Welcome to Nablus an ancient city located in the Central Highlands of the West Bank, around 40 miles north of Jerusalem. It is one of the largest cities in Palestine  a Palestinian commercial and cultural centre, home to An-Najah National University, one of the largest Palestinian institutions of higher learning, and the Palestinian stock-exchange. The Arabic name for the city of Nablus derives from the Latin Neapolis which was built by the Romans near the site of the ancient city of Shechem. Nablus/Shechem is dominated by two mountains, Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. In the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua they are closely associated with the ritual surrounding the covenant God made with his people Israel which is at the very heart of Biblical faith.

Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges hallow Shechem over all other cities of the land of Israel. According to Genesis (12:6–7) Abram "built an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him… and had given that land to his descendants" at Shechem. The Bible states that on this occasion, God confirmed the covenant he had first made with Abraham in Harran, regarding the possession of the land of Canaan.  Shechem was the place where Jacob ended his wandering and bought some land for his family. As a latecomer, he would have had to find a water supply, but the land here was full of springs, hence we have the story of Jacob’s Well which today sits inside the crypt of the small Greek Orthodox St. Photina the Samaritan Church. This well has two traditions attached to it as it is believed both to have been dug by Jacob and also to be the well where Jesus met the woman of Samaria in John 4. A few hundred yards north of this church is a building with a white dome known as Joseph's Tomb. Here, Joseph is said to have been buried by his father Jacob.

Following the settlement of the Israelites in Cana after their Exodus from Egypt, Joshua assembled the Israelites at Shechem and asked them to choose between serving the God of Abraham who had delivered them from Egypt, or the false gods which their ancestors had served. Just as for Jacob’s generation Shechem was journey’s end, so to for the generation who survived the long wandering from Israel to the promised land, Shechem was a symbol that God had kept to the promise he had made to their ancestors. Later, Shechem was the place appointed, after Solomon's death, for the meeting of the people of Israel and the investiture of his son Rehoboam as king; the meeting ended in the secession of the ten northern tribes, and Shechem, fortified by Jeroboam, became the capital of the new kingdom.

Nablus itself was actually modelled on the capital city of Damascus, and many of the Levantine aspects of that city have passed the test of time. These remains include ancient mosques, public drinking fountains, the alleyways and passages of the Old City, and traditional balconies. The Old City is home to the market area, where you'll find the town's famous pastry and dessert shops. Nablus is renowned as the home of kanafeh (a sweet-cheese and shredded pastry dessert). Among its many industries, Nablus has been known for the production of soap since the 10th century. A type of castile soap, produced only in Nablus and made of three primary ingredients: virgin olive oil, water, and a sodium compound, ‘qilw’, this soap was exported across the Arab world and Europe.

Friends of the Holy Land’s mission is to support a sustainable Christian presence.

Christian Community

Population in the district: 250,000

Christians: 650

St. Phillip came to Nablus where he taught and baptized (Acts 8). The majority of the inhabitants of Nablus today are Muslim, with a small Christian community. The Christians in Nablus have existed since the beginning of the church. However, they became a very small community especially after the Israeli occupation in 1948, 1967, and the two more recent Intifadas. This vulnerable community is a mixture of Greek Orthodox, Latin, Anglican and Melkite who cooperate closely and ecumenically to maintain a Christian presence in the City, with 4 churches. One example of this is an agreement on the dates of the major Christian feast days for Christmas and Easter – Christmas is celebrated by all on the date according to Western tradition, December 25th and Easter on the date according to Eastern tradition which this year is May 2nd.

Latin Community - The Church of St. Justinus was built in 1887. In 1904, the Rosary sisterhood arrived in Nablus and Rafidia to serve the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and assist the priest in the service of the church by visiting the families and teaching children. The church is located in the suburb of Rafidia and has been renovated and expanded several times since it was established, most recently in 1980. The current Parish Priest, Fr Juan Aragon introduces us to his community here -

The school - founded by the Rosary Sisters in 1904, St. Joseph School was acquired by the Latin Patriarchate in 1998 and has always been recognized for its high academic standard. Today, with its 46 teachers, the school teaches kindergarten to 12th grade or Tawjihi, transmitting a message of faith, without religious or social discrimination. Everyone is welcomed without exception: Christians, Muslims and Samaritans. The students are divided into 22 classes, two classes per level from 1st to 10th grade, a class for 11th grade and a class for 12th grade.

In addition to the school program requested by the Palestinian Authority, additional courses in French and music are offered. Even if Christian students represent only 10% of the students, a special importance is given to a Christian ethos.

Anglican Community – The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem maintain two churches in the area; St Philips in Nablus and the Good Shepherd Church in Rafidia. In normal times, the parishes support an ecumenical youth group, couples’ group, women’s group, and Sunday School with bus transport provided. They provide Christian support and education for all Christians in Nablus through the kindergarten school based in the parish, the Christian National Kindergarten. Revd Jamil Khadir is the Minister for both and has a message for you here -

Despite being such a small community, the Diocese has a major commitment to healthcare in the area through its administration of St Luke’s Hospital in Nablus, the only charitable hospital in the northern West Bank.

Established in 1900, this general hospital offers a full range of medical services and boasts particularly well-regarded neurosurgery, obstetrics, and neonatal departments. Roughly 10% of all patients need some form of support for their medical expenses. Thanks to your donations, Friends of the Holy Land contribute to an Exemption Fund, to cover the cost of operations and medicines for the poorest Christian families who do not have enough to pay for treatment. Over the years, we have donated more than £125,000 to this fund but demand is constant, and we need your support today to keep pace with increasing requests for help.

Around a quarter of the hospital staff are Christian and some would not be able to find work elsewhere. Therefore, our funding has double the impact – healing Christians and employing Christians where there are not many other opportunities. The Director of the hospital, Dr Walid Kerry, explains further the hospital’s role in the community and our support here –

Travel restrictions and checkpoints make everyday life difficult for the people of Nablus and surrounding communities so ready access to comprehensive, quality healthcare at a local hospital is crucial. The services offered by this 120 year-old hospital are a lifeline for the 15,000 patients seen at its outpatient clinic each year.

The Samaritans

One of the most fascinating spots in Nablus is the Samaritan settlement and archaeological remains atop Mount Gerizim. This group of Samaritans living on the slopes is the oldest and smallest religious sect in the entire world, believing themselves to be 162nd generation descendants of Joseph. It is also their belief that Moses ordered them to protect the mountain, and that it is the place where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac. They are today reduced to only around 800 people and there is much concern that their community is in danger of dying out. If you are interested to know more the follow video presents an update, a warning it is 22 minutes long.

Time for you to move on to Zababdeh - another of the few predominantly Christian villages left in Palestine. See you soon!