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Palestine - Visit to Nablus and Samaritan Community

Palestine - Visit to Nablus and Samaritan Community

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Published by David Shinn
David H. Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, reflects on a June 13, 2010, visit to Nablus
David H. Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, reflects on a June 13, 2010, visit to Nablus

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Published by: David Shinn on Jun 30, 2010
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Visit to Nablus and the Samaritan Community22 June 2010David H. ShinnWith an estimated population of 100,000, Nablus is one of the largestcities in the West Bank. Located north of Jerusalem and Ramallah on route 60, previously known as the King’s Highway, I last passed through Nablus in 1965 when itwas under Jordanian administration. Nablus, a Palestinian city, has a large and vibrantsouk that dates back to the Ottoman period. Much of it is covered. Any visitor to Nablusshould spend some time there. It is one of the better Arab souks. Nablus isoverwhelmingly Muslim, but still has a very small Christian minority.Until recently, Nablus was one of the most difficult cities for Palestinians to enter or exit. There are four Israeli check points around the city. About a year ago, Israeldecided to relax the stringent regulations imposed on Palestinians for entering or leaving Nablus. Although the check points remain in place, this change of policy has had adramatic and positive effect on local commerce. As one resident of Nablus commented,it was like turning on the lights. Nablus is now bustling with commercial activity andthere is considerable new construction.There reportedly has been no shooting in the city over the past six months. ThePalestinian Authority, which controls the city, collected most of the weapons from localresidents. Although Israeli security forces occasionally enter the city at night for snatchand grab operations, the missions seem to be accomplished without firing a shot. Theresidents of Nablus appreciate the greater freedom of movement now permitted by Israelisecurity, but this has not translated into significantly reduced hostility towards Israel.The primary purpose of the trip to Nablus was a visit to the Samaritan communityon the top of Mt. Jarzim, also known as Mt. Grizim, that over looks Nablus. There is anIsraeli security check point at the top of the mountain before you enter the community.Israeli personnel at this check point still prevent most Palestinians from entering,apparently because there is an Israeli military facility on the mountain.The Samaritans adhere to an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism. Theydate back to the Kingdom of Samaria in the first half of the second millennium BCE.They claim to be descendents of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.Along the way, they established good relations with Jesus. The Samaritans claim their worship is the true religion of the ancient Israelites prior to the Babylonian Exile. Theyconstituted more than a million followers in late Roman times and then declined toseveral tens of thousands a few centuries ago. Today, some 700 Samaritans live in twolocalities. About 300 Samaritans reside on the top of Mt. Grizim, their holiest location,and another 400 live in the Israeli city of Holon, a suburb of Jaffa/Tel Aviv.The community on Mt. Grizim has good relations with Palestinians and receivessome support from the Palestinian ministry of culture. They speak Arabic but use ancientHebrew in their religious practices. The Samaritans receive Palestinian passports. Atone time, they had one seat on the Palestinian legislative council, but this is no longer thecase. By contrast, the community in Holon relies on support from the government of Israel and receives Israeli passports. The Samaritans have a high priest, a position passed

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