To Nablus, a town with a bloody history and to a mountain where Noah’s Ark landed and a few Samaritans still do their good deeds.

Nablus is an ancient Arab town, and from the warm welcome I got in Nablus you would never guess that this was considered one of the most dangerous towns in all of the West Bank, a breeding ground for terrorism and anti-Israeli sentiments.  More road blocks than anywhere else surrounded the city – once.  After the wall (Israeli security barrier) was built, there was little need for those to remain.  You see the empty military posts as you drive into the town.  What still attests to the past are the hundreds of posters plastered all over town depicting martyrs of various ages.  You also see more ruins in the old town than elsewhere from heavy shelling of the town in years past.

Commercial life seems vibrant and the overall attitude toward me as a foreigner was warm and welcoming.  A man who walked the souq with his son approached me to chat.  He was a Palestinian from Israel, who lived in Haifa.  Just here for the day to hang out with his son.  Strictly speaking he should not have been allowed in – this is a Zone B area – under complete control of the PA.  It is off limits to Israeli citizens; that is to the Jewish ones… But that is not what is written in the Oslo accord…

He feels trapped, he told me – between two worlds.  Here he is treated like a foreigner, a stranger, looked at with suspicion since he is holding an Israeli passport.  There (in Haifa) he is treated with suspicion since he is a Palestinian.  Second class citizen here and there, but certainly one with a lot of privileges as far as the people here in Nablus are concerned.

One man attached himself to me with the claim of wanting to explain things to me.  He lured me away farther and farther from the souq until I was sure he was up to no good.  Before it was too late I excused myself claiming to have run out of time.  I did not want him to feel humiliated or exposed – better safe than sorry.  I have to say, this was the only incident in all my four months of travel where I was approached as a female target.

Up the hill above the town of Nablus you enter a different world: the town of Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim in which half of the 712 Samaritans in Israel reside because it is held sacred for being one of the suspected landing spots for Noah’s Ark.  Guarded by an Israeli military check point these Arab-speaking Samaritans also hold Israeli citizenship. They are as ancient as the Jews themselves, but unlike them never had to leave the land.

If I had not had my experience in the Jewish Settlement (see Day 117) the encounter with the Samaritans perhaps would not have felt so profound.  First, the Israeli soldiers would not let me in since it was the Sabbath and the town was off limits to visitors.  After much begging the soldier softened, perhaps since I did not represent a group but was just a single traveler; perhaps, he got permission from the Samaritans themselves.

First I visited the citadel with its ancient ruins – of course, they were closed – but a Muslim guard could be bribed to open up for me.  He even led me around demanding in the end an outrageous “fee” for this.  But I refused.

After that, I was just quietly going to leave town as I could see the men walking around in their one-piece Sabbath ‘dress’ visiting people in town.  The streets were full of people walking.  People were gathering in front yards chatting and the children were roaming the streets playing ball games.  Photography was not entirely appropriate for the Sabbath as well as for my intruding status.  But I got a few pictures.

On my way out, I heard a voice behind me calling down from a balcony:  “Hey you!”  At first I kept walking but then I was pretty sure that in a community of about 300 people nobody but a stranger would have to be addressed with “Hey you!” and so I turned around.  A friendly old man waved down from a window and asked if I needed water and wanted to step in for a moment!  Wow!

Remember my greeting at the Settlement which had at first remained unanswered and followed by the response:  “I don’t know you.”  That was still with me; so this invitation left me flabbergasted.  It was hot and I had just been out at the ruins for an hour.  I had used up all my water, no store was open and water would be splendid indeed!

I was invited on to the lower balcony and within minutes the wife, the children, the neighbors would be called over to meet the stranger.

If this isn’t the Samaritan spirit I had heard of in the Bible, I don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, the extent of my host’s English was limited and my Arabic is of course nonexistent.

That night I read up about the Samaritans and it’s worth your while, too.  There is a long and interesting history.  Too bad that there are a mere 712 Samaritans left today in the world.  They live in two towns.  Only recently they have “intermarriages” between these two towns been allowed since there was too much inbreeding followed by genetic diseases.  Already during my short visit I noticed more handicapped people than in other communities and some very distinct features on a variety of people.  What an experience!

Good night.

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  1. Thanks, Elisabeth, for posting this blog. I do want to talk with you, especially, about the West Bank experiences.

    Thanks for the invitation. I hope to give you a call this summer. Joan