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The Seige Of Beit Sahour

The Seige Of Beit Sahour image The Seige Of Beit Sahour image
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"Ifyourfriend is killed by a soldier in the streel, you can neverforget that scène. At that moment something ishurt deep in your heart that can never be remedied. Then things start to build up. People start askingfor revenge. I hope that we will be oble to control this in the future. I om personally working at that with myfamily. I am not allowing this attitude to prevail, but to teü you the truth it is not easy." - Elias Rishmawi Ed. note: On August 5, six U-M students went on a joint P (destine Solidar ity Committeel Michigan Student Assembty fact-finding trip to the lsraeli Occupied Territories. Thefollowing interview with Elias Rishmawi was conducted during the trip by PSC delégate Paul de Rooij. Rishmawi is apharmacist in the West Bank town ofBeit Sahour. Since the beginning of the Intifada, the Palestinian uprising, the residents of the town of Beit Sahour engaged in many acts of civil disobedience, especially refusal to pay taxes. At the beginning of October, Beit Sahour was singled out by the Israelis to make an example of i t. The town was placed under curfew. All of the town's telephone lines were cut. Several houses were demolished and many people had their cars, TVs and fumiture confiscated. The lsraeli army had already raided all of the town's pharmacies and confiscated all their medicines in June. Today Beit Sahour does not have adequate access to necessary medicines. de Rooij: Why did you stop paying taxes? Rishmawi: I stopped paying taxes in January 1 988 as everybody did, responding to a cali from the Unified Leadership of the Intifada. I should point out that taxation is something legal in most countries. People usually pay taxes to their legally-elected govemments, and these taxes are spent on services and the welfare of the people. Now, consider what we have here in Palestine. We have occupation authorities that are not legally elected and who are using taxes to cover the expenses of the occupation. The services that we are getting are really unbelievable: more killing, more prisoners, more house demolitions, and the closure of our academie institutions for the last two years I don 't think that anyone can justify paying taxes for those services. The cost of water is anotherexample. In the West Bank wepay about Slcubic meter. The Jewish settlement three miles east of Beit Sahour pays less than $0.50 cubic meter, and Israelis in Tel Aviv pay about S0.60cubic meter. The Israelis use more than 94% of the water reserves of the West Bank - transferring it to the settlements and to Israel - leaving for the West Bank population only 6% of our water resources for which we pay doublé their price. This, as a synibol, is what occupation means. de Rooij: Besides you, are all the other people in town refusing to pay taxes? Rishmawi: To the best of my knowledge, at least 99% of us are not pay ing taxes. de Rooij: Is this the best compliance with the cali of the Unified leadership to stop paying taxes in the West Bank ? Rishmawi: Yes, Beit Sahour has the best compliance rale. But you must also note that Beit Sahour is net a violent town. Violence does not exist here. You can only see manifes tations of civil disobedience and refusal to pay taxes. For ex ampie, I have two unlicensed c ars locked up in the garage, and we did not rene w the dri ving li censes . This is part of my in tention to refuse paying any kind of taxes. You must know that after the Intifada siarted the Israelis imposed many types of new taxes. If you have to obtain any legal paper, you have to pay taxes. If you want to rene w your car 1 Ícense or y our driving license, you have to pay taxes. And, funny to say, they obliged everybody to change the license plates to obtain more taxes. They are trying to take money from the people to decrease their standard of living. It is a new measure against the Intifada. (see BEIT SAHOUR, page 4) THE SEIGE OF BEIT SAHOUR (from page one) de Roo ij: Are the laxes arbitrary? Do they have little relation with the actual income of the people? Rishmawi: Yes, definitely, taxes have nothing to do with income. They have only to do with the mood of the man who is asking for the money. de Rooij: What has happened to other people in this town for refusing to pay taxes? R Lshma wi: Some people have been put in jail. Some others have had their property conf iscated, üke their cars, videos, TVs. Another person was placed in prison for five days, and there he was thrca tened with ad - ministrative detention at Ansar 3 [a notorious prison] if he continued to refuse to pay taxes. i Administran ve detention is ameans whereby people are placed in prison for 12 months without trial or appeal.] The acts of the authorities here are acts of terror; they are acts of gangs. For the past 40 years they have been telling the whole world that Israel is the most democratie country in the Middle East This is total bullshit . Let them come here to see what democracy we are under, and how we are being treated like animáis. By the way, the people in the West Bank believe that since the 1970s the authorities have implemented a well-planned process to increase the pressure o v er the people. They thereby sought to make sure most of the well-to-do andeducated people would leave the country, and the rest would serve as cheap labor to do their dirty work and as a captive market for Israeli products. It was very clear that this plan was being implemented. I think that it has been totally disniptedby the Intifada. In addition, most of us decided to stay here whatever the cost. This is where we were born. We have deep roots and we are not going to leave. The worst thing that can happen to us is that they will kill us. But we are staying because then at least we will have our bodies buried here. We won't leave, and the whole world should know it. We are not acting against the Israelis as Israel is . We are acting against the illegal acts of occupation. We are self-disciplined. We are not taking any acts of violence against them, whereas they are conducting terroristic acts against us. Things are flipped around. For the first time the Palestinians know exactly what they want and ho w to do iL And for the first time the whole world sees the other side of Israel which they had never known. They had never seen acts such as those that we all have witnessed. We have anew concept for the struggle. Enough of bloodshed, enough of wars. Nobody can win in a war. Even if you win it, you have lost morally and lost thousands of your young men. We are ready to live side-by-side with the Israelis, but as friends, with full mutual recognition. They want a secure Israel. Well we want a secure Palestine, and we need it more than they do. They have the strongest army in the Middle East. We have nothing, and still they are talking about security. They have everything, and we have nothing. Things are really flipped around. Nevertheless, Palestinians are determined not to let things get out of control. However, if we reach a point where we don't have security in our homes, then no one can guarantee what will happen. I hope it won't come to that point. de Rooij: Do you keep your children at home most of the time? Rishmawi: No, it is up to them. I can't impose things on them. They have the right to do what-ever they like. Sometimes we discuss things because they are still young, and I interfere by doing that. de Rooij: Are your children fully aware of the situation? Rishmawi: Yes they are. I think that during the last two years that they have been at home, while the schools were closed, they have gained a loL Their awareness of the struggle is well established, but I hope that it is on the right, peaceful basis. I always try to keep it at that level, because that is the future of the struggle. I have been asked a very important question by my chikiren, "Why are we not retaliating?" It is very difficult for me to explain to them why we are not retaliating. Sometimes I can't answer their questions because I don't have the ans wers myself . Nobody can justify what is going on in the streets with the soldiers, and you do not want to start any hate or revenge inside the children. Sometimes you are in a contradictory situation. This brings me to contémplate a dreadful scène in the future. Our kids have been raised in this bloody situation, with this feeling of "Why are we not retaliating?" Ifyour friend is killed by a soldier in the street, you can never forget that scène. At that moment something is hurt deep in your heart that can never be remedied. Then things start to build up, people start asking for revenge. I hope that we will be able to control this in the future. I am personally working at that with my f amily . I am not allowing this attitude to prevail but, to teil you the truth, it is not easy. de Rooij: The level of self-restraint is one of the things that has impressed us most during this trip. Rishmawi: Believe me, this is the sense of the peaceful message that has been made to the Israelis and the Arab world. We are facing our assassins with a smile and raising our head. We are not asking for revenge. We are proud that someone is fearless or a martyr. Martyrdom is an act of pride. And we know that we have to pay this price to prove to everyone that we are a nation that deserves to be respected and deserves to live. de Rooij: Do you think it was a mistake for the PLO to have accepted the UN resolutions 242 and 338, and to have recognized the State of Israel at this point in time? Rishmawi: To teil you the truth, the Palestinians have no faith in the Americans or the Israelis. That is why the plans of the PLO leadership have been criticized in the way they handled the matter of recognition with the Americans. We can go back to the Palestinian National Congress in Algiers and the resolutions regarding 242, 338, etc. It was very clear to us that Arafat was sending a message to the Americans, and that he was trying to comply with their demands that "if you do this, then things may be better." But af ter bowing to American demands, nothing has happened on the other side. We are giving, but we are not receiving anything. The PLO is asking for direct negotiations with the Israelis, but what answer are we getting? More of our people are getting killed. The Israeli measures against us in the OccupiedTerritories are becoming more severe. There is more bloodshed. That is why people starled to criticize the unbalanced situation. What is going on here? We are asking for peace, and look what we are getting. But I would say that without the concessions nobody would have known the real attitude of the Americans and Israelis. It is very clear now that they don 't want to recognize the Palestinians and their state. I hope that they will understand that we have to exist whether they want it or not We are a nation; we have to exist. We are not existing at their expense. We are living on our land. The Israelis have to stop dreaming that this is the land of Israel. The reality is that there is a Palestinian nation living on this land. As the Palestinians have shrunken their dreams, the Israelis should do the same. We are not ready to sacrifice our people just to prove that this or that piece of land is ours. We are only asking for simple recognition of our right to exist as a nation and a people. I don't think that that is too much to ask for. de Rooij: Do you think that Gandhi's methods of nonviolence work? Rishmawi: I must say, that based on my experience, Gandhi's methods would not be effective here. I had hoped it would have been otherwise. I am sad to say that it is because the way the Israelis have retaliated is not the way that the British responded to the Indians and Gandhi. At least the British knew that India was not theirs, and that one day they would have to leave. The decisión makers in Israel believe that this land is theirs, and that we have to leave. This is why the si tuation is so different in Gandhi's India and Palestine. I wish that the Israeli community would unders tand this fact, and that they would take the chance that exists right now before it is too late. The longer this bloody struggle continúes - bloody from one side; we are paying the price - the more polarization will be created in the society and then no one will be able to control it. I hope that Israelis will see things the right way and puncture their dreams. Otherwise, I must say that I am not optimistic with the way things are going. They are pushing us to become radicáis. The trip in which Paul de Rooij participated was partially fundedby the Michigan Student Assembly (MSA), U-M's student govemment. MSA jointly sponsored two members of the six-member delegation with the Palestine Solidarity Committee. MSA érectedits delegates to inform U-M 's student body of the situation in the Occupied Territories and to begin the process ofestablishing a sister university relationship with Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. Students of Bir Zeit, in a meeting with the delegation, expressed wholehearted support of the idea. The issue will be put on a U-M student-wide referendum for ratificaron in April 1990.


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