What happens if you arrive at a religious ceremony and discover that your Jewish neighbors are also on the guest list?
Well, if you are a representative of the Palestinian Authority (PA), you get up and leave. No matter if such a move insults your hosts: the main thing is not to sit with Jews, especially if they are from the settlements.
This embarrassing incident took place last week near the Palestinian city of Nablus, where members of the tiny Samaritan community gathered to celebrate their own Passover. The Samaritans are an ethnoreligious group in the Levant, originating from the Israelites of the ancient Near East.
Things went well for about two minutes on Mount Gerizim, one of the two mountains in the immediate vicinity of Nablus. That was how long it took for the Palestinian guests to walk out in protest at the presence of representatives of the Jewish settler community and IDF officers.
The Palestinian Authority Governor of Nablus, General Akram Rajoub, was an honored guest, as were Nablus Mayor Adli Yaish and dozens of Palestinians.
Rajoub later explained his decision to "vote with his feet":
"Yes, we withdrew from the ceremony. We respect and appreciate the Samaritan community and have been regularly sharing with them in joyous and sad events. We consider them part of the Palestinian people. But we can't accept the presence of settlers at the ceremony. Even worse, these settlers were given the privilege to speak at the ceremony, which is why we had to boycott the official event and leave the hall. We're not prepared to talk to Jewish settlers because we don't accept their presence among us."
Shortly thereafter, PA President Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank issued a statement strongly condemning the invitation of Jewish settler leaders to the Samaritan ceremony:
"This is a dangerous precedent that must not be allowed to recur. This is something unusual for the Samaritan community to do. We consider them to be part of the Palestinian people and we hope that this invitation does not represent the will of our Samaritan people. They need to fix this and prevent it from ever happening again."
Raed Dib'i, a senior Fatah official in the West Bank, praised the Palestinian delegation's decision to boycott the ceremony. He said that the move reflected the Palestinians' rejection of any form of "normalization with the occupiers and the settler gangs."
This is non-normalization in action. The Palestinian Authority has had a long-standing policy of combating "normalization" with Israelis, and this is but one unpleasant example. Yet this campaign is directed not only against Jewish settlers, but also against Jews who live inside Israel proper.
During the past few years, Palestinian political activists, including many belonging to Abbas's Fatah faction, have been waging a fierce campaign against meetings between Jews and Arabs.
Showing their true colors, the activists do not hesitate to attack even Jews who are supportive of the Palestinians. In one incident last year, Fatah activists foiled a joint Palestinian-Israeli event called Jerusalem Hug near the Old City's Damascus Gate. Thugs assaulted people indiscriminately, including film crews, European activists and even Palestinian participants. Needless to say, none of the Jewish participants in this "peaceful" event was a Jewish settler.
The Samaritan incident reveals as well how the Palestinian Authority treats religious minorities in the Palestinian territories.
By walking out of the ceremony, the PA leaders conveyed to the Samaritans that they are not, as it were, the ones who make up the guest list for their own party -- especially if the guests are Jews living in nearby settlements, or IDF officers. The message here is clear: Follow our rules or face a boycott.
That is quite a slap in the face for the Samaritan community. And the slap came at a religious feast, not a political rally.
Time will tell, and it probably will not be long, whether the PA and its Fatah activists will strike the Samaritan community with more than a slap.
The Palestinian Authority has already "punished" the Samaritans by passing a law that cancels the only seat the community has in the Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The only Samaritan member of parliament, Saloum Cohen, was elected in 1996. He died in 2004. Since then the community has had no representation in the PLC.
Yet lack of representation in parliament is not a top concern for the Samaritans these days. Instead, the community worries how they will be treated by the PA, now that it seems to look at them as "traitors" rather than friends. Samaritans are beginning to ask themselves whether their fate will be the same as that of the Christian minority in the Palestinian territories.
Earlier this month, Palestinian Christians accused the Palestinian Authority and Hamas of working toward erasing Christian history. The allegations came after the discovery of an ancient Byzantine church in Gaza City. Despite the important historical discovery, bulldozers were used to destroy the church artifacts in order to build a shopping mall on the site.
In yet another blow to the Christians, the PA government recently rejected demands to consider Easter an official holiday. The decision angered many Palestinian Christians. Their leaders wrote a strong letter to PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, in which they stated that they wouldn't have been surprised if such a decision had been taken by the government of Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Malaysia.
The Samaritans are now facing a tough choice: continue living with the Palestinian Authority and accept its intimidation, or relocate to a safer locale. If they choose the former, they had better make their peace with having no peace with their Jewish neighbors.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based Jerusalem.