Extent of Samaritan Jew Entrapment between Israeli Jews and Palestine Arabs
The Samaritan Jews are a relatively small group of ethnocentric people who until recently lived a life immune to the current dynamics of geopolitical turmoil. They are believed to have come from the Israelite tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, but the current debate has little to do with ancestral origins. This paper explores their origin and struggle for acceptance and definition. On one side, the Jews in Israel claim Samaritan Jews have always been a part of their people – although slightly alienated for cultural purposes, while Palestine Arabs also lay claim to the same community especially in light of the current struggle for West Bank. In addition to these issues related to their identity crisis, we shall also try to delve into their religious affiliations, religious ties with Nablus and Holon as well as their position on Jewish and Arab religions. Finally, we shall explore Samaritan Jew wars with either side in relation to the mentioned regions, and eventually carry out a compare and contrast exercise between them, Israelite Jews, and Palestinian Arabs.
When the creators of Israel as a state envisaged their dream, they did not adequately factor in consideration for the roles of the minority Samaritan and Karaite ethnic groups that were on the sidelines. Although their existence had long been subject to the shifts in the geo-political environment of the region, they had not considered the tricky place people such as the Samaritans would find themselves by the establishment of Israel as a state. These minority groups found themselves in the centre of a heated battle between their Jewish cousins on the Israeli front and the Islamic counterparts on the other.
Stating that Samaritan Jews were in the center of this melee is not an overstatement for they actually were divided into two almost equal groups by their regions of residence on either side of the ideological, political, and religious divide. This example research paper explores some aspects of this tricky position that Samaritan Jews found themselves due to the creation of Israel and other factors.
Samaritan Jews: Their origins and identity before the current strife
Samaritan Jews claim that their ancestors were the two sons of Jacob, Manasseh and Ephraim. According to Anderson & Giles (2012), after Joshua conquered Canaan and settled the Israelites according to the will of Moses as instructed by God. Of the twelve tribes, excluding that of Levi, half were to be settled on Mount Gerizim, also known as the Mountain of Blessing (p. 56). The other half were to be settled on Mount Ebal, the Mountain of Curse. After the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722BC, a small number of the Israelites survived and were deported. The inscriptions of King Sargon – the second place the number of those deported at roughly 29270, meaning that a significant number remained. These remnants refer themselves to as Israelites.
According to their ancient folklore and history, as well as Abu I-Fath, author of some of the most comprehensive historical work on Samaritans, the division resulting from the falling out of Eli and the High Priesthood due to errant offering rites might be the original turning point of Samaritan history. It is reported by Anderson & Giles (2012) that Eli made an offering while omitting salt – an important ingredient in the process of making offering to God back then – thus forcing the High Priest Uzzi Ben Bukki to cajole him (p.145).
The resulting arguments and exchanges forced Eli, then a wealthy man of repute, to leave drawing with him a sizeable number of sympathizers. He landed at Shiloh, built a temple like the one Moses ordered built at Mount Gerezim, and started a life there with a healthy following. After all this, Israel was left divided into three factions: one that worshipped according to Gentile idolatry, one that remained with the High Priest at Mount Gerezim, and the one that followed Eli to Shiloh.
Interestingly, Israelite Jews have their account that tries to explain the origin of Samaritans as both an ethnic group, and from a religious standpoint. The Samaritan Jew and Israelite Jew version both agree about this up to the point where Assyrian deportation and replacement of the original Israelites took place. Here, Israelite Jews assert that the Samaritan Jews possibly originated from a different group of ethnic communities to what the former group claims. It is reported by Crown (2000) that the children of Israel were deported to Gozan, Halah and Medes, being replaced by the Assyrians with people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avah, Emath, and Sepharvim (p. 353).
Another interesting point as exposed by Costello (1977) in his attempt at deciphering the history of the Samaritan Jews is, “the contradiction between Israelite Jewish accounts of this issue and the Biblical book of Chronicles” (p. 1270. In this book, it is written that King Hezekiah harbored ambitions of uniting the people of Judah with those from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh after the destruction of Samaria. During the time of Josiah, when the temple was being rebuilt, offerings to the cause came from, among other places, “the remnants of Israel” in Samaria, including those from the descendants of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. The Prophet Jeremiah also mentions how people from Shechem, Samaria, and Shiloh brought offerings of grain and frankincense as contribution to the temple’s rebuilding process. It is eventually argued that the reported Assyrian resettlement failed, and that a band of Israelites remained in Samaria, settled there as refugees and propagated themselves after the conquest of Judah.
The Samaritan relationship with Israel and Palestine
The Samaritan Jew relationship with Israelite Jews is an ancient affair, probably dating back to the times of Jacob. Fine (2013) acknowledges that among Samaritans, they are direct descendants of his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, making them and Israelite Jews close relatives since Israelites consider themselves descendants of the same man (p. 34). While there were differences arising from various occurrences, such as the divisions caused by Eli, or the Assyrian invasion and destruction of Israel, these two groups remain closely related.
However, from a religious perspective, there are some distinct variation and arguments against each other. Israelite Jews practice strict Judaism according to the teachings of Moses, while Samaritan religion is influenced by Islam, Gentile teachings, as well as watered down versions of Judaism. Some notable differences in the Samaritan and Israeli forms of Judaism are based upon the role of Moses and Mount Gerezim. Samaritans believe Moses shall come back as a restorer while Israeli Jews view him just a messenger and deliverer from Egypt. Samaritan Jews view Mount Gerezim as the only true sanctuary as opposed to the Israelite perspective on Jerusalem.
Samaritan Jews believe they are an independent people with their own set of norms and well defined cultural practices. They observe the Passover according to their own religious beliefs observing the collection of rites that have been their norm for thousands of years. They dress in flowing robes as their ancestors have done for centuries and only allow the heads of the family to lead during Passover (Gil 1997). They slaughter unblemished lambs, consume unleavened bread called “matzah”, and stay indoors during the feast as has been their tradition for all the years. The rules of male circumcision, kosher dietary habits, and family purity are strictly observed as well.
Although geopolitical differences have placed them in different lands, whereby roughly half the Samaritan population lives in Holon, an Israeli town, while the other half resides in Nablus, a Palestine territory, the people still unite at Kiryat Luza in the West Bank region during the Passover as well as other holidays and family outings. This unity has seen them through many hard times including them current Israeli-Arab struggles. Modernization as well as the Western influence might be evident in the daily lives of the younger generations of Samaritan people, but they still follow their religious obligations to the letter (Hinnebusch 2003). Older generations still dress like the old Biblical times, but even they are not oblivious of the need to embrace modern methods of communication in order to enable their plight to be heard amidst all the Jewish and Islam arguments.
Before the invasion of Palestine, areas of the Middle East and parts of modern day North Africa by Romans, British and Arabs, the Samaritan population was higher as they enjoyed a large degree of autonomist independence. While independent, Samaritan religion, culture and commerce fueled their large numbers that at one time was estimated at more than a million. However, when these invaders came into their lands, they persecuted and oppressed the fewer, weaker Samaritan community, eventually reducing their numbers to fewer than 200 just before the First World War. It is worth noting that after the Arab invasion and subsequent conquest of Palestine in A.D 634, the Samaritan population already present underwent a forced shift in terms of cultural and religious way of life (Mielke et. al 2007). Islamist forced the Islamic religion on any areas they conquered and Holon was no exception.
While most of the Samaritan Jews moved back to Nablus in keeping with the history of their culture and religion, some families decided to move to Holon to follow up on their commercial ambitions. One particular family is credited with instigating the mass movement that saw Samaritan Jews right in the middle of Islamic-Jewish tension between Israel and Palestine. Knoppers (2013) reports how many scholars see the Tsedaka family activities as the turning point of Samaritan Jewish return to Nablus as Yefet Abraham’s move to Holon signaled the start of a proper Samaritan residence in Islamic Palestine (p. 88). His tents, synagogue and cultural center paved way for a proper Samaritan residence when more modern and permanent structures were erected and more Samaritans moved in.
Samaritan positions before the establishment of Israel, their views on Zionism and Palestine
Before the establishment of Israel as a nation, Samaritans enjoyed a large degree of freedom that was subject to the geographical location they found themselves in. Before the time of Jesus, they led a largely normal life characterized by Jewish practice and normal farming and herding lifestyles (Joseph 2005). In the years following 164BC, a period known as the Hellenistic period witnessed the first form of reaction from Samaritans to any form of external interference.
Some small faction formed in Samaria and divided the Samaritans into two groups, one led by the High Priest, and the other the breakaway faction that had adopted Hellenizing ideologies.
During the Roman times, which is also the period Jesus of Nazareth was alive on earth Samaritans are mentioned a few times in the gospels under the teachings of Jesus. The most notable of these mentions is the Samaritan woman at the well who served Christ with water and was redeemed for that humble gesture. While Jesus was propagating the gospels to the children of Israel, Samaritans continued to observe and conform to their religion’s teachings all the while facing persecution from Christians and Romans.
Kartveit & Ebrary (2009) report how during the Byzantine period, under Emperor Zeno, Samaritans faced their first encounter with large-scale religious persecution (p. 23). The ruler went to Sichem and forced the Samaritans to convert to Christianity without success. Many died on that day marking the first time such large-scale destructive force had been used on the ethnic group for religious reasons. In addition, Zeno also went to Mount Gerezim and erected a tomb of his son for the Samaritan worshipers to prostrate themselves before. After such action, Samaritans went against their naturally docile nature and went on a rampage killing Christians, burning churches, and maiming priests in and around Sichem.
Their revolts almost caused the extinction of the community after Emperor Justinian the first brought in Arab reinforcement to crash the revolt in AD 529. This marked the introduction of Arab, and eventually Islam, into the process of oppressing Samaritans before the establishment of Israel (Longva & Roald 2012). After the Muslim conquests, the conquerors met Samaritans occupying a large region spanning across several countries. These people had members of their community all over Egypt, Iran, and Syria, but that changed immediately forced conversion to Islam started. Over the Turkish and Ottoman rule, Samaritans were subjected to persecution, forced conversion to Islam, and unfair taxation as well as government policies. This created a feeling of hatred and distrust for the Muslim majority occupying the lands among Samaritan minority.
This oppression changed to small extent after the British occupation of Palestine between 1920 and 1948. During the time, the largely imperialist white man was involved in establishing British influence in the area and thought it wise to empower Samaritans by allowing some freedoms. In light of the centuries spent under forced conversion to Islam, unfair policies and taxation by their previous oppressors, this new people were readily welcomed, especially after provisions were made to place a Samaritan in the Shechem Municipality to agitate for their grievances (Sela &EBSCO 1997). These favors, though stringed to some conditions, readily appealed to the small Samaritan community already tired of oppression. It did not come as surprise that during the Israeli declaration of independence and the ensuing wars, Samaritan readily supported whoever the imperialist supported – the Zionist.
The Samaritan position during the Arab vs. Israeli Jewish wars
Muslims in their entirety have always been against the establishment and propagation of an Israeli nation. So much, that Palestine refers to the period in 1948 during the formation of the Israeli state a disaster. All that negativity towards Jews by Arabs especially had been manifested in their four attempts at destabilizing, and indeed defeating, the state of Israel, but all attempts have been futile with some even embarrassingly so. All the while, the position of Samaritan Jews has been one of great interest seeing how half of the minority group resides in the Arab Palestine region of Nablus, while the other resides in Israel’s Holon region.
Persecution and other factors had decimated Samaritans to a mere 150 individuals as at the early nineteen hundreds, but with the efforts of both the community itself and the surrounding states, the number rose to healthy numbers soon enough. However, even with the increased numbers and more attention from neighbors, Samaritans chose to remain impartial to the rapidly shifting geo-political situation unfolding in the area (Smith 1993). Israel had just become a state much to the chagrin of neighboring Arab and Muslim nations who viewed the Jews with contempt and distaste.
In conforming with their ancestry as well as for survival purposes, Samaritans tend to align themselves to the Israeli side in terms of political affiliation. However, a Samaritan did not singlehandedly stand up and declare enemity for either Israel or Palestine until 1960. A Samaritan leader called Al-Kahen Wasef al-Samery stood and declared that Israel was as much an enemy for them as Palestine was, creating the first signs of allegiance to a side in the tense region. In effect, the leader had singled out Samaritans as independent and willing to fight for their freedom at a time when Israel was finding itself surrounded by potential foes. The Samaritan population trying to indirectly align itself to Palestine by declaring the Israeli as oppressive and unfair further aggravated this.
As much as the Samaritans remained non-partisan to the Israeli-Arab wars and strife, their allegiance was secretly with the small nation facing the older, more determined Islamic neighbors surrounding her. Israel for the Samaritans was not only the imperialists’ favorite, but the chosen sanctuary for all the Jews regardless, meaning any threat to that land was a direct attack to their homeland (Soyer 2007). Although they were not keen to demonstrate this support for fear of the imminent reprisals, Samaritans started supporting the cause indirectly through methods such as joining the Israeli armed forces, on the Holon side, and complete ignorance on the Palestine and Arab Jordanian side.
However heated this period was for the Samaritan people, and the high tension surrounding the actions of all involved, they eventually resumed their non-partisan role of not supporting anyone in the region for fear of the ramifications to the small, weak community. In addition to this fears, was the threat of their people dying off due to some genetic disease caused by a small gene pool. Restoration activities were instead initiated with the aim of strengthening the community through intermarriage with Israelite women. Although these new wives and mothers had to accept to renounce the Israeli Jewish religion in favor of the Samaritan one, the four left Samaritan families (Cohen, Danfi, Tsedakah, and Marhib) were able to save the community using this unorthodox, yet necessary method.
Complete restoration according to Thomas (2011) of the community has been enabled by the growth of Israel as both a state and a refuge for Jews running away from persecution (p. 29). After the establishment of the state via a declaration of independence in 1948, Israel formulated a special rule to enable the repatriation of all Jews in the world to their rightful homeland. Known as the Law of Return, this rule justifies the return of any Jew in the world to Israel as long as they are not going to harm Jews, cause trouble, cause harm, or public outcry. As long as one was born to a Jewish mother, or had converted to Judaism, they could enter the country up to 1992 when a petition was passed barring the entry of Samaritans into the country since their mothers were not Jews. However, this petition was challenged in 1994 resulting in a continued influx of Samaritans into Israel (Thomas 2010).
Similarities between Samaritan Jews and Palestine Arabs
Samaritan Jews and Palestine Arabs both practice a monotheistic religions characterized by the worship of one God. They both have special names for their God, with Samaritans calling God Yahweh, and Palestine Arabs referring to Allah. Both consider themselves the only true worshipers of His power and glory with all other groups generally considered as non-believers and damned. This is the most obvious similarity between Samaritans and Palestine Arabs.
Both groups have the highest regard for a set way of life that has been outlined by their deities. The Samaritans have high regard for the Pentateuch and consider this the divinely ordained way of life. It is characterized by a detailed guide of how one should worship cloth, marry, feed, correlate with fellow faithful, and other aspects of religious and normal life as outlined in the Holy Scriptures. Muslims refer to the Quran’s equivalent to the Pentateuch for guidance on how to conduct them self. In addition, appropriate punitive action, as well as course of remedial action, is also outlined in the same scripture (Amirav 2009).
The religious teaching according to both groups, the Samaritan Jews and Palestine Arab ones, teach one basic concept – that of respect and reverence for the messenger. Samaritans believe in the teaching of Yahweh as outlined by his messenger Moses, while Palestine Arabs make reference to Allah‘s will as passed on by his messenger Prophet Muhammad (Sahid 1995). Both clearly advocate for a respect of prophets and their wisdom as they were chosen to convey God’s will to errant humans and bring upon salvation to the wise that would heed.
While Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God sent to die for the salvation of his flock, both Samaritans and Palestine Arabs disassociate themselves from such doctrines. They share the belief that Jesus was another messenger and that his claim to be the Son of God are both unfounded and untrue. Samaritans do not have much regard for any teaching beyond the Pentateuch as these are, according to their beliefs, the only necessary religious guidelines needed for salvation. Palestine Arabs, like their Muslim friends, simply do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God (Zen 2010).
In matters regarding the roles of women and children in both social and religious ceremonies, the Samaritan and Arab religions are quite oppressive allocating these the role of subservient spectators (Wilson 1990). Women are expected to cloth in a way that covers their modesty and hides parts of their bodies that could be objectified. On the other hand, men are placed on a pedestal as rulers on almost all aspects of the social, family, judicial, and religious life. For example, in the Samaritan way of life, even in the absence of a man in the family, it had to be a stranger that led that family during their Passover ceremony.
Both the Samaritan and Palestine Arab religious practices refer to a holy shrine from where a major religious action is believed to have occurred. The Samaritans observe Passover by travelling to Kiryat Luza to observe their ceremony from there. Similarly, Muslim have an annual pilgrimage to Mecca for the same reasons as advised and justified by their religious teachings.
Differences between Samaritans and Palestine Arabs
Palestine Arabs, and indeed all Muslims, believe in the jihad – a holy war that is generally intended to defend their faith as well as the welfare of all Muslims. Samaritans on the other hand are generally a peaceful lot who do not advocate for the use of violence unless in defending their self. While there are records of instances of Samaritan invasions on innocent people, these were deemed necessary, as was the fulfillment of God’s will, who instructed the attacks according to Holy Scriptures.
Titus (2007) shows how Samaritans are on record as more inclined towards activities that were based on the production of consumer goods (p. 170). They were farmers where land was arable, teachers, herders and nomadic pastoralists. Palestine Arabs like most of their fellow Muslims were astute traders and merchants. Although Samaritans adopted the practice of commerce, this indeed happened much later than Muslims who are thought to have played an integral role in the spread of commerce and barter trade. In general, Samaritans never ventured away from the areas surrounding Mount Gerezim and Jerusalem until the hardships of persecution during dark ages of Holocaust forced them to flee. On the other hand, Arabs, Palestine Arabs included, are in the history books for their attempts at, among other things, commerce, exploration, spreading Islam.
The emergence of Israel as a young nation amidst the largely hostile, Islamic neighbors has been seen as the reason Samaritan Jews find themselves in the tricky situation they currently are in. However, as the paper demonstrated, the circumstances surrounding Samaritan placement and their current woes are far from the sum of a young country trying to gain the freedom for its people. The influence of ancient activities such as: the spread of Christianity, Islam, resultant revolts, and complex geo-political ambitions during the colonial times have been shown to be collectively responsible.
However, Samaritan welfare has been demonstrated to be the result of more of brains than brawn. While their neighbors are embroiled in a bitter battle for ideological and religious purposes, the small band of conservative Samaritans chose to remain non-partisan to all the violence and politicking. All the while, their allegiance is secretly with their brothers – the Israelite Jews. Although there is more than meets the eye in this issue, the basic and most crucial point to remember among the many we have encountered is that Samaritan welfare is an important aspect of the larger issues present in the Middle East. That they have lasted this long at the intersection of all those battles seems to point to some divine intervention.