Public celebration of Samuel the prophet turns the Nabi Samuel into an ultra-Orthodox ancient site, while locking in the Palestinian village for three days
Each year, a celebration of Samuel the prophet takes place at Nabi Samuel site North of Jerusalem. For the first time this year, the Palestinian village Nabi Samwil located next to the national park and archaeological site, was closed to traffic for three days (from Saturday, June 4 until Monday, June 6). Residents of the village couldn’t leave nor receive visitors from outside (a separation barrier surrounds the village East and North and borders Jerusalem on the South). The archaeological site containing the tomb identified as Samuel the Prophet’s tomb turned into an ultra-Orthodox site with separate areas for men and women. Since the tomb is situated inside a mosque at the heart of the ancient site, the Muslim’s ritual prayers are carried out under the supervision of security personnel during those days. While the authorities present the Tomb of Samuel as a site that is open to all religions, the events of the last few days are just another instance of Palestinians being pushed aside due to an increasingly Jewish presence at the site.
Nabi Samwil is a Palestinian village and national park located North of Jerusalem. The village is home to 200 residents and one settler. In 1971 the center of the village was destroyed by the IDF and was turned into a religious site and an archaeological visitor center. Archaeological remains from the early Islamic periods, including a mosque used by the residents of the village to this day, can be found at the site, along with archaeological remains from Byzantine and Hellenistic villages and remains from the Iron Age (7th century BCE). In the Byzantine period (4-7 centuries CE) the site was likely identified with the Tomb of Samuel the prophet. During the Crusader period a fortress was built around the tomb and the site continued to be used as an altar, also during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods that followed. The site is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The village is outside of Jerusalem’s jurisdiction and the residents are prohibited to enter the city. In 2009 a separation barrier was built, dividing Nabi Samwil from other villages – Al Jib, Bir Nabala and Beit Hanina, thereby disconnecting the residents from their resources in Ramallah. In 1995 the Israeli Civil Administration, through a national park civil administrator, declared a 3500 dunam national park – one of the biggest national parks in the West Bank and in Israel, and completely disproportional to the size of the 50 dunam archaeological site. The national park includes the area of the Palestinian village Nabi Samwil and the majority of the residents’ land. As a result, all building and agricultural activity is considered a violation of the national park and is prevented by the national park civil administrator.
In 2013 the Israeli Civil Administration prepared a development plan for the village out of complete disregard of the residents’ needs, and pushing them out of the area of the archaeological site, which they called home for hundreds of years. The village residents submitted a number of objections and this plan has not yet been approved. From 2014-2015, the Ministry of Religious Services invested millions of shekels to renovate the Tomb of Samuel.
As stated in Emek Shaveh’s publication “Selectively Sacred: Holy Sites in Jerusalem and its Environs” (2015) we are witness to a process in which archaeological sites are turned into holy sites as a way of strengthening Israel’s hold on them. In this process of “religionization” of ancient sites, Palestinians are disassociated from their lands and their freedom of religion on those lands, and their lives are disrupted due to the increasingly present Jewish rituals and celebration of holidays at the site.
Nabi Samwil is just one example of a village that is part of a land considered holy for all three religions. The discriminatory conduct of the Israeli authorities result in a greater presence of Jewish religious practices that push the rituals and narratives of other groups to the periphery. This time, a Palestinian Village was closed and turned into a national park for ultra-Orthodox for three days. This constitutes a dangerous precedent for the authorities’ conduct toward Palestinian residents as well as toward the archaeological sites.
For more information on the village see the Emek Shaveh publication: Nabi Samwil – A Village Trapped in a National Park
Military block at the entrance to Nabi Samwil Men’s entrance
Book of Psalms replacing historical text
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