Mohammed Nawajaa with his grandson Ahmed: 'Either we die here or become refugees'

The conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews over land and water wells in the ancient, scorched hills south of Hebron in the West Bank has a distinctly biblical feel.

All across the West Bank, local Palestinians who have farmed the land for generations have been physically forced from their villages by Israeli settlers. Some Palestinians have returned, others have not, and many are living in dark caves and tent encampments.

Despite deteriorating living conditions, many refuse to leave. "I'm 64 years old. That makes me four years older than the state of Israel," says Mohammed Nawajaa. He is a Palestinian from the village of Susiya, a Palestinian area in the West Bank. Once, there were 500 Palestinian families living in this area. Now, there are 30.

"We feel anxious, depressed and upset. Our land has been taken from us. Every day and night we live in fear because of the threat of violence. This is apartheid. Either we die here or become refugees. But we would rather die here than leave."

Under Israeli law, the Jewish settlement in Susiya is legally permitted on the basis that it is an "archaeological area". There is also an Israeli military base stationed in the surrounding hills since the 1990s.

Mohammed's grandson Ahmed is two years and five months old. The community here used to live in caves but many of them have been blocked up and destroyed by the Israeli settlers.

So now, they mostly live in tents. Ahmed is proud of what remains of his village. He insists on taking the Sunday Tribune on a tour of what is left of this once thriving rural community. He shows us the chicken coop and where the rest of their livestock are kept, just below ground. He seems happy here. It is his home and like his father Naser and grandfather Mohammed, he does not want to leave.

"I'm hoping this occupation of our land will end soon. Several times we have been driven from our land, in 2001 again our caves were blocked up. We've been attacked with clubs when we're out working the land. But if more and more people support peace, I believe it will happen," adds Mohammed.

Zif is a Palestinian village not far from Susiya. In 2002, the illegal Kahane Movement, which consists of several extremist Jewish groups, planted a bomb that exploded in the grounds of the school, injuring some of the children.

"The bomb was put beside a tree. The explosion broke some of the windows in the school," explains former principal Abu Majdi. "Six or seven of the kids were drinking from the water fountain and were injured. Luckily most of the children were inside. The army was called and found two more bombs in the ground and carried out controlled explosions."

A new zoning plan in Zif drawn up by the military is causing some problems. Some of the area is now subject to demolition orders, including an outside bathroom of the school that suffered the bomb attack. New zoning plans all over the West Bank that mainly forbids Palestinian Arabs from building homes are increasingly being implemented. Palestinians believe it is a method used by the Israelis to slowly seize control of Palestinian territory. The Israeli refute this, saying proper planning needs to be implemented.

In another village in the West Bank, Bir el-Eid, the Palestinian farming community won a rare victory in late 2009.

With the legal assistance of Rabbis for Human Rights, a Jewish group that champions the cause of the poor in Israel and supports the rights of Israel's minorities and Palestinians, the local Palestinians were recently allowed return to their land under a court ruling.

The terrain of their homes here mirrors the scene in nearby Susiya – a barren, dusty terrain where the community live in tents and attempt to farm their land. A South African man, who converted to Judaism, founded an Israeli settlement in the village in 1996 and began a campaign of terror and intimidation against the local Palestinians. "We have been forced off this land many times, by settlers and the army. I was shot just below the eye by one of the settlers. They have also poisoned some of our sheep," says Ziad Mkhamerah. "But we want to stay on our land."

Rabbi Michael Schwartz, attached to Rabbis for Human Rights, says the Hebron Hills is a hotbed of violence and tension. "This really is the wild west. We support the idea of a country built on peace and equality."