Palestine’s “Tea Party”
Inspired by an American Intifada
Inspired by American colonists rebelling against the British policy of “taxation without representation” in 1773, Palestinians decided on a “tea party” of their own following occupation of their land by Israel after a six-day war in 1967.
World news reported violent Palestinian uprisings marked by rock throwing, petrol-bombs, rockets and suicide bombers. Little mention was made of the tax revolt and widespread civil disobedience underway in resistance to the occupation of their land.
In the summer of 2008, I stayed in Beit Sahour, a residential district of occupied Bethlehem. I lived in the house owned by Emili. Now a grandmother, during the early days of the occupation, she was feisty activist who had lived through the uprising, or intifada – an Arabic word that means “shaking off.”
“Our campaign of nonviolent resistance got organized in 1987 when the entire town stopped buying Israeli made products and refused to pay taxes to occupying authorities,” she says.
“What else could we do? No army, no planes, no means of self-defense,” she says with a shrug. “We were no match for the strongest military power in the region, but we had determination.” She tells me Beit Sahour formed a civil resistance organization called the Unified Leadership of the Uprising. “They led and got everyone involved.”
“Even people well off joined moderate-income families and stopped buying. Still, we needed food; so agronomists at Bethlehem University opened a nursery, taught people how to home-grow vegetables, nourish and care for citrus trees and grape vines. Neighborhood gardens started looking like the lush nursery of agronomy activist Jad Is’hak, the leader who was teaching us how to grow, dehydrate and preserve foods.”
“Finding it easier to fight homemade petrol bombs, stone-throwers and roadblocks then an enemy armed with garden gloves wielding carrots and radishes, soldiers were puzzled.” She laughed. ” The ‘battle of the vegetables’ was a tough enemy they couldn’t figure out; but it raised suspicion.”
“By military order Is’hak’s nursery was shut down and he was put under administrative detention for six months. Then orders came to close the schools so we set up classes in the homes of women, and the teachers came. Children learned and the gardens grew.”
“Israeli authorities imposed neighborhood curfews restricting visits; and few men and boys escaped the net of mass arrests. Then, like your American rebels, we decided on our own Tea Party – no tea,” she said, but same idea. The cry went up – no taxation without representation! That really got to them; Beit Sahour became the target of the first tax raid.”
“More troops were called in; there were mass arrests, but we wouldn’t give in. Hundreds of us marched to the municipality, threw in identity cards and held a sit-down strike.”
“Properties were seized by military and tax collectors and jailed shopkeepers who wouldn’t pay taxes. If they paid, they undermined the resistance movement, were harrassed and threatened by intifada leaders. It put business owners in a bind. To preserve their livelihood, some paid; others broke under stress or joined militant resisters.
“My son, Elias, chose not to pay the tax collectors who were working under Israeli orders. Authorities and soldiers came and raided his pharmacy, stripped the shelves, loaded his entire stock including baby foods and essential medications onto trucks. They smashed shelves, broke glass and left the place a wreck, but I was proud of him.”
“When I pay taxes I expect to have an old age pension and schools for my grandchildren,” she thunders, “I don’t get that here; the services we get now go for jails and detention centers to humiliate and terrorize; and for bullets that kill and injure us.”
“Twenty years ago Yitzhak Rabin – Israel’s defense minister then,” she reminds, “vowed to break the tax resistance and crush our tax revolt.” She raises her fist, “but they don’t know us.”
Beit Sahour stands today as a pioneer in ongoing nonviolent resistance.