In 2013, I traveled extensively in Samaria. You can find photos and description of that travel here, To Samaria and back.

On Friday, May 29, 2015, I traveled to Mount Gerizim and the Samaritan community, on a high peak in Samaria.

Mount Gerizim Map Road

Mount Gerizim overlooks the city of Nablus and the Balata refugee camp, and contains ancient ruins of the original Samaritans (the Islamic style dome is not part of the original ruins):

[Mount Gerizim Samaritan Ruins - Dome Not Original]

[Mount Gerizim Samaritan Ruins – Dome Not Original]

Mount Gerizim - Samaritan Ruins overlooking Nablus and Balata Refugee Camp

Amid conflict, Samaritans keep unique identity (CNN 2002):

Samaritans are descendants of the ancient Israelites who broke from Judaism some 2,200 years ago and were centered mainly in and around the region of Samaria — now a part of the West Bank.

Even today, many people associate the group with the parable of the “Good Samaritan” from the New Testament, and the term is often used to describe a person who helps another unselfishly.

In modern times, as they try to maintain their distinct cultural identity, the Samaritans find themselves caught in the middle of the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians….
Their community numbers less than 700 people and is split almost evenly between the Palestinian controlled area of Mount Gerizim in the West Bank and the Israeli town of Holon near Tel Aviv.

The Samaritans are Israeli citizens and recognized as Jews according to the law of return. Yet, those who live in the West Bank also are represented in the Palestinian legislature. Palestinians commonly refer to them as “Jews of Palestine.” Overall, they seek to maintain neutrality between both sides.

As a people, they are united by a common religion, tradition and language. They are one of a few remaining cultures that speak, read and write the ancient Hebrew language Aramaic.

The Times of Israel had a 2013 profile of the community, its flight from Nablus during the First Intifada, and the ritual animal sacrifice that it part of its religious ceremony.

[Mount Gerizim - Good Samaritan Center]

[Mount Gerizim – Good Samaritan Center]

[Mount Gerizim - Samaritan Ritual Animal Sacrifice Area]

[Mount Gerizim – Samaritan Ritual Animal Sacrifice Area]

[Mount Gerizim - Samaritan Menorah]

[Mount Gerizim – Samaritan Menorah]

We also returned to visit with my friend from Moscow days, at Barkan.

Barkan is a small (1,200 people) settlement a few miles beyond the 1949 armistice line, near the larger town of Ariel. An archeological site east of the town contains remnants of an Israelite settlement during the time of the first and second temples.

Barkan sits on a hilltop, like all of the settlements I’ve seen in Samaria do, detached from nearby Arab villages. You can find community photos of Barkan here.

[Barkan and nearby villages]

[Barkan and nearby villages]

The satellite image doesn’t really reflect how detached Barkan is; the Arab towns sit in the valley below.

When I visited in 2013, the last ring of homes was just under construction:

[Barkan, July 2013]

[Barkan, July 2013]

Now the construction is completed:

[Barkan, May 2015]

[Barkan, May 2015]

On a clear day, from Barkan you can see the entire coastal plain containing most of Israel’s population, including Tel Aviv in the far distance and planes heading into and out of Ben Gurion Airport. We were there on a hazy afternoon, so the best I could do with my cell phone camera looking West into the sun was this photo, showing the Tel Aviv skyline and Mediterranean Sea on the far horizon through the haze:

[Israel - Tel Aviv Skyline and Mediterranean Sea from Barkan]

[Israel – Tel Aviv Skyline and Mediterranean Sea from Barkan]

The strategic value of the Samarian hills is obvious. Imagine a “Gaza” in the hills overlooking Israel. I said of it in my 2013 post:

Location, location, location. It’s the high ground, stupid.

Putting aside the biblical connection to these locations, it’s hard to imagine Israel ever giving up the strategic high ground on which some of these settlements sit. If Israel did give up the high ground, it would do so at its own security risk.

Then it was to Ra’anana, a town just north of Tel Aviv with many English-speakers, and then to the our beach hotel in Tel Aviv. All within (gun)sight of the hills of Samaria.

Additional posts: You can read all of my posts for my 2015 Israel trip here.