Whoever wishes to use public transport in Ramallah around 20:00, has to wait for about an hour. This is the Iftar time, at which Muslims break their fast. Some at home with their families, many others outside. Every night the Iftar is celebrated in huge street festivals such as these. After one hour, the bus drivers continue their shifts, now with a full belly.
Perhaps you remember the Bible story about the good Samaritan, that humble man who helped a stranger that was crippling on the street. That was a long time ago, and many people don’t know that even today, this ancient people from the Bible -the Samaritans- still exists.
A tiny community
That’s no wonder, as the total number of the remaining Samaritans is less than 1000 worldwide. Most of them live in the Palestinian city of Nablus, and a few live in Holon, an Israeli city not far from Tel Aviv. Abod Cohen (21) is one of the remaining Samaritans of Nablus. He is the grandson of the community’s high priest, and hopes to become his successor one day.
The Samaritans’ narrative
Just like the Jewish people, the Samaritans are descendants of the Israelites. According to the biblical narrative, the Israelite kingdom was divided in the northern kingdom Israel (Samaria), and the southern kingdom Juda. The Jewish people descent from the kingdom of Juda, whereas the Samaritans are descendants from the northern kingdom Israel.
Same Torah, different customs
Samaritans use the Torah as their holy book, and consequently their religion is similar to Judaism.They keep shabbat and celebrate the Jewish holidays, but those are not on the exact same dates, as their calendar is somewhat different from the Jewish calendar. Typical of their traditional clothing is the red hats, and long white robes. The high priest wears a green robe. Like Jews, Samaritans traditionally use the talit.
Abod has both Israeli and Palestinian citizenship. Although the Samaritans are descendants of the Israelites, they consider themselves Palestinians. Their native language is Arabic, but Abod also speaks Modern Hebrew and English. But besides that, he masters yet another language, one that you might not have heard of before. It is Samaritan Hebrew, an ancient Hebrew that is strongly related to Aramaic.
The logic of the script
Some of the letters of the script look like Hebrew letters, though Hebrew natives cannot read it. Abod explained the practical logic behind the script: “Many letters of our script have a meaning. There is the letter Shan, which means tooth, Yout, which means hand, and Een, which means eye (just like in Hebrew). In our script, the letters actually look like those body parts.” The same goes for the letter “Bet”, which means house, and actually looks like a house.
From right to left: Samaritan, Hebrew, and Latin script. Circled green: the Samaritan symbols representing a house, a hand, an eye, and a tooth.
A rare script
Samaritan Hebrew is not a spoken language anymore, but a reading tradition. It is used by the Samaritans for all religious purposes. The Samaritan Torah scrolls are written in this language, and so is the Samaritan version of the mezuzah. Less than 1000 persons in the world use this language on a daily basis, very little. Imagine how many others will be able to even read it. Not many, I guess.
Watermelons make me happy. On a hot summer day, what can be more delicious than putting your teeth in a fresh, juicy piece of watermelon? Its sweet taste used to remind me of hot days on the beach, free, and without worries. But after visiting the unofficial refugee camps in the Adana region in Turkey, the watermelon associated me with something else. A feeling of discomfort, as if the delicious watermelon suddenly lost its taste.
Every day, trucks drive in and out to transport refugees from the camps to the watermelon fields. Starting at the age of 12, children work on the land from morning until evening, picking fruits in the heating sun. Child slavery, if you’d ask me, letting young children do heavy physical work in the fields.
It is not just children working on the land, but Syrians of all ages. Their salary is around 40 Turkish Lyra (10 euros) a day, paid out in credits that can only be used at the land owner’s shops. He sells basic foodstuffs for three or four times the regular supermarket price. As the workers are unregistered refugees, this is the only work available for them. Without registration, they have no basic rights, such as education and health care. Without registration, they are nothing.
These people did not choose to be here. They escaped a brutal war, leaving behind their homes and all their possessions. Now they are forced to live in improvised tent camps, such as these in the Adana region. They have set up camps along the road, in open fields, or in abandoned chicken farms.
Many of them are low-educated village-people, having no money to go elsewhere. They spend their days on the dirty campsites, or picking watermelons in the fields. What kind of future do their children have? What will become of this generation, if they do not have the fundamental human right of education? Who is there for these people, to stand up for their rights? How long will this continue?
My favorite fruit, children pick them here in the heating sun. However sweet and juicy their taste, on the field they are big and heavy. Those watermelons have lost their innocence. Never have they tasted so bitter before.
Pictures by Rosie Lyse Thompson
Picture 1: girl in a makeshift camp outside Adana Picture 2: Syrian woman returning home after a long shift on the farm