the land-grabs are continuous and Palestinians almost never have a choice but to sell. Settlements are the most effective way to control what is left of the Palestinian territories; they are part of a well organized system made up of checkpoints, bypass roads, control of water and electricity and a series of legal loopholes that allow them to keep occupying Palestinian land. Abed’s obstinacy and courage are therefore his only weapons against this infernal machine.
However, his enemy doesn’t give up; the Israeli government already brought him to court several times with various pretexts: they claim that the shed is illegally built, just as the bathroom, the path, the doves’ house…Many international NGO’s helped him face these trials providing him lawyers and financial support, but there seems to be always a new reason to try to break him down and not all the strategies used to persuade him are legal: with a grim on his face Abed tells us how one day he came to the house and fed water to his doves. Immediately after the birds started to fall and die, making him realize that the water was poisoned.
In our two-days work at Abed’s land we planted trees along his path and helped him keep his land clean. When we left he had tears in his eyes: we hugged him and promised to come back; leaving that little endangered paradise behind our backs we hoped that all of our work won’t be destroyed to make space for more injustice. During all this time Abed became quite famous: many local, Israeli and international newspaper wrote articles on this serious and strong caveman who peacefully resists the occupation. Will the media attention be enough to save his cave? As Abed told us while calmly sipping his tea: “You see that olive tree outside my house? He’s very old but also incredibly strong. I’m just like him: I resist”.