Jerusalem24 – Shaden Hazeem and Noelle Mafarjeh – The camera pans over the hills of Ein Samiya. In the foreground, several men standing on the roof of a residential structure loosen a flap of the large tent.
A few dozen meters away, another group dismantles the steel structure that was supporting a similar habitation.
The residents of the village of Ein Samiya in the occupied West Bank, northeast of Ramallah and west of Al-Auja in the Jordan Valley, are packing up their houses, their belongings and their lives, and leaving their home forever.
“This village has all the public services as well as a school,” activist Ayman Greeb narrates in the video. “But Israeli settlers living on the mountain hills want to kick the Palestinians out of their village by force – and because of their attacks, the residents have decided to leave in order to protect themselves and their children.”
A total of 37 families live here, almost 220 people. Three-time refugees, they left their homes in 1948 during the creation of the state of Israel, fled to Al-Auja in the Jordan Valley during the Naksa of 1967, and have been in Ein Samiya since 1979. In the 44 years since, they have come back every time the Israeli military demolished their homes.
But by tomorrow, there will be no one left.
“The demolition policy carried out by the Israeli army over the years never stopped Palestinians from rebuilding their homes again and again,” Greeb continues. “But now, after unending attacks by the settlers, they have decided to leave.”
“They come during the night”
A rarity for a village the size of Ein Samiya in Area C, where any kind of construction or infrastructure development requires an Israeli-issued permit, the village has access to electricity via several dozen solar panels.
Ayman Greeb, an activist from Tamoun, who has covered the story of Ein Samiya and other marginalized and threatened communities for years, explains that the residents worked “so hard” to achieve this level of self-sustainability, in the face of such opposition from the army and settlers. The Ein Samiya school, which was finally built in January 2022, funded by the European Union, was immediately slated for demolition by Israeli authorities. Undeterred, the residents contested this decision in court several times.
But the settler harassment – which acquired a life-altering dimension for the residents over the past seven years, says Ein Samiya resident Abu Najeh – took a toll on the villagers’ steadfastness that even the military occupation could not.
“We don’t sleep anymore,” Abu Najeh tells 24FM, Jerusalem24’s sister station.
Abu Najeh is the spokesperson for the people of Ein Samiya. He is speaking today to raise awareness, in front of the media and hopefully the local and international community, of his people’s plight – a plight which is now forcing the entire community into self-imposed exile.“Everyone knows what’s going on in Ein Samiya, it’s been happening for over seven years,” he says.
But the help he was hoping for never materialized, beyond a few visits by international delegations criticizing Israel’s decision to demolish the school. Even Palestinian governmental organizations offered very little assistance.
Greeb tells Jerusalem24 that the Wall and Settlements Resistance Commission (a government organization) “did not help the people to stay in their village – they just helped them to leave.”
The activist is visibly bitter about the lack of support, although he mentions a staunch ally in the form of Israeli solidarity activists (for whom it is sometimes easier – although still dangerous – to confront the army and settlers).
Abu Najeh confirms. “The Israeli peace commission came to the village and tried to talk to the Israeli settlers, but they never responded.”
Despite this welcome if sporadic support, the settler harassment (always happening under the auspices of the Israeli military) only ever continued increasing in frequency and intensity.
“They come during the night when the children are sleeping,” says Abu Najeh. “They throw stones on our houses, waking the children with fear and tears. They raid our houses and search them, take pictures of our belongings and livestock, then come back to show us the pictures as proof that they belong to them and then they take them.”
“We try to drive them away, but they always come back.”
And while the military offer protection to the settlers and never intervene to stop their attacks no matter how violent, they also implement a different form of harassment and pressure on the residents.
Ein Samiya is largely a shepherding community but a number of residents hold employment outside the village. The army started blocking the roads to the village on a near-daily basis around two years ago, typically around the time the residents leave for work. As a result, their incomes have dwindled ever since – if they have been able to retain their jobs at all.
But it is the settlers’ attacks which have finally driven the residents to pack up their families and lives.
Abu Najeh mentions an incident which took place five days ago, when a group of settlers stole 37 livestock and beat their shepherd while he was grazing them – operating under the full protection of the Israeli police and military.
“We just sit still, we can’t do anything,” he sighs.
When settlers do state bidding
Nearly half a million Israeli settlers live in around 200 illegal settlements and 220 illegal outposts (illegal even according to Israeli law) across the occupied West Bank, controlling hundreds of thousands of dunums of Palestinian land via various mechanisms.
Ein Samiya is just the latest example of settlers securing Palestinian land for their own benefit, effectively acting on behalf of the Israeli government whose main goal is to seize the West Bank for the Jewish state, says Dror Etkes, founder and director of Israeli NGO Kerem Navot which has documented settler activity and land takeover in the occupied West Bank for decades.
“This is the most obvious thing to say, that the state is using the settlers and the settlers are using the state. The distinction between the settlers and the state is in many ways artificial – especially in the last months,” Etkes says, referring to Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme-right coalition which features several prominent members of the settler movement such as Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir. “The personal links, the ideological links, are stronger than ever.”
But if the settlers feel emboldened by this government’s rhetoric, settler tactics to drive Palestinians out of their land “are nothing new”, says Etkes. “It’s something that’s happening in other places in the West Bank. It’s just a more extreme or perhaps a bigger quote-and-quote ‘success’ of the settlers, who this time were able to get rid of 200 Palestinians at once.”
Evidence that the settlers are already celebrating this victory abounds in Ein Samiya.
Settlers came to the village late on Tuesday night and vandalized the school, poking sticks through the protective mesh the residents placed on the windows to protect the schoolchildren from the stone-throwing.
Israeli activist Arik Ascherman, former Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights, published on Facebook photographs he says show the settlers already beginning to establish a new illegal outpost nearer the village.But just why are the settlers (and Israeli government) so hellbent on taking over Ein Samiya?
An agrarian land reserve of 58,000 dunums on which Palestinian farmers used to almost exclusively grow wheat and barley, Ein Samiya boasts no less than six water springs, one of which stems from the most important water reserve in the occupied West Bank.
Around 90% of the land is owned by the residents of the nearby village of Kafr Malek, with the rest belonging to villagers from Deir Jareer and Al-Mughayer.
Due to settler attacks over the decades including the burning of wheat crops, as well as increasing military restrictions for Palestinians trying to access their lands, the farmers have gradually abandoned wheat cultivation and begun planting olive trees, as these are less vulnerable to arson and require very little maintenance.
Several illegal Israeli outposts have been established in the area over the years, with Israeli settlers seeking to establish control over the rich agricultural lands by grazing their sheep on wider and wider tracts of Palestinian-owned land.
The illegal outpost of Skhunat Kramim (known as Mitzpe Kramim), set up in 1999 a few hundred meters away from Ein Samiya (near the illegal Israeli settlement of Kokhav HaShahar), was even established with the approval of then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The outpost of Ma’ale Shlomo soon followed.
The illegal outpost of Maoz Ester, just a stone’s throw from Ein Samiya, was set up in 2006 and has been evacuated by the Israeli military several times since. Hilltop youth reside there to this day, and they are among the settlers who cause the most problems for Ein Samiya.The wider area between the villages of Al-Mughayer in the north, Taybeh in the south, and the Jordan Valley to the east, is furthermore of strategic military importance to Israel (home to the Hatzor Israeli Air Force military base) as the highest elevation overlooking the border towards Jordan and – much further to the east, Iraq and Iran.
Etkes doesn’t think the nearby military bases bear any relation to the exodus from Ein Samiya, however. He does attribute two main reasons to the settlers’ relentless targeting of the village.
“This community is next to very, very aggressive, very violent settlers, on the one hand,” he says. “On the other hand, the community, the Bedouins who are living there, they are very isolated. They have no backup.”
And even these “very aggressive, very violent settlers” admit they are “doing the state’s dirty work” for them.
“The Bedouin used to graze their flock here, but ever since we’ve arrived they’ve understood that this land is ours and have stopped coming here,” Maoz Ester resident Shalhevet Goldstein told The Times of Israel in a 2020 interview. “I have no problem with them being there as long as they accept that this land belongs to Jews.”
“Al-Nakba all over again”
Today, the small number of people including residents and activists who remained in Ein Samiya to finish dismantling the houses and precious solar panels will leave for the final time.
No one knows – least of all the people of Ein Samiya – where they will end up eventually.
Abu Najeh says some are moving to rented houses, and others are staying with relatives. A number will move to a nearby village which falls in Area A, says Greeb, where the Palestinian Authority have nominally more power than the Israeli military occupation and where no one cares about Israeli-issued building permits. The rest are still “awaiting their fate”.
“We are all scattered now,” says Abu Najeh.
And what should the members of this scattered community even call themselves? Four-time refugees? Exiles in their own land?
“It’s Al-Nakba all over again,” says Greeb.