In our effort to visit towns and villages in the West Bank where there is a strong Christian presence — especially where there are a few vibrant institutions of the church serving the local communities — we paid a visit recently to the town of Ain Arik, a few kilometers to the West of Ramallah. The town has about 1,700 inhabitants, 33% of whom are Christians. Despite the fact that Christians are no longer in the majority, by presidential decree the head of the local council must be a Christian and the majority of seats in the council are reserved to Christians. Ain Arik is similar in this regard to 10 other locations on the West Bank where the mayor or head of the local council must be a Christian to ensure there is good Christian representation at various levels of the government. The other 9 locations are Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Ramallah, Zababdeh, Aboud, Jifna, Birzeit, and Taybeh.
This was a wonderful visit for many reasons. Ain Arik has not witnessed any major waves of emigration of its Christian population in recent years, except for a few young families who moved to other parts of the West Bank for better job opportunities. Land ownership of Christian families seems to be stable, and most importantly, the relations between the Christians and Muslims in the town are nothing but exemplary. Everyone we met was proud to highlight this and how the two communities have great respect for each other and live like a one big family. They described in detail the traditions the town has developed during religious holidays, both Christian and Muslim, and during weddings and funerals. In particular, the local custom followed to this day is that when a Muslim family loses a loved one, the Christians of the town provide the food to feed the many mourners. The reverse is also true: when a Christian family loses a loved one, it is the Muslim women that do the cooking to feed their Christian neighbors in mourning. What a way to build community together and nurture common respect.
Though we have not provided any grants to institutions in the town in recent years, I was proud that the Pontifical Mission had its footprints deeply ingrained in the three main institutions we visited. When we visited the Latin Patriarchate School serving some 170 Christian and Muslim students, the principal was quick to point to the big sign at the entrance that acknowledges and thanks the Pontifical Mission for the renovation works at the school a few years back. During our next stop at the office of the village council, the head pointed out that the renovation work to their quarters was a result of a grant from the Doty Foundation through the Pontifical Mission. Finally, when we paid a courtesy visit to the Greek Orthodox Church, Father Nicola started by thanking us for the grant that allowed them, a few years ago, to restore the church built in 1860 and bring it back to its original beautiful stone architecture. A true work of art!
I left Ain Arik a very proud man — not for anything I’ve done, since all the works predated my time at Pontifical Mission, but for being affiliated with an organization that does great work in communities where it is needed the most. Needless to say, I also came back with a number of requests for help! It will be a joy trying to raise funds for new projects in this great little town near Ramallah!
Sami El-Yousef is Regional Director for Palestine and Israel. To read George Martin’s 1994 report on the village, click here.