Nabi Samuel. Nebi Samwil. Al Nabi Samuil. The Tomb of the Prophet Samuel. Many are the variations of the name for this place.
About 200 people also call this place: home. And many more do so from afar, because the buildings that survived the Israeli occupation of this hilltop in 1967 are no longer big enough for all of the Nabi Samuel, Palestinian community. In each of these buildings, three to four families may live together.
The principal and one teacher of the single-room school walked us, two Ecumenical Accompaniers, through the community on 1 March 2011. This is a key hilltop in history – dating to the Crusaders and Saladin in the 10th through 12th centuries (Common Era). This importance is due in part to the location with its clear view of Jerusalem to the south. In addition, this place is associated with the ancient burial place of the prophet Samuel. Revered by Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, a monastery, a mosque, and a synagogue had all been built here by the 16th century.
In the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Nabi Samuel is a place of tension and destruction. In 1971, the village buildings surrounding the mosque were demolished. Palestinian residents fled to the eastern part of the small plateau and a dozen buildings there, and beyond, as far as Jordan. Since then, part of the mosque has been turned into a synagogue. The building stands like an island surrounded by an archaeological excavation site and a fence. A sign with rules outlines acceptable behaviour of all visitors, including the people of Nabi Samuel.
As we learned in early March 2011, only older adults and some families who have living space remain in Nabi Samuel. The village is located in Area C in the West Bank, according to the Oslo Agreement of the 1990s (click here). This means that the Israeli government has planning, building, and military control and has not permitted any new construction. The community does not have any health clinic or facilities. The school is only a few square metres. The village council has applied to build an additional schoolroom but has been denied that permit. A small, lean-to like bathroom was built on an outer wall of the school; it was demolished by the Israeli authorities. Currently, a re-constructed bathroom exists but remains unfinished – a result of living in the limbo of Area C. A skeleton of a frame for a shelter, for the children to use when playing outside at recess, waits for an Israeli permit. Desks and chairs for more than 10 pupils is optimistic in the existing school building. Other Nabi Samuel children travel to different schools with their parents on their way to work into the West Bank.
The people of Nabi Samuel can see East and West Jerusalem from their hilltop. Yet, they cannot use the newly built road that skirts the hilltop. They have access to only one road and it leads to an Israeli checkpoint (Al Jib) in a part of the Separation Barrier that is in the West Bank. (The 85% of the Separation Barrier/Wall built inside the West Bank is illegal according to international law.) Israeli settlers alone can speed along the new asphalt from West Jerusalem to West-Bank settlements north of Nabi Samuel. (Settlements are illegal because they are located in the West Bank. This is population transfer and a war crime according to Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Click here). These settlements are considered to be part of Greater Jerusalem; so, while Nabi Samuel is located within the annexed Jerusalem municipality, it is zoned as the West Bank.
The Israeli Separation Barrier has been built such that Nabi Samuel, a West-Bank community is located on the Jerusalem side of the Barrier. As a result, the Palestinian Authority cannot access the community to offer health and social services. Already it has divided two Bedouin families who also live on the eastern end of the plateau. In effect, they, all, are already “trapped”; they cannot obtain permits to work in Jerusalem. Each person is numbered at the Israeli checkpoint and has a West-Bank identification (ID) card. Without an Israeli number on an ID card, a Palestinian is denied access to the village; this impacts extended family members of Nabi Samuel residents. All movement of goods brought into the village must be coordinated with Israeli authorities in advance. Only three Nabi Samuel cars are registered at the checkpoint. This means that in a health emergency, which is occurring more frequently as the population ages, only a few options exist:
1) A resident with one of the three cars can drive the ill person to the checkpoint.
2) A phone call can be made for a Palestinian ambulance with a West-Bank licence. At minimum, the ill person will wait for three to five hours…if they are fortunate enough that an ambulance actually arrives.
How then does this community live each day? Actually, 16 Palestinian communities are trapped in this way due to Israeli government policy and practice.
On the warm spring day of our walk-about, we were greeted by the first wave of red poppies that arise with spring. At first glance, the red on the brown-green hillsides seems unreal…but close-up, these are living witnesses of the injustices of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Each year, they appear… Despite the ugliness of the occupation, they are beautiful…a beautiful persistence… Reminders to continue advocacy for a just peace in this poignant place…
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Click here for a recent article.
Alternative Tourism Group. (2008). Palestine & Palestinians Guidebook. 2nd Ed. Beit Sahour, Palestine. See: www.atg.ps