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Israel to push Palestinian residents of Jerusalem village and bring in tourists

By Ben H.

4jt20131203074151.jpg

December 5, 2013

An ancient archaeological site is being developed into a tourist attraction in Nabi Samwill, a small town located just north of Jerusalem in the seam zone – the area between the 1949 Armistice Line and the Israeli Separation Wall.  The tomb of the Prophet Samuel, from which the town gets its name, is housed in a 12th century stone fortress repurposed as a mosque during the Mamluk period.

Nabi Samwill is also home to about 250 Palestinian residents whose security and livelihoods are constricted by repeated demolitions of buildings in the town and Israel’s legal designation of the area as a national park.

In 1971, 46 houses were destroyed by the Israeli army, pushing town residents toward a hill east of the archaeological site.  According to Samiyeh Barakat, an inhabitant of Nabi Samwill, many townspeople fled to Jordan after waves of displacements during the Six Day War and the following series of displacements in 1971.

Since the evictions of 1971, Israeli authorities have renovated the ancient mosque to be used as a space of prayer for Jewish as well as Muslim worshippers.  Jews use the basement level of the building, where the tomb itself is located, and Muslims the ground floor.

In 1995, after the Oslo agreements designated Nabi Samwill part of Area C with full Israeli civil and military control, approximately 865 acres around the tomb were declared a national park.  As noted in a report from the archaeological organization Emek Shaveh, the site of the tomb itself comprises only 7.5 acres of the 865 now classified as a national park.  By comparison, the report notes, the national park zone around the Old City of Jerusalem is 250 acres.  The Chalcolithic Temple in Ein Gedi, a large religious ruin dating to 3500 BCE, sits on 2 acres of national park land.

Because the entire area is now a national park, residents of Nabi Samwill are not allowed to build new homes, expand their current houses, or pursue infrastructural renovations or construction.  A profile of the town from the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ) cites the construction of a sewage disposal network, landfill, schools, and a health clinic all as strongly needed priorities for Nabi Samwill.

When buildings are erected, however, they are often quickly demolished by Israeli armed forces. Barakat’s home has been destroyed twice. "They didn’t allow us to make [the street] asphalt," he says. "If you build something, they break it."

"It’s not one time... it’s every time," Barakat continues.

In addition, Nabi Samwill’s location in the seam zone means that while it is technically part of Area C in the West Bank, Israel’s Separation Wall cuts it off almost entirely from the rest of the West Bank, while Israeli settlements border the village to the south and west.  Most of the town’s residents have West Bank IDs, but in order to access the West Bank they must pass through the Al-Jib checkpoint, several kilometers north of town.  As with all other holders of West Bank IDs, access to East Jerusalem is prevented without proper permissions.

These impediments to movement, along with the impossibility of building new structures inside the village itself, make it very difficult for Nabi Samwill’s residents to find work.  The ARIJ profile of Nabi Samwill states that the unemployment rate in the town has reached as high as 60%.  Both Samiyeh Barakat and his brother Eid are currently unemployed, and Samiyeh says he has been jailed five times for working in Jerusalem and the nearby settlement of Ramot without a permit.


Eid Barakat. Photo by Calum Toogood.

A development plan has been proposed by the Israeli Civil Administration, the administrative body of Israel’s occupation, for construction in Nabi Samwill. However, the plan focuses on developing the archaeological site into a tourist attraction rather than addressing the needs of the townspeople. Yonathan Mizrachi of Emek Shaveh told the Palestine Monitor in an email that the plan "proposes to establish a tourist area comprising a restaurant, a visitor center, gift shop, [and] guard tower," while "ignor[ing] the needs of the residents."

"How can you develop the tourist side but not allow anyone to build anything on the Palestinian side?" Mizrachi said in the same email.

On 25 November, a hearing was held at the headquarters of the Civil Administration in Beit El, an Israeli settlement near Ramallah, for residents of Nabi Samwill to voice objections to the development proposal.  However, Eid Barakat, who attended the hearing, says that the residents’ objections were not heard because Civil Administration officials refused to acknowledge the existence of an inhabited area in Nabi Samwill.

"They said there is no village here," says Barakat. "They said that I am not here."

The lawyer for the homeowners left the hearing early because the Civil Administration would not acknowledge the existence of a village.  "He said... he cannot help us,’" says Eid Barakat.

"They want us to leave the village," Samiyeh Barakat told Palestine Monitor. "But we’ll stay."

"We were born here, we’ll die here," he says.



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:: Article nr. 103105 sent on 06-dec-2013 14:43 ECT

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