Despite difficult conditions, the Chicago-born Russian Orthodox monk says he will cling to this little corner of a West Bank monastery he says belongs to his church.
Sampson, who arrived in Jericho last month, is a foot soldier in the drawn-out real estate battle between Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority and the ``white'' Russian Orthodox Church, a small Christian community with a strong lobby in the United States.
The white church is so called to distinguish it from the ''red'' Russian Orthodox church, which answers to church authorities in Moscow. The two split in 1917, when communists gained control of the Russian Orthodox church, with the white church becoming the church-in-exile.
For 70 years, the white church cultivated serenity and fruit orchards at the Garden Monastery in the biblical West Bank town of Jericho. Pilgrims and visiting clergy could worship at the small stone chapel.
But since January, when Palestinian police evicted three white church priests, Sampson's colleagues have been relegated to a trailer in the corner of the compound. Now they are trying to maintain a continuous presence on the grounds to stave off loss of the monastery to the red church.
The property dispute garnered international attention when Sister Maria, the former Maria Stephanopolous of New York and a sister of former White House spokesman George Stephanopolous, spent six weeks holed up in the compound earlier this year with another white church nun.
In February, under pressure from U.S. diplomats, the Palestinian police promised to treat both churches even-handedly until the property dispute was resolved. Father Sampson, however, says treatment is far from equal.
He said his movements are usually watched by a Palestinian soldier and he is not allowed to come closer than 80 yards to the monastery's chapel. Nuns affiliated with the red church enter the chapel at will, he said.
Father Sampson, who first came to Jericho two years ago to spend a summer helping restore church property, said he made close Palestinian friends during that sojourn. Now, though, some of those friends have been interrogated by Palestinian police, and are afraid to visit him, he said.
Both Father Sampson and Sister Maria, who was visiting the compound Thursday, said they had been rebuffed in attempts to meet with Palestinian officials. Emile Jarjoui, head of Christian affairs for the Palestinian National Authority, said he was not aware of any unfair treatment of white church clergy, and promised to meet them later this month.
Since 1917, when the two churches split, the white church has controlled Russian Orthodox properties in the West Bank. The red church gained control of property that fell within the borders of Israel in 1948, ceded to it as a gesture of gratitude for the Soviet Union's early recognition of the new state.
The white church clerics and nuns in Jericho believe Palestinian officials hope that hardships will force them to give up their vigil. But both Father Sampson and Sister Maria said they were sure their church could maintain its foothold until its claim could be proven.