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February 07, 2003

Sect caught in the middle

The chaos that is the ME affects not only the Isralis and Palestinians but also the Samarians , a small group caught in the middle
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. [more]