Tax Resistance During the First Intifada

civilresistance.info has put Andrew Rigby’s book Living the Intifada on-line. It includes a discussion of how tax resistance was used during the first intifada of :

The tax war

It has been the merchants who have borne the brunt of the struggle over taxes that has been an enduring feature of the Uprising. Early in the leadership of the Uprising called upon Palestinians to refuse to meet the Israeli tax demands, as part of the overall strategy of disengagement from the occupying power and its “civil administration” At the same time an alternative taxation system was being developed, with popular committees collecting money and supplies from those that could afford to give for distribution amongst the needy.

It has been estimated that Israel collected some $160 million in tax revenue from the West Bank in . One can thus understand the vigour with which they sought to break the tax strike — both for financial reasons and in order to assert their power over the occupied population. Various tactics and measures were adopted in pursuance of this goal. Stores were raided, identity cards and business documents of merchants confiscated, reclaimable only after the merchant had reported to the tax office and paid the amount of tax the authorities claimed was owed. Tax officials accompanied by the military have commandeered merchandise from shops in lieu of unpaid taxes. Other businesses were closed and their owners jailed because of the refusal to pay taxes.

In East Jerusalem hotels had their bank accounts frozen for failure to pay the municipal tax. The hotel and tourist trade was particularly badly hit by the Intifada. There was a 15 per cent drop in the number of visitors to Israel during , although numbers picked up again during , earning Israel a reported $1.8 billion. In East Jerusalem a number of hotels closed down due to lack of business. In , at the time when their bank accounts were frozen, the occupancy rate in East Jerusalem hotels was around 18 per cent, compared with 32 per cent in .

The Israelis took advantage of curfews to collect taxes, raiding the houses of merchants and workshop owners to seize property. In Tulkarm, where a 29 day curfew was imposed during , the curfew was lifted on for six hours to allow the residents to purchase basic items. Road blocks were set up throughout the town, and local residents were stopped for tax and vehicle licence checks. Apparently some 400 residents had to pay sums ranging from $300 to $3,000.

Road blocks were set up on the outskirts of towns and villages, each passing vehicle being stopped to allow tax officials to check whether the occupants had paid their taxes. The cars and the drivers’ licences of those deemed to owe money would then be confiscated until the sums demanded of them were paid. On over 300 cars were seized in this manner in Ramallah. A few weeks before, in , the Israelis seized 40 taxis operating between Jerusalem and Ramallah in lieu of taxes they claimed had not been paid. Driving school instructors have had their identity documents seized when accompanying students for their driving test. In Ramallah vehicles belonging to driving schools were seized by the authorities, and it took an interim order from the Israeli High Court to prevent the tax officials auctioning off the vehicles to raise money to pay the taxes.

Another method adopted by the Israeli authorities has been to insist upon Palestinians producing a document of clearance proving that they have paid their taxes before they are issued with any kind of official document such as travel or export permit, birth certificate, driver’s licence, or renewed identity card. In 400,000 Gazans were ordered to renew their identity cards. In order to obtain the new cards they were required to prove that they had paid their taxes. a new measure was adopted in the Gaza Strip, later to be imposed on West Bank residents — the changing of the licence plates of cars. To obtain the new plates, which were of a different colour than the old ones and therefore instantly recognisable at any road block, the owners had to obtain clearance from the Israeli tax and customs officials and pay the “special tax” levied on vehicles.

How did Palestinians respond to such punitive measures? Many had no choice but to meet the tax demands of the Israelis. Gazan taxi drivers, for instance, had to comply with the new regulations if they wished to continue in business. Others have been prepared to suffer the confiscation of their property rather than cooperate with the tax demands of the occupier. One of my hosts in Gaza was defiantly driving round Gaza City with the old licence plate attached to his car, some months after the new measure had been announced. However, for those who have their identity cards confiscated for any reason, there often appears to be little alternative but to obtain the certificate of tax clearance necessary to regain their ID, which is so essential in order to pursue anything resembling a normal life under occupation. In one notable case, however, over 300 villagers of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, turned in their identity cards to the municipality in a collective act of defiance and solidarity with those of their number whose houses and shops had been raided by tax officials. The Israeli response was to impose a two-week curfew on the village and to place 16 residents in administrative detention.

A year later the inhabitants of Beit Sahour were to suffer a further penalty for their continued commitment to the principle of “no taxation without representation”, when the Israelis embarked upon a draconian attempt to collect taxes from this defiant community. For six weeks, starting in , Israeli troops kept the village under siege whilst soldiers escorted tax collectors round the village, accompanied by removal vans, confiscating property in lieu of unpaid taxes. Road blocks were set up around the village, a strict curfew was imposed, and all telephone communication with the outside world was cut. Machinery and workshop equipment was seized, leaving craftsmen deprived of their means of livelihood. Shops and stores were left empty of goods. People’s homes were stripped bare of household items. According to Israeli army figures property worth £1 million was expropriated, although residents later claimed that the actual figure was up to three times that amount. Members of the Israeli Knesset, foreign diplomats, church leaders and others protested against the sanctions imposed on the village. The UNC called for an unprecedented five day in six general strike, in response to the Israeli actions. Storekeepers in the town launched a commercial strike that lasted three months in protest against the confiscation of property, and al-Haq, the Ramallah-based human rights organisation, accused the troops of intimidation, pillage, non-registration of property seized, the destruction of property, the tearing up of identity cards, theft and assault.

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