The last Samaritans

Gaël Turine

On top of Mount Gerizim, near the West Bank city of Nablus, and in the town of Kyriat Luza, lives the Samaritan community. Neither entirely Palestinian, nor entirely Israeli, Muslim or Jewish, this ethno-religious community is located outside the identity and territorial conflict that has torn the region apart for decades. This
thousand-year-old community lives in harmony in two camps, where they welcome without restriction to Gerizim, their holy place.
Facing the risk of extintion and to ensure their survival, the Samaritans began to produce large numbers of children. But in a shrinking community reluctant to accept converts, inbreeding has had catastrophic consequences. Marriage between first cousins was extremely common, leading to a high incidence of serious birth defects and genetic illnesses.
The situation has started to improve, in 2004 a relative of the highest priest of the community, couldn’t find a Samaritan woman, but was allowed to marry a Ukrainian woman. Since then, there are other couples composed of Samaritan men living with Ukrainian women, who have accepted the Samaritan traditions.
Despite the new converts, many Samaritans fear they will be fighting an uphill demographic battle in the years ahead – along with a battle to preserve their culture and heritage.

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