Beit Sahour is a town where Christians and Muslims have lived and worked in harmony for many years. During the First Intifada [1987-1993] the community was highly organized in methods of non-violent resistance. This was a time of resistance to the occupation. From 1987 to 1999 they refused to pay taxes to Israel and turned in their IDs. The result was the confiscation of household furniture, necessary supplies (including pharmaceuticals) in the various stories and daily harassment by the Israeli military.
The town expected support from the United States because their action was so similar to the US struggle of “no taxation without representation.” Unfortunately the support did not materialize. There was also a lack of support and similar action by other Palestinian areas. However, the spirit of nonviolent resistance is still alive in Beit Sahour.
Bethlehem has illegal Zionist settlements on three sides. On the east side, where Beit Sahour is located, is an area of land called Ush Ghrab. It is a high hill and has a commanding view of the surrounding country and Jerusalem. Its position made it a valuable military location. The Ottoman Empire established a military base there. That was followed by a Jordanian base; in 1967 Israel took it over. Israel used the area as an army base, but evacuated the area and left the land vacant in 2006.
The municipality of Beit Sahour is trying to acquire the land for a community and cultural center and a children’s hospital. Much of the land is privately owned by residents of Beit Sahour. The city built a public park, nature trail, a playground, and developed areas for families to gather. Cure International would like to build an orthopedic and cardiac hospital for children.
The municipality is trying to acquire all of the necessary permits and approvals from Israel to complete the project and build the hospital. As they are navigating the legal process, Israeli settlers have begun to enter the area and claim it as a future Israeli settlement, even though they have no legal standing. On several occasions they threatened and stoned Palestinians who were using the land. Racist graffiti has defaced walls and bulldozers have torn through the area. Beit Sahour citizens have painted peace slogans over the graffiti six times. Prayer meetings and peaceful gatherings have been disrupted by the Settlers. The Israeli army has protected the Israeli settlers and closed the road to Palestinian traffic at various times.
The response from the people of Beit Sahour has been non-violent and creative. One Sunday MPTers joined local families for a day of kite flying, food, a young Palestinian rap band, and general family fun.
It would be a symbol of hope to see the land that was used by the military for so long dominated by a children’s hospital dedicated to healing - not destroying. Sometimes resistance can take the shape of a kite and not a fist.