April 29, 2010

Yesterday was the Samaritan Passover, and they had a large ritual burnt offering in honor of the holiday. The Samaritans are the same group that was mentioned in the Bible (The parable of the Good Samaritan)–they are a sect of Judaism, but are not considered the same as the Jews that live in Israel.

They live in an isolated community in the West Bank, on Mt. Gerezim outside of Nablus. The ancient temple and city ruins still exist on this hill, alongside the modern village. There numbers have been steadily decreasing due to assimilation and other factors, there are around 1000 of them left today living in the village. They have a problem now with children being born with defects because of the small size of their community, and the fact that they intermarry usually only within the community. They are considering importing 50 or so Ukrainian women into the community on the condition that they convert to the religion so that they can get some fresh genes into the gene-pool.

We went up to see the ritual yesterday night. On the way, we had to pass through Huwarra Checkpoint, the major checkpoint to get inside Nablus city in the West Bank. We had a Canadian Jewish guy in the car with us, he had come over to the Holy Land to study at a Yeshiva in a settlement in the Jordan Valley, but at the same time he is against the occupation and travels around the West Bank cities to experience the culture and meet the people–overall a very open minded guy for living temporarily in a settlement. Anyways, we got stopped at the checkpoint because we were in a yellow plated rental car (yellow plate is Israeli, white or green plates is for West Bank only).

 The soldier asked for our passports and saw the Canadians name and recognized that he was Jewish. Then the soldier said it was “illegal” for him to enter Palestinian cities (especially Area A –under PA control). He said he wasn’t Israeli and that we were coming from Ramallah (another Area A). The soldier then told him it was “too dangerous” for him to go into Nablus. My friend Julian met this guy in Jenin (one of the most hardcore Palestinian cities, and center of resistance) on his own and talking with a Palestinian guy….so the soldiers fears for his “Jewish brother” were unfounded and based on his experience as a Jewish SOLDIER in the West Bank.

After speaking with his commander, he wouldn’t let us through, so we had to park outside the checkpoint and go around a different way to get to the Samaritan village.

Their village looks like a Palestinian village, and it is right next to a Jewish settlement. The Samaritans are more Arab in tradition and culture than Israeli because they have always lived in Palestine (unlike most Israelis who moved here from countries all over the world–like Ethiopia, Russia, the US, etc…). They speak Arabic and look Arab.

For the ritual, they all dress in white. The women sometimes wear veils–but they are more like Islamic veils than Jewish ones. Some of the women wore long red robes over their white clothes. The men, who would be slaughtering the sheep for the offering, were dressed in white painting overalls and baseball caps. Some of the older men wore the more traditional square-shaped white or red hats.

Each family had to bring one sheep that they had kept with the family almost like a pet dog for an entire week before the slaughter. As we arrived, the men were dragging the sheep towards the sacrificial altars. It was a square with four huge fire pits that the men kept throwing large logs and braches of olive trees on. They gathered the sheep in one corner, and the kids were running around playing with and riding on the sheep. The sheep looked terrified.

I left before the actual slaughter. But my friends who saw it said that a man from each family grabbed the sheep from behind and slit their throats with a knife (presumably after the Rabbi had said a prayer–because it has to be Kosher…) and then the sheep were skinned and cleaned before they were thrown into the fire and buried so that they would cook. The meat was ready around midnight.

The crowd that came to watch was probably the most interesting part because it was such a mix: There were some of the 170 Muslims that live in the Samaritan village, settlers from nearby settlements, Israeli tourists and photographers, Palestinian press, international tourists and press…and of course Israeli soldiers everywhere with M-16s to “keep the peace”.


One comment

  1. Incredible. Is this going in the PalMon?

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