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An-Nabi Samwil, also called al-Nabi Samuil (Arabic: النبي صموئيلan-Nabi Samu'il, translit: "the prophet Samuel"), is a Palestinian village of nearly 220 inhabitants in the West Bank, within the Jerusalem Governorate, located four kilometers north of Jerusalem. The village consists of a few houses and in addition to serving worshipers, its mosque acts as a prominent landmark.

an-Nabi Samwil
Arabic transcription(s)
 • Arabicالنبي صموئيل
 • Latinan-Nebi Samwil (official)
an-Nabi Samuil (unofficial)
The village site in the early 20th century
The village site in the early 20th century
an-Nabi Samwil is located in the Palestinian territories
an-Nabi Samwil
an-Nabi Samwil
Location of an-Nabi Samwil within Palestine
Coordinates: 31°49′58″N 35°10′49″E / 31.83278°N 35.18028°E / 31.83278; 35.18028Coordinates: 31°49′58″N 35°10′49″E / 31.83278°N 35.18028°E / 31.83278; 35.18028
Palestine grid167/137
StateState of Palestine
 • TypeLocal Development Committee
 • Total1,592 dunams (1.6 km2 or 0.6 sq mi)
 • Total220
 • Density140/km2 (360/sq mi)
Name meaning"the prophet Samuel"[1]



Nabi Samwil is situated atop of a mountain, 890 meters above sea level, four kilometers north of the Jerusalem neighborhood Shuafat and southwest of Ramallah in the Seam Zone.[2] Nearby localities include Beit Iksa to the south, al Jib to the north, Beit Hanina to the east and Biddu to the west.[3] The village consists of 1,592 dunams of which only 5 dunams are built-up.[4]


Early history

The Nabi Samwil tomb, 2012

The village is traditionally held to contain the tomb of the prophet Samuel (Arabic: Nabi Samwil),[2][5] from which the village receives its name. The tomb is draped by cloth and is located in a dark cellar in Nabi Samwil's large turreted mosque. A monastery was built by the Byzantines at Nabi Samwil, serving as a hostel for Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. The monastery was restored and enlarged during the reign of Justinian I in the mid-6th-century CE.[6] Since then, the site has been a place of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.[2] The tomb continued to be in use throughout the early Arab period of rule in Palestine from the 7th to 10th centuries.[6]

Jerusalem-born geographer al-Muqaddasi recounted in 985 CE, a story which he had heard from his uncle concerning the place: A certain Sultan wanted to take possession of the Dayr Shamwil, which he describes as a village about a farsakh from Jerusalem. The Sultan asked the owner to describe the village, at which the owner enumerated the ills of the place ("hard is the labour,/the profit is low./Weeds are all over,/almonds are bitter,/one bushel you sow,/one bushel you reap;") After hearing this the ruler exclaimed "Begone! We have no need for your village!"[7] 13th-century Syrian geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi, describes "Mar Samwil" or "Maran Samwil" as "a small town in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Mar in Syriac signifies al-Kass, 'the priest', and Samwil is the name of the Doctors of Law."[8] During Islamic times, Nabi Samwil became center for pottery production,[9] supplying nearby Jerusalem, as well as Ramla and Caesarea.[10]

Crusades and aftermath

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Palestine from the Arab Fatimids and received their first view of Jerusalem from the mountain upon which Nabi Samwil is built, thus naming it Mont Joie ("Mountain of Joy"). They soon constructed a fortress there to fend off Muslim raiding of Jerusalem's northern approaches as well as to shelter pilgrim convoys.[6] A 6th-century Christian author identified the site as Samuel's burial place, and it has been traditionally been associated as such by Jews, Christians and Muslims. According to the Bible, however, the prophet is buried at his hometown, Ramah,[11] to the east of the hill which is located near Geba while this site is identified as Mizpah in Benjamin. As Judas Machabeus, preparing for war with the Syrians, gathered his men "to Maspha, over against Jerusalem: for in Maspha was a place of prayer heretofore in Israel".[12] The 12th-century Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela visited the site when he traveled the land in 1173, noting that the Crusaders had found the bones of Samuel in a Jewish cemetery in Ramla on the coastal plain and reburied here, overlooking the Holy City. He wrote that a church dedicated to St. Samuel of Shiloh had been built on the hill.[13] This may refer to the abbey church of St. Samuel built by Premonstratensian canons and inhabited from 1141 to 1244.[14] In 1157, they constructed a church at Samuel's tomb.[2] King Baldwin II of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem entrusted Nabi Samwil to Cistercians religious order, who built a monastery there and then handed it over to the Premonstratensians in the 1120s.[9] After the Ayyubids under Saladin conquered much of interior Palestine in 1187, the church and monastery were turned into a mosque and since then remained in Muslim hands. in 1192, Richard the Lionheart reached Nabi Samwil, but did not take it.[15] In the later Middle Ages, during the Mamluk period, Christian pilgrims continued to visit the site, including the traveller known as John Mandeville, and Margery Kempe.[16]

Jewish pilgrimage, which favoured visits in April and May each year, resumed after the Ayyubids conquered the area, and it became an important center for Muslim-Jewish interaction.[17] In the 15th-century, Jews built a synagogue adjacent to the mosque and resumed pilgrimages to the site after losing that privilege during the Crusader era. Though they occasionally encountered difficulties with local notables, the Jews' right to visit the shrine was reaffirmed twice by the Ottomans, and the sultan asked the qadi of Jerusalem to punish anyone who might obstruct their right and the long tradition of Jewish pilgrimage. Mujir ad-Din referring to Jerusalem's size writes "From the north it reaches the village wherein is the tomb of the prophet Shamwil, may Allah bless him and give him peace."[18]

Ottoman era

In 1517, Palestine incorporated into the Ottoman Empire after it was captured from the Mamluks, and by 1596, it appeared in the Ottoman tax registers as being in the nahiya of Quds in the liwa of Al-Quds. It had a population of 5 households, all Muslim. The villagers paid a fixed tax rate of 25% on various agricultural products, including wheat, barley, olive trees, vineyards, fruit trees, occasional revenues, goats and/or beehives; a total of 2,200 akçe.[19]

The Crusader church was incorporated into the village mosque,[2] built in 1730 under the Ottoman Empire.[6]

An Ottoman village list of about 1870 showed that Nabi Samwil had 6 houses and a population of 20, though the population count included only men.[20][21]

In 1883, the Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine (SWP) described it as small hamlet of adobe huts, perched on top of the ridge, amid the remains of the Crusader ruins. There was a spring to the north.[22]

In 1896 the population of Nebi Samwil was estimated to be about 81 persons.[23]

British Mandate era

Nabi Samwil was heavily damaged by Turkish shells in 1917 while fighting British forces, but the village was rebuilt and resettled in 1921.[24] The Ottoman mosque which was destroyed was restored by the Supreme Muslim Council during the British Mandate era.[5][6]

In the 1922 census of Palestine conducted by the British Mandate authorities, Nabi Shemweil had a population 121, all Muslims.[25] increasing slightly in the 1931 census to 138, one Christian and the rest Muslim, occupying a total of 117 houses.[26]

In the 1945 statistics Nabi Samwil had a population of 200, all Muslims,[27] with 2,150 dunams of land, according to an official land and population survey.[28] Of this, 293 dunams were plantations and irrigable land, 986 used for cereals,[29] while 3 dunams were built-up land.[30]

On April 23, 1948, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, a Palmach division attacked Nabi Samwil with the intention of capturing the village for Israel. The operation failed, since its local defenders had been notified that nearby Beit Iksa was attacked and thus, prepared for a Jewish assault. Over 40 Palmach troops were killed in the battle with minimal Arab casualties.[31]

Jordanian era

From 1948 to 1967, Nabi Samwil was used by the Arab Legion of Jordan as a military post guarding access to Jerusalem.[2]

In 1961, the population of Nabi Samwil was 168.[32]

1967, aftermath

Nabi Samwil was occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967.[2] After Israel's victory and occupation in the war, during which many of the village's 1,000 inhabitants had fled in fear of atrocities,[33] the shrine became predominantly Jewish, and settlers attempted to wrest control of the area.[17] Throughout the 1970s, the Israeli authorities demolished the historic village built round the shrine, forcing its inhabitants into ramshackle buildings further down the hill.[33] Nabi Samwil was drawn in good part within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, while the inhabitants themselves were excluded, and its inhabitants were defined in their identity cards as West Bankers, and are prohibited by the Israeli military administration from leaving the village in any direction without authorization.[33] Since the mid-2000s, Nabi Samwil, excluding the shrine, became part of an area known as the "Seam Zone", which denotes the land between the separation barrier (erected during the Second Intifada) and the borders of Jerusalem municipality.[34] The only exit from the village is to nearby Bir Nabala via an Israeli checkpoint.[33]

The village, which is not recognized as such by Israel, was designated as a national park in the 1990s and the remains of former homes adjacent to the mosque form part of an archaeological site in the park. The mosque has been cordoned off and the section containing Samuel's tomb has been converted into a synagogue. Partly due to Israeli military restrictions, Palestinian construction in the village is banned. Economic activity is also significantly restricted and residents live in poverty, with many young residents leaving for jobs in nearby Ramallah. Israel states its policies are intended to preserve the site of Nabi Samwil.[34]


In 1922, Nabi Samwil had 121 inhabitants,[25] rising to 138 in 1931.[26] In Sami Hadawi's land and population survey in 1945, 200 people resided there.[28] By 1981 the number dropped to 66 inhabitants but was up to 136 within five years.[4] According to the 2007 census by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Nabi Samwil had a population of 258 inhabitants in 2007.[35] About 20 Muslim families live there. A group of 90 Bedouins living in al Jib who had been evicted from Nabi Samwil were refused permission to move back because the village lies in Area C and it would be difficult for them to acquire building permits.[36]


  1. ^ Palmer, 1881, p. 324
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Jacobs, Daniel. (1998). Israel and the Palestinian territories. Rough Guides, p.429.
  3. ^ Satellite View of al-Nabi Samwil
  4. ^ a b Welcome to al-Nabi Samwil Palestine Remembered.
  5. ^ a b Nabi Samuel - Jerusalem Archived 2008-01-25 at the Wayback Machine Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre.
  6. ^ a b c d e Nebi Samwil - Site of a Biblical Town and a Crusader Fortress Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2001-09-01.
  7. ^ Al-Muqaddasi (Basil Anthony Collins (Translator)): The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions. Ahasan al-Taqasim Fi Ma'rifat al-Aqalim. Garnet Publishing, Reading, 1994, ISBN 1-873938-14-4, p. 171, (orig. p.188). Older translation is given in Le Strange, 1890, p. 433
  8. ^ Le Strange, 1890, p. 433 (orig. Yak., iv. 391; Mar., iii.29)
  9. ^ a b Sharon, 2004, p. 118
  10. ^ Sharon, 2004, pp. 122 -123
  11. ^ (1Samuel 25:1, 28:3)
  12. ^ I Mach., iii, 46, cited in   Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Maspha" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  13. ^ Travelling to Jerusalem-Benjamin of Tudela
  14. ^ Summary Page: Palestine/Israel (Kingdom of Jerusalem)-St. Samuel
  15. ^ Sharon, 2004, p. 119
  16. ^ Summary Page: Mount Joy: the view from Palestine
  17. ^ a b Mahmoud Yazbak, 'Holy shrines (maqamat) in modern Palestine/Israel and the politics of memory,' in Marshall J. Breger, Yitzhak Reiter, Leonard Hammer (eds.), Holy Places in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Confrontation and Co-existence, Routledge 2010 pp. 231-246 p.237.
  18. ^ Sharon, 2004, pp. 119 -120.
  19. ^ Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, 1977, p. 113
  20. ^ Socin, 1879, p. 158
  21. ^ Hartmann, 1883, p. 127, also noted 6 houses
  22. ^ Conder and Kitchener, 1883, SWP III, p. 12
  23. ^ Schick, 1896, p. 125
  24. ^ Jerusalem Won at Bayonet's Point New York Times. 1917-12-17.
  25. ^ a b Barron, 1923, Table VII, Sub-district of Jerusalem, p. 14
  26. ^ a b Mills, 1932, p. 41
  27. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics, 1945, p. 25
  28. ^ a b Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 57
  29. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 103
  30. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 153
  31. ^ Tal, 2003, p. 118
  32. ^ Government of Jordan, Department of Statistics, 1964, p. 24
  33. ^ a b c d 'Palestinian village imprisoned in holy shrine of Nabi Samuel,' Ma'an News Agency12 February 2015.
  34. ^ a b Tourist sites in the West Bank: Wish you were here?. The Economist. 2014-01-06.
  35. ^ Population, Housing and Establishment Census 2007 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. 2008. Retrieved on 2012-02-29.
  36. ^ Protection of Civilians Weekly Report United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, p.7. January 2008.


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