The fascinating site of Nabi Samwil is one which I’ve simply never paid enough attention to. I have been there a handful of times, know the general background, the history and archaeology, and have taken people there (by request) to visit the place. I was dimly aware, I suppose, that it had been declared (illegally) an Israeli “national park”, but never thought much about it. Over the years , I have mostly pointed out to people, from afar, its isolated structures (and lone tree!) punctuating the skyline north of Jerusalem.
In short, I’m glad that some other people are paying more attention, and for the right reasons. The people in this case are the Emek Shaveh organization, a group that wades frequently into the tricky cross-currents at the nexus of archaeology, politics and human rights in this country. That, in fact, is Emek Shaveh’s reason for existing.
Nabi Samwil is the Arabic name of the place. It is sometimes rendered as Naby Samuel, or in a host of other ways. In modern Hebrew, it’s Har Shmuel. The traditional connection, dating to at least the medieval period (but almost surely incorrect), is to the Prophet Samuel — it has been held to be biblical Mizpah and/or Samuel’s burial place. In any event, it has long been important to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. The Crusaders had a major presence here and called it “Mount Joy”, where pilgrims coming up from the coast gained their first glimpse of Jerusalem. There are remains from many periods, going back to the Iron Age, but the top-most, best preserved level represents an Israeli destruction carried out mere decades ago.
Now, Emek Shaveh has issued a report on the place, with a special focus on the adjacent small village of a-Nabi Samwil. It is a community completely enveloped within the Israeli “national park” declared there in 1995, however already in 1971 the villagers’ previous homes were destroyed and the remaining people allowed to relocate nearby. First dispersed by war (1967) and then uprooted in a senseless destruction (1971), the residents of a-Nabi Samwil today find themselves trapped in an interminable limbo, as the report explains. Under the double strictures of the IDF and the parks authority, the residents cannot dig a hole or even plant a tree in their own yard without a permit (which simply are not granted, anywhere in Area C). Nor can they readily travel — anywhere.
The antiquities site measures 7.5 acres, whereas the “national park” covers well over ten times that area. That should give you a hint as to what’s going on here. Remember that, since 1967, this is occupied Palestinian territory (oPt); that’s the UN’s official terminology, I didn’t make it up. Under international law — the 4th Geneva Convention (yes, Israel is a signatory) — the overriding responsibility of an occupying power is to insure the welfare of the occupied population. I’ll leave it to you to decide, after reading the report, whether the State of Israel is fulfilling this humanitarian obligation — or if, after 46 years of Occupation, in this and a hundred other places, they are in fact inexorably pushing the Palestinian populace toward oblivion. Here are a few excerpts:
Until 1967, over 1,000 people lived in the village. Most fled during the Six Day War. In 1971, the village was demolished by the IDF and its residents were evacuated to an area near the hill, east of the heart of the site. Today, some 250 residents live there. In 1995, the site was declared a national park, with an area of approximately 865 acres (3,500 dunams).
The National Parks Law and the declaration of the site as a national park create a situation in which the lands remain in the possession of their owners, but any activity in the declared area requires the approval of the Nature and Parks Authority and the Archaeology Department of the Civil Administration. Activities such as new construction, adding to existing buildings, cultivating agricultural lands and shepherding require permission from the Antiquities Authority and the Civil Administration. Usually, such requests are refused, on the grounds that they threaten to damage the national park and the antiquities. For example, a temporary goat pen, donated by the French government and erected on developed land, is today slated for demolition … and residents who planted olive and fruit trees on their private lands received written orders to uproot them…
Israeli policy leaves the villagers with no options: they are prevented from entering Israel and working in Jerusalem because they are considered West Bank residents; on the other hand, access to the West Bank, and even the nearby villages of al-Jib and Beit Iksa, requires lengthy travel on bypass roads.
I challenge you to read the entire report (including several photos and maps), here:
UPDATE / May 2014
The daily Israeli harassment of Nabi Samwil’s beleaguered remaining villagers continues unabated, if not stepped up a notch or two. This story appeared in +972 magazine on-line on 18 May 2014. Read it HERE. Here, as in dozens of other places around the Occupied Territories, it’s al-Nakba du jour…
UPDATE / Aug. 2014
The Emek Shaveh report is now encapsulated in a 6-minute VIDEO.