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Caught in Mideast conflict...
by JASON KEYSER
6:48pm Fri Feb 7 '03
The high priest of the biblical Samaritan sect on this holy mount is a member of the Palestinian legislature. Yet most Samaritans are also Israeli citizens who voted in Israel's election. The tiny, dwindling Samaritan community, caught between warring Israelis and Palestinians, got another reminder Thursday of how stuck in the middle it is: Samaritans were confined to their hamlet on Mount Gerizim by Israeli troops after a nearby gunbattle left two Israeli soldiers and two Palestinians dead. Samaritans trace their past to an ancient tribe.
Jesus mentioned a Samaritan in a parable - the only traveler who stopped to care for a man who was robbed, beaten and left for dead along the side of a road, the Good Samaritan bandaged and salved the man's wounds with wine and oil (Luke 10:25-37).
Samaritans claim descent from the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, which separated from the southern kingdom of Judea after the death of King Solomon, about 3,000 years ago.
Today, the identity of this hilltop tribe is a strange mosaic. Many Samaritans carry both Israeli and Palestinian ID cards. They speak an ancient Hebrew dialect as well as modern Hebrew and Arabic. Their high priest, Saloum Cohen, is a member of the Palestinian legislature, filling a seat reserved for the sect, while most community members are also eligible to vote in Israel.
"It's a very disturbing position; you can't take sides and you have to live with both," said Samaritan Fayad Samri, 72, who speaks hopefully of a desire to build a bridge between Israelis and Palestinians.
As violence roils, that gets tough.
Around midnight Wednesday, two Palestinians armed with AK-47 assault rifles surrounded an Israeli army post on the edge of the Samaritans' village, overlooking the West Bank city of Nablus. They fired at soldiers who had turned a restaurant called the Grand Forest Resort into a chilly, muddy-floored sleeping barrack.
At the time, some of the soldiers had been sent to guard posts around the makeshift base to drill for an attempted infiltration by Palestinian militants.
Soldiers returned fire and hurled hand grenades for about an hour before killing the two gunmen. Two soldiers died, including the platoon's commander.
Soldiers sealed the area Thursday and Samaritans couldn't get down the mountain to schools and shops in Nablus. Their community is often cut off because Palestinians have in the past used the road through the community to fire on Israelis, the military says.
Throughout more than two years of fighting, it's been difficult for Samaritans to navigate between the sides. The tribe of 650 is split between two locations.
Half live in Holon just south of Israel's seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv. The others live on Mount Gerizim, a rocky hill dotted with olive trees and stone ruins, located between Nablus, a Jewish settlement and an Israeli military post.
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