In the Negev, Bedouins have erected thousands of illegal shanties, which the government calls "unauthorized communities" as opposed to "illegal Jewish settlements" in Judea and Samaria. The courts occasionally issue demolition orders, but most of the communities remain, and Bedouin leaders and government politicians often exhibit them as impoverished towns in need of water and electricity.

Drug trafficking is rampant, and the government's allowance for Bedouins to marry several women has caused a boom in the non-Jewish population that already is approaching 40 percent of the entire Negev.

The land grab in the southern Hevron Hills has focused on the method of temporarily dwelling in caves next to Jewish communities, trespassing in order to attract opposition and bringing left wing activists to photograph violence and alleged Jewish vandalism, often staged by the Arabs.

Israeli and foreign news agencies obligingly report that the Bedouins are trying to live on their homeland which Jews have taken over, and the media do not question the source of vandalism, despite photographic proof that the Arabs have caused damage to orchards and chicken farms.

The latest land grabs are near the communities of Livneh, also called Shani, and on a Jewish farm near Beit Yatir and Susia.

"Home sweet home for Suleiman Hawamdeh, a 73-year-old father of 10, is a deep cave in a barren West Bank hillside separated by a barbed-wire fence from a modern Jewish settlement," Reuters News Agency reported this week. The feature states that they first settled in the area more than 100 years ago and that when they gather wood from a nearby forest, they are required to take all of the branches that have fallen on the ground.

Readers are informed that 70-year-old Yousef Kailil said his grandfather was among the first Palestinians to settle in the caves at the site of Quina Foq. Mohamed Rawashdeh, age 60, is quoted as saying, "I was born here and I will die here."

History shows that Arabs never held title to the land. During the Ottoman Empire, a local historical expert said, the leading families of the Hevron suburb of Yatta sat among themselves and divided up the lands arbitrarily. Virtually no one ever worked the land until Jews began developing the area in the early 1980s.

One of the first Arab squatters was the Rawashdeh family, which fled from Yatta after being threatened for alleged crimes. However, the same family member is quoted by Reuters as having been born at the Shani cave. Media routinely report that the Hevron Hills are "Palestinian land."

The Keren KaYemet (Jewish National Fund) operates the nearby Yatir forest and requires the Arabs to take all of the fallen branches to prevent them from committing acts of arson, as they frequently have done by setting fire to the dry wood on the ground.

Hevron Hills Regional Council official Ephraim Hebbs said that the Bedouins only inhabit the caves for about three months during the year when they herd their sheep in the area. "They never built in the area and we did," he says. The Reuters feature described the Arabs sleeping on floors while residents in the nearby community of Shani "live in red roof-topped homes, some with backyard swimming pools." However, there is only one community pool in the town and no others exist.

Moreover, it is customary for Bedouins to sleep on thick mats stuffed with wool from their sheep. Many Bedouins who have in recent years moved into houses still maintain the tradition, especially those of the previous generation.

Bedouins rarely roamed the hills until the late 1990s, when the government of Ehud Barak changed its policy of holding on to uninhabited areas that were in control of the Jordanian government before the Six-Day War in 1967.

Financed by the EU, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has paid many Arabs and Bedouins to move from the Hevron area and occupy the land.

A recent incident at the farm of Ya'akov Talia, a South African-born Jew, illustrates the obstacles in remaining in the area. He and his parents moved to the barren hilltop almost 15 years ago. Former security officer Henry Lee relates the reaction.

"Someone from the American consulate called me and said their satellite identified a mobile home on the hill. He asked how Talia was receiving water and electricity. The issue eventually arrived on the desk of then President Ronald Reagan, who approved it."

However, Civil Lands Administration officials, in opposition to army and police advice, have backed Arab claims to the land. When Arabs tried to survey the hill several years ago, Talia called Lee, who in turn called the Civil Lands Administration. "It is not their plan, but what do you care if they survey it," an officer replied.

Persistence has paid off. The Civil Lands Administration several weeks ago allowed several Arabs from the Hevron area to squat in a cave on the farm.

One of the favorite methods of the Arabs to attract sympathy is to trespass on Jewish communities on the Sabbath, when Jews are not allowed to travel, or cross the land during the week on the premise that it is a short cut to school.

They have used this method next to the community of the Maon Farm, attracting confrontations photographed by activists of the International Solidarity Movement, who often escort them.

However, one security officer said he received rabbinical permission to travel on the Sabbath and photograph trespassing and vandalism by Arabs. The rabbis decreed that allowing the Arab actions without an immediate response threatens the existence of the communities and lives of the residents.