Are Palestinians related to Samaritans 1 - Dialogue with the Islamic World

The road winds steeply up Mount Garizim. Below, embedded in the dusty hilly landscape, lies Nablus: Palestinian metropolis, political focal point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, millennia-old center of human culture. In the Bible it is called Shechem and is the home of the ancestor Jacob and his 12 sons. The people of Israel arose out of them, some of whom still live on the Gerizim.

Hosni Cohen is one of the 12 Samaritan priests and director of the small museum in Kiryat Luza, the Samaritan village. Here, dressed in traditional white robes and red headgear, he receives his visitors.

Keeper of the Israelite Faith

"The people of Israel came united from Egypt to the Holy Land, but around 1,000 BC the alliance broke. In the south the tribes of Judah and Benjamin united to form the southern kingdom of Judea with the capital Jerusalem. The remaining tribes formed the northern kingdom of Samaria with the capital Shechem. "

The Samaritans are - according to their self-image - the last descendants of this northern empire. For more than 3,000 years they have lived in the immediate vicinity of the Garizim, which they venerate as the holy mountain and place of God.

"We don't refer to ourselves as Samaritans, but as 'Shomroni', the 'keepers'. Because we keep the original commandments of our Lord Moses," explains Hosni Cohen.

According to the Samaritans, the Israelite religion was distorted by the Jews in exile. The Samaritan Torah only includes the five books of Moses and is written in ancient Hebrew, a language that every parishioner learns from an early age. Although there are also many similarities, such as keeping the Shabbat or circumcision, the Samaritans like to emphasize the uniqueness and originality of their commandments, which everyone is expected to strictly obey.

The reason for this also lies in the constant concern for the survival of the community: centuries of religious wars and forced conversions have made the community almost disappear. In 1918 there were just 146 Samaritans. Today there are at least 800, not least because of the increasing number of non-Samaritan women marrying into the community.

Identity Dilemma

About half of the Samaritans live in Nablus, the others in Holon near Tel Aviv. A second congregation has formed there since the 1970s, attracted by better job prospects and higher living standards in Israel. There is a lively exchange between the groups: they commute between both sides, you can almost say both worlds, buy their vegetables at the market in Nablus and go to the beach in Tel Aviv on days off.

There are no checkpoints or walls in the way of the Samaritans in Nablus, as they have the unique privilege of having both Israeli and Palestinian citizenship. Yasser Arafat initiated this initiative and is still held in high esteem on the Garizim to this day. They speak Arabic on a daily basis and have adapted in many ways to their mainly Arabic-Muslim environment. On the other hand, the Samaritans in Holon are moving further and further away from this part of their past, speak Hebrew and have a far less conservative lifestyle than on the Garizim, where, for example, girls and boys are not allowed to date each other before marriage.

It is an identity dilemma in which the Samaritans are stuck, because they are truly between the two sides of a conflict that is not only political but also cultural. They claim to stay out of political affairs in order to avoid trampling on either side. "We feel connected to the Jews because our religions are similar to one another. At the same time, we feel connected to the Palestinians because we live with them, work with them and our children go to their schools," explains Yaqub, who lives in Nablus.

However, this does not always work without conflicts: "Some Jews consider us Arabs because we live in Nablus and speak Arabic. And they treat us that way too," explains Yaqub. "At Ben Gurion Airport, for example, I am searched from head to toe every time - just like the Palestinians." The Palestinians, too, sometimes encounter the Samaritans with suspicion or even hostility.

Bridge of peace

Kiryat Luza is a neutral zone of encounter between the parties, with the "Café Paradise", which is also a supermarket, as its center: Israeli soldiers stock up on Coke and cigarettes here, while Palestinians visit the store because it is only in the conservative Nablus has alcohol in its range. Israeli and foreign tourists sip cappuccino and are happy when a red-capped Samaritan enters the shop and completes the colorful picture.

The Samaritans like to see themselves as mediators, as a bridge between Palestinians and Israelis. Officially, they advocate a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the divided capital. But they are not actively committed to this. One has set up.

Wasef, who works at "Café Paradise", sums up this attitude: "The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is part of our lives. We don't like it, but we have got used to it. It doesn't affect us directly either. We Samaritans are just as safe in Israel as we are in Palestine, and it should stay that way. "

Laura Overmeyer

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