Report from Andree in Nablus.
Yestersay we went to Sabastia, a village 15min outside Nablus , yes, and it only took us 15 minutes to get there because the Beit Iba check point on the way there has been recently dismantled (is this Obama’s wand?) .
What a fantastic place! this village is in the middle of ruins of all ages: Roman, Byzantine, Crusaders and Ottoman, there are large Roman columnade areas still standing and a Church where St John the Baptist was beheaded (not sure by whom) his body is also buried in Sabastia and another church was built on top of him which then became a Mosque.
The village has 3,000 inhabitant and a 50% unemployment rate. Ali, the mayor, welcomed us, he is desperate to have some contact with the outside world and to have his village twinned (any taker?)
Sabastia is divided in two areas, an Area B (mixed Palestinian and Israeli control) and an area C (Full Israeli control, as per the Oslo agreements) wich means that all the ruins and the Roman amphitheatre which lie in area C cannot be renovated and developed, those in area B have been cleaned up and archaeologically dug with outside funding. they even opened a guest house in the middle of the ruins, it is worth while a visit. Unfortunately visitors have almost disappeared since the Intifadas. Now that i have seen the place and met the lovely people of Sebastia I will be willing to organise a Nablus and surround tour for whoever is interested.
We then drove back to Nablus and climbed (by car) to the top of Mount Jerizim to visit the smallest sect in the world: The Samaritans. 750 people in all, of which 350 live in Nablus, the rest live in Holon within Israel. These people have never left Nablus and have been here for 3,400 years. This is a Jewish sect who believes in One God, One prophet Moses, One Holy place Mt Jerizim (not Jerusalem) it is on Mount Jerizim, they say, that Abraham scarified his son Isaac and the stone is still there.
The Israelis have put a check point on the way to the community, thus isolating them from Nablus. We walked through, our passports being kept hostage by the soldiers, and were greeted by Jacques Cohen, one of their elders. I was expecting robes and turbans, but people dress normal and like all Palestinians. Special attire are kept for the Shabbat which is strictly observed and the 2 main feasts: Passover and Sukkot The village resembled any Palestinian village. 350 people live here and they intermarry. Recently they had to accept outsider wives as long as they become strict Samaritans.
The Samaritan of Nablus speak Arabic and ancient Hebrew for the prayers, this is very close to Arabic and modern Hebrew and was the root of these two Semitic languages. The children go to school and University in Nablus. Recently the younger people have set up an organisation called
The Samaritan Legend . Its aim is to explain to the people of Nablus and the world what the Samaritans really are. They wish to become a bridge between Israel and Palestine.
We visited their historical museum which has their genealogical tree from Adam to today, astronomical charts, old pictures and maps, costumes etc…They also have the oldest Torah in the world written on animal skin.
Today we went to an Najah Universiy new campus to the school of fine Arts for the opening of a graphic exhibition organised by Project Hope. A Project Hope volunteer taught a dozen students how to draw comics strips and caricatures. we were well impressed with the result, each student drew a story from their personal experience. We hope Project Hope will put them all in a book that we could buy. Mike and me were very pleasantly surprise to see there a young women exhibitor called Sawsam which FONSA had supported in the past.
we then spent the evening with little Ala’a family which some of you know, Mum, dad and 4 sisters …great food, the best Tabbouleh ever. and we danced dabkeh in their front room joined by their neighbours.
Tomorrow we are off to Jenin to visit the Palestinian Fair Trade Association and our good friend Maysoon who came to Dundee Women Festival 3 years ago.