Life in Translation

Photo by: Martin Brazili

My name is Ali Rashi Ibrahim Ali Awad, and I am 18 years old. I live in the village of Tuba. It is to the east of Yatta, south of Hebron and very near to the settlement of Maon. The people of Tuba work in agriculture with animals and plants. Between my home and my school there is a settlement, a forest and some settlers. Now Israeli soldiers escort us to my school to protect us from settlers. But before the soldiers escorted us it was worse then now; settlers would attack us. Now it is easier but I wish the situation would improve, that we could go freely to school without the army and without the settlers. 

I live in a cave, without any other people but not alone. I live with some doves, birds and cats and I am very happy with these animals as my companions. The birds wake up early and their voices wake me so I can start my day. Right now I am studying for the tawjihi exams [the final high school exams in Palestine]. I put the books on the table, turn on my small lamp, and I stay in my cave by myself and I study for many hours, sometimes until midnight. I hope I will get good results because when I finish school I would like to go to university and to study translation because this can help people communicate and understand each other.
People need to realize what is happening around them, how to live in this world.

I have mixed feelings about finishing school. Part of me is sad becuase this is the only school I have ever gone to and I learned a lot there. But I am also happy because I won’t have to go to school any more and I can follow my dream to go to university and study translation. I like to translate stories because you can take people on an adventure. The most difficult thing in translation is the relationship between a single word and the actual meaning of language. Not only do I have to translate the word itself but I have to translate the meaning of the word in the sentence as a whole. I have to translate the feeling. I find this very exciting. For example there is an adiom in English – ‘black sheep’ – that doesn’t really exist in Arabic. If you want to translate black sheep with the words ‘black’ – aswad (or soda for feminine) – and ‘sheep’ – naaji – and you say ‘naaji soda’ to someone here they will tell you that you can find one anywhere – here is a sheep that is coloured black! But as an idiom it means someone who is different, different from his family and their expectations. In my family you can say I am a sort of the black sheep. I am a bit different from my family because all my family are famers, I am the first in my family to finish school and the only one who speaks English. In a certain way I am an outsider, a sort of a black sheep, and I hope there will be many more black sheep in the family. 

I also like poetry. There is a poem that I like about a boy that loves a girl and my favorite lines go: 
‘I looked to you and your greatness overcomes me. I yield my gaze, you have won me.’
People of my age maybe experience feelings like those in in this poem. When you love a girl, you will feel like the poet does.

I have some optimism that my dream will come true, but I am also sure that the occupation can destroy me. What can I do against the occupation? But I try not to let the occupation stop my dreaming. Because I don’t care what the occupation does, what matters is what I want to be. So I defend my rights by the law, because my actions are honest and justified. I don’t give them a reason to feel I want to harm them and I don’t give them excuses to let them stop me, to let them stop me dreaming.



Tuba is a Palestinian village in South Hebron Hills. A census held by the Palestinian Authority in 2007 counted 72 residents. Most of the people in the village are from the Awad family whose core is in Yatta. Their ancestors have been living there for five generations, since the end of the 19th century. In 1979 two families from the Abu Jundiyeh hamula (extended family/clan) came to live in Tuba. There are five residential caves in Tuba that had been dug before the Awad family moved there. In addition to these caves the families dug several other residential caves.

Tuba is one of the cave-dwelling villages in the South Hebron Hills that were not recognized by the Israeli authorities after the occupation of the West Bank in 1967. In November 1999, the Israeli army expelled the residents of Tuba as part of the general expulsion of the cave residents of Masafer Yatta, which is an area designated by the Israeli military as “Firing Zone 918”. Several months later, the residents were allowed to return to their villages with an interim court order of the Israeli Supreme Court. Since the beginning of 2000, the residents of Tuba have been living under enormous pressure from the settlers of Maon,  1.5 KM west of their village, and even more by the settlers of Havat Maon, which is near Maon. The pressure that Maon settlers applied caused the closure of the road connecting Tuba and Yatta. Later on the settlers built ten houses on the course of the road. Between 2002-2004 they violently stopped school children from Tuba from going to their school in the nearby village of Twaneh. A joint action was taken by international and Israeli organizations in which the resident of Tuba managed to communicate the problem to the Education Committee of the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset). After the Education Committee’s intervention, the Israeli army started escorting the children on their way from Tuba to their school in Twaneh and back, and still continues to do so until today (2016). The Maon settlers continue to act violently towards the residents of Tuba and try to scare its people. The continuation of escorting the children to school by the army is ensured thanks to the daily follow-up by the volunteers of the Italian organization Operation Dove.

photo gallery
Life in Translation

Young Ali Awad is an 18 year old student from the village of Tuba. Here he shares a little about his life and dreams.

Our Cave is our Palace

Interview with Ali Awad from Tuba in South Hebron Hills. He tells us the story of where he was born.

One of the most dangerous school journeys in the world

These Palestinian kids need an army escort to get to school. Shot by videojournalist Camilla Schick.


Omar Muhammad Ahmad Jundiyeh

Interview with Omar from the village of Tuba. For the original interview in Arabic go here (2016)


My name is Omar Muhammad Ahmad Jundiyeh. I am 48 years old. I was born in Khirbet Twaneh, right here. The village has people who were expelled in 1948. My father bought a piece of land here during the Jordanian rule, so he came here and dug this cave and the other one. In 1979 we moved here. My mother was generous and loved hosting and honouring people. Everyone loved her. She passed away 29 years ago, in 1987. She had 10 children and I was the youngest one so I was precious to her, she loved me a lot. My father passed away in 2000, 16 years ago. Until recently we had no electricity here, it was strange for us to move from lamp oil to electricity. Some people thought it would be impossible to have electricity in this area. Women used to sit the whole day to prepare cheese, but now it barely takes an hour with electricity. Women used to work all day long if there was a lot of milk. Thank God, there is electricity now and women make cheese and do the washing very easily.

Those settlements you can see were built in 1982. Before that, there were no settlements and no Jews here. When the settlements were established, the trouble started. In the past we didn’t worry about our sheep, but since the settlers came, the shepherds are scared, school children are scared, people are scared in their own homes. The conditions here have become very difficult.

Everyone here lives from their sheep. Everyone lives from farming the land and grazing their herds, it’s a very simple source of income that families here depend on. In 1997 they demolished our village. They didn’t leave one stone in place except for this cave that we’re in now. There was grain here so they left it standing. They demolished everything and still we stayed. We rebuilt the village all over again. We had a lawyer who got us an interim order, but in 2000, they came back and gave us demolition orders.

The army was coming every day for four days and telling us to leave. Eventually their commander said that if we don’t leave he’s going to blow up all of our houses. That if we protest, they’ll destroy everything but if we leave, we might be able to come back with the help of a lawyer.

The villages downhill appointed Shlomo Lecker as their lawyer and we had Neta Amer. We stayed in Twaneh for four months and when the court ruled, we returned.

The Intifada started in 2000 that’s when our problem with the road began. Before the settlers came, this was the main road for all the villages and there was no alternative to it. To avoid it, we had to travel 15 km through the countryside. The kids used to run into settlers who would chase them and scare and beat them.

They also used to watch over the road and arrest us if we go onto it. They threatened us with a 2000 shekel fine if they caught us there again. So the conditions here became very difficult. For two years, our children had to walk for almost 10km to get to school. When the foreign activists and Taayush came, they understood how difficult it was for the children and they started walking them to school. Even when the children were accompanied by activists, there were times that they would get beaten by settlers. The activists made a big  fuss about it and the army decided to also accompany the children with an army jeep. This has been the situation since 2004. In the past there were problems between the children and the settlers and the army on a daily basis. The soldiers used to also be beaten by the settlers.

Life would be much better without the occupation or the settlers and people would just be living their lives. We would be worrying only about our families and our sheep. We wouldn’t care about politics or anything. In the past, there were no phones and when people left we used to worry about when they’d come back. That was the only worry we had.

I love this place. Every time I leave it my body hurts. I’m used to living here, and I cannot leave. How can I leave a place that I love so much?

Ali Awad on Friendship

Ali Awad from the village of Tuba tells a story about an electrifying friendship. The original interview can be found in Arabic here. (2016) 


My name is Ali Ibrahim Ali Awad. I am from Khirbet Tuba (Cer-bet Too-bah). I want to tell you about the electricity project. When I first met Elad and the team from the electricity NGO Comet ME, I had my doubts about the project because I didn’t know the people and it usually takes time before you get to know people and start trusting them, especially if they are Israeli. Bit by bit we started knowing them and saw that they came to help us and started loving and trusting them. Ezra (Nawi) from Taayush told me that they want to start a solar panel project to produce electricity and they asked for our help.

They said they needed a place for the Palestinian team to stay and have breakfast and dinner at, as the project was made from a Palestinian team that was all volunteers and from a foreign team that had foreigners and Israelis. I told my neighbors and they happily agreed to help. We have a cave here and it is where the Palestinian team was going to sleep. We brought furniture and prepared everything. This was on January 8th, 2010, six years ago. We dug holes in the ground to put up the solar panels. Within one and a half hours we put up three solar panels and already had electricity. We connected them to six batteries.

What was beautiful about the project is that the two teams would work during the day and gather around at night. We were about 20 people. Our guide would give his impressions about the work and then we would hang out together until ten or eleven o’clock at night.

At the end of the project the team wanted to throw a party, a simple party with some fruit and some vegetarian food. There were around 100 people at the party, maybe even more. It was a beautiful party and it lasted for 5 or 6 hours.

In the evening, Elad and Noam stayed over with the rest of the engineers. Elad left a bag at my mother’s house during that period of time and she kept it for him. A real friendship started between us, and when they greet each other, they do it very warmly.

Elad brought his wife to us to visit and we went to see a female camel while she was giving birth. My mother asked Elad’s wife how come she doesn’t have a child, and she answered that she’s not thinking about having one. So my mother called Elad, whom she felt comfortable around, since he lived with us and asked him how come he still doesn’t have a child. He answered that they’re not planning one. She told him that he’s a grown up and one has to have a child early.

A while later, he called me and said that Hagit is pregnant. He said that it was my mother’s idea because they didn’t think about it until my mother mentioned it. When the baby was 5 or 6 months old, they brought him here and they stayed for a night. The baby spent the night with my mother and was happy. Elad was also happy. He was happy to have a child and was happy with my mother’s idea. She’s 65 years old, and she encouraged him to have a baby.

I had a permit to visit Israel and Elad used to live in Bet Shemesh. Once I went to his house while fasting during Ramadan. I stayed at his house and he woke up at 3 in the morning to make me a cup of tea and prepared me a meal before I started fasting.

I am very grateful to all of them, and I’m grateful to God to have given me the chance to meet such people and become their friend. I won friendship and love, and also a project that benefitted the area. I also hope that you’ll become my friend too.

Stories from the Villages Group |

Three Short Stories by Erella Dunayevsky from the group the Villages group: Thank-you Jinba, My DearThe Bambi and the GoatThe Sixth Lesson.