Israeli Army Ends Siege of Tax-Resisting Christian Town

From the Schenectady Gazette:

Israeli Army Ends Long Campaign Against Tax-Revolt Christian Town

By William B. Ries

The army ended a six-week campaign of intimidation and repression to crush a tax revolt in a West Bank town that defied Israeli authority.

Israel had come under sharp international criticism for its measures and was accused of using collective punishment against the predominantly Christian town of 10,000 people adjacent to Bethlehem.

On , the army cut telephones, closed off the town to outsiders and began almost daily raids to confiscate from businesses and individuals property that eventually totalled $1.5 million.

The closure order was lifted afternoon, and afterward residents demonstrated, declaring they had won the confrontation with the army and their revolt was a symbol of the 22-month-old uprising against Israeli occupation.

With the end of the military campaign, Brig. Gen. Shaike Erez, head of the military’s West Bank Civil Administration, said the tax rebellion was crushed and the army achieved its goal of imposing law and order.

Erez acknowledged that Israel’s international image had suffered but insisted the measures were necessary. He said tax collection would continue in the occupied territories.

“It is not nice to confiscate household equipment,” he said. “But when people rebel and refuse to pay their taxes and still continue to demand all the necessary services, such as education, health, telephones and social aid, we had no choice but to do what we did.”

In mid-, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said the army would teach the residents of Beit Sahur that they could not defy the army.

In , Beit Sahur residents declared they would not pay taxes because they did not receive adequate services and they did not recognize the authority of the Civil Administration.

The army said it confiscated $1.5 million worth of property, including 33 vehicles, which would be returned if the owners paid their delinquent taxes.

When the army declared the town a closed military zone, about 320 residents had not paid taxes. A few paid them willingly or after clarifications, military officials said.

Of those who still refused to pay, 35 were charged and four have been fined $3,000 or sentenced to six months in jail, in addition to having their property confiscated.

Israeli authorities became increasingly sensitive about publicity on such measures.

In an unprecedent[ed] move, the army declared an Arab East Jerusalem hotel and the surrounding area a closed military zone to prevent Palestinians from holding a news conference about Beit Sahur. Several European consul generals from Jerusalem were forbidden to visit the West Bank town.

Seven left-wing Parliament members who visited the town told a news conference that the army’s campaign was a failure and had tarnished Israel’s name worldwide.

Citizens’s Rights Movement member Dedi Zucker said the confrontation was “a struggle over who is sovereign in Beit Sahur. But it hasn’t been proved Israel is the real sovereign.”