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The Star in the East

compiled by Catholic Near East staff

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Now in the third year of the intifada, the residents of Beit Sahour continue to carve their own largely non-violent path through the revolt against Israeli occupation and what they consider unfair taxation. While the 12,000 mostly Christian residents of the town have suffered the loss of millions of dollars in confiscated goods and lost business (far more, they claim, than their taxes would have amounted to), and many have been imprisoned, they have earned international respect and established a sense of solidarity among Moslem and Christian brothers and sisters, as well as among many Israeli Jews. They have given a new dimension to the Palestinians’ struggle.

Beit Sahour, located on the site of the biblical Shepherd’s Field, spreads out from the lower slopes of the hills on which Bethlehem developed, its homes extending almost to the fringe of the desert. Its residents live in neighborhoods usually composed of close relatives; there are as many as 40 such neighborhoods.

The environment has always been one of widespread social and cultural activity, strong family ties and united neighborhoods, resulting in a great sense of loyalty to the town. Unlike many other Christian towns like Bethlehem, Beit Sahour has not had much of an emigration problem. Its percentage of university graduates is the highest in the West Bank, and it provides the Bethlehem area as well as other parts of Palestine with doctors, teachers and university professors, engineers and other professionals.

Last year, Beit Sahourans, described by one resident as “urban, but with a village cohesiveness,” put that unity to work, turning what was previously a matter of individual noncompliance in paying taxes into a concerted community effort. Their demands: representation and services for the taxes levied on them.

When the tax strike took life in the summer of 1989, the Israeli authorities responded with harsh measures. Soldiers raided between 350 and 360 houses, stores and factories seizing furniture, cars, craftmen’s tools, anything. A staff member of the Pontifical Mission in Jerusalem noted that during a visit to a friend’s home in January, soldiers came and took everything they could transport out of the house.

“While the family is upper middle class, they are unable to access the funds that remain in their savings account,” the staff member reported. “Their savings are almost depleted and now all accounts in Beit Sahour are frozen. Even monies donated by European charitable institutions are frozen.”

There are no longer any local Arab policemen. Schools are often closed. The number of poor families is rising as trade is disrupted. Yet the resolve of the Beit Sahourans remains firm.

“We no longer fear anything,” said shop owner Umm Majdi, “because we are used to everything.”

There have, of course, been the collective punishments Arabs all over Palestine have come to know: economic pressures, check points, communication blackouts, transportation limits and curfews. There have been violent clashes between youths and soldiers, and scores of residents, both young and old, were arrested.

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Tags: Christianity Palestine Violence against Christians Jews Occupation