Bab al-Shams: The Short Life of a Palestinian Settlement

By Alice Wagstaffe


Raw footage of the IDF evicting settlers from Bab al-Shams.

On Friday morning, a small group of Palestinians drove up into the hills between the Israeli capital Jerusalem and the large Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim. By Friday around lunchtime, they had announced to the world that the village of Bab al-Shams (Gateway to the Sun) had been established. A day later, they had 250 residents, a village council, a health clinic, a media center, a communal kitchen, and the beginnings of a library. Come Sunday morning, the village was empty—its inhabitants attacked and arrested during a 3 AM raid by Israeli forces.

Bab al-Shams was established in response to Israeli plans to build enormous new settlements in the area, which they refer to as E1. The plans would effectively cut the West Bank in half, sealing off the narrow corridor that connects the North to the South.

Palestinian activist Irene Nasser was one of the pioneers of Bab al-Shams. I spoke to her on Saturday morning.

VICE: You’ve just spent your first night in Bab Al-Shams—how was it? 
Irene Nasser: We were very excited last night, because we were able to build so much so quickly. But the conditions are difficult. We have blankets, but not enough, and we’ll need more equipment at some point. We have a little bit of electricity, but it’s limited as we’re using a generator, which isn’t sustainable in the long term. But even though conditions are hard and even though it was freezing cold last night, just being here and being part of creating Bab al-Shams—creating this village and holding onto it—is keeping people going.

I’m told that there are 250 people there—who are they?
Palestinians aged 18 to 70, or so. We’re mostly students, activists, popular committee leaders and residents of various places in Palestine, but also residents from 1948 (Palestinians living in Israel outside of the 1948 borders) from Haifa and Eilat. In fact, I’m looking up the mountain right now and there’s a huge group—three bus-loads of people who have walked all the way around the checkpoint. They’re running across the mountains toward the village.

Why was E1 chosen as the site of the village?
In terms of the Israeli settlement plan, E1 exemplifies how the Israeli government establishes “facts on the ground” (settlements) on a daily basis. In this specific area, it plans on creating 4,000 new homes—4,000 settlement housing units. We're here to reclaim the authority and control of our Palestinian land.

Has there been much interaction between the army and the villagers? 
There's been a bit, yeah. They came yesterday and gave us an immediate eviction notice, but the high court had already ruled that there was a restriction on evicting the village for six days. Later on in the day the police came and they said that the injunction that would have protected us for six days only applies to the tents and not the people.

How long do you expect to stay in Bab al-Shams?
We will stay here for as long as we need and as long as we want. We'll be here for as long as we choose.

I read that the Supreme Court may get a warrant to evict you on Sunday. Will you resist eviction?
We have a plan in place about how to resist the eviction as much as we can. They will probably come with a lot of force and be very violent, but we have our tactics.


A report from the scene by AussieNews.

Irene’s prediction was correct and that night, shortly before 3AM, hundreds of Israeli soldiers entered Bab al-Shams and forcibly removed its residents in just a couple of hours, one of whom was Mohammad al-Qadi. I spoke to him on Sunday evening, when he'd just gotten back to his house in Jenin.

VICE: What happened last night?
Mohammad al-Qadi: It was 3 AM and most of the villagers were sleeping when more than 500 police and soldiers entered the village and called for everyone to come out of the tents and lie on the ground. Then they started to attack us, before arresting us, putting us in a truck, taking our IDs, and driving us to a jail in Jerusalem. Six of the activists were injured after being beaten by soldiers, so they were taken to the hospital. We were eventually released [without charge] at 5:30 AM.

It sounds like the eviction was relatively peaceful and over quite quickly. Did anyone put up a fight? 
Palestinians don’t want to lose anyone else. We are human. We're not numbers, we are names. We are people and we care about life. I don’t want to lose any more friends, I want to protect the land and live in a Palestinian state—something we'll achieve through peaceful action. Unlike the Israelis, we didn’t have any weapons last night. Why did Netanyahu send hundreds of men with guns to a village of unarmed men and women?

How long did you expect to stay at Bab al-Shams?
We'd prepared ourselves to stay for a long time. We want to belong to this land. It’s not a joke, it’s not a “camp.” We wanted to start building a new village to say to the Israeli government: "We oppose your plans. If you build on that land, there is no hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians."

So what’s next? Will you return to Bab al-Shams? Set up new villages? 
We aren't finished. In two days, we’ll have a meeting with everyone involved and decide what we want to do next. We will continue to protest and to create villages in the areas that the Israelis want to build. We’ll never stop.

Follow Alice on Twitter: @alicewagstaffe

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