Beit Sahour

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Beit Sahour
Other transcription(s)
 • Arabic بيت ساحور
 • Also spelled Beit Sahur (official)
Bayt Sahoor (unofficial)
View of Beit Sahour
View of Beit Sahour
Official logo of Beit Sahour
Municipal Seal of Beit Sahour
Beit Sahour is located in the Palestinian territories
Beit Sahour
Beit Sahour
Location of Beit Sahour within the Palestinian territories
Coordinates: 31°42′N 35°13′E / 31.700°N 35.217°E / 31.700; 35.217Coordinates: 31°42′N 35°13′E / 31.700°N 35.217°E / 31.700; 35.217
Governorate Bethlehem
 • Type Municipality
 • Head of Municipality Hani al-Hayek[1]
 • Jurisdiction 6,945 dunams (6.9 km2 or 2.7 sq mi)
Population (2007)
 • Jurisdiction 12,367
Name meaning "House of the night watch"
Website Beit Sahour Municipality

Beit Sahour (Arabic: بيت ساحور‎ pronounced About this sound Bayt Saahoor ) (lit. Place of the Night Watch) is a Palestinian town east of Bethlehem under the administration of the Palestinian National Authority. The population of 12,367[2] is 80% Christian (most of them Greek Orthodox) and 20% Muslim.[3]

There are two enclosures in the eastern part of Beit Sahour that are claimed by different Christian denominations to be the actual 'Shepherds Field': one belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church and the other, the Catholic site, to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.


The name Beit Sahur belongs to two places in the vicinity: Beit Sahur al-Atiqah ("ancient Beit Sahur") and Beit Sahur an-Nasara ("Beit Sahur of the Christians"). 16th-century Arab geographer Mujir al-Din mentions the former in a biography of a Muslim scholar Sha'ban bin Salim bin Sha'ban, who died in the town in 1483 at the age of 105. The former was noted by French geographer Guerin as being 40 minutes away from Jerusalem, a short distance south of the Qidron Valley.[4]

Beit Sahur al-Atiqah surrounded the tomb of Sheikh Ahmad al-Sahuri, a local saint to whom the local Arab tribe of al-Sawahirah attribute their name. The Sawahirah originate from the Hejaz and entered Palestine through al-Karak. The Survey of Western Palestine describes the town as "Ruins of a village with wells and a mukam."[5] The modern Beit Sahur was described by the same survey as "sort of a suburb of Bethlehem, situated on the same ridge, with the broad plateau east of it known as the 'Shepherd's Field'".[4]

In 1596, Beit Sahour appeared in Ottoman tax registers as two villages in the nahiyah of Quds of the Liwa of Quds. Beit Sahour an-Nasara had a population of 15 Muslim households and 9 bachelors. Beit Sahour al-Wadi (identified as Beit Sahour al-Atiqa[6]) had a population of 40 Muslim households. The two villages paid taxes on wheat, barley, vines or fruit trees, and goats or beehives.[7]


Church at Shepherd's Field

Beit Sahour is reputed to be close to the place where, according to the New Testament, an angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. According to tradition, St. Helena built a convent at the site, which is today known as the shepherd's cave.[4]


The town's economy is largely based on tourism and related industries, such as the manufacture of olive-wood carvings. Agriculture and work in Israel also play a significant role. The town had a prominent role in the Palestinian national "Bethlehem 2000" project, as extensive renovations of tourist sites, hotels and businesses, and historic sites were carried out prior to the millennium celebrations.

During the First Intifada, residents in the town had attempted to develop their own dairy industry—a move resisted by Israeli authorities. These efforts were documented in 2014 film The Wanted 18, co-directed by Palestinian animator Amer Shomali and Canadian documentary filmmaker Paul Cowan.[8]

Social and economic development were disrupted by the Second Intifada.

Political activism[edit]

Lane in Beit Sahour

Beit Sahour is a center of Palestinian political activism. The town played a key role in the First and Second Intifadas, with local activists pioneering nonviolent resistance techniques. During the First Intifada and the Second Intifada, the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between Peoples (PCR) based in Beit Sahour encouraged non-violent activism under the aegis of the International Solidarity Movement. George Rishmawi is director of PCR.[9] During the First Intifada, the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between Peoples issued an invitation to Israelis of goodwill to come and spend a weekend (Shabbat) in Palestinian homes using the slogan “Break Bread, Not Bones”.

The Alternative Information Center is also partly based in the town. Elias Rishmawi, a member of the Beit Sahour council, is co-founder, together with Ghassan Andoni, Majed Nassar, Rifat Odeh Kassis and Jamal Salameh, of the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG), a non-governmental organisation specializing in tours of the Palestinian territories,[10] where the olive harvest is used as a backdrop for showing the effects of the Israeli occupation and land confiscation on the Palestinian population.[11]

Tax resistance[edit]

In 1989, during the First Intifada, the Palestinian resistance (Unified National Leadership of the Uprising, UNLU) and Ghassan Andoni, urged people to stop paying taxes to Israel, which inherited and modified the previous Jordanian tax-collection regime in the West Bank.[12] “No taxation without representation,” said a statement from the organizers. “The military authorities do not represent us, and we did not invite them to come to our land. Must we pay for the bullets that kill our children or for the expenses of the occupying army?”[13] The people of Beit Sahour responded to this call with an organized citywide tax strike that included refusal to pay and file tax returns.

Israeli defense minister Yitzhak Rabin responded: “We will teach them there is a price for refusing the laws of Israel.”[14] The Israeli military authorities placed the town under curfew for 42 days, blocked food shipments into the town, cut telephone lines to the town, tried to bar reporters from the town, imprisoned ten residents (among them Fuad Kokaly and Rifat Odeh Kassis) and seized in house-to-house raids millions of dollars in money and property belonging to 350 families.[15] The Israeli military stopped the consuls-general of Belgium, Britain, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Sweden when they attempted to go to Beit Sahour and investigate the conditions there during the tax strike.[16]

Israel’s military occupation had the authority to create and enforce taxes beyond the baseline Jordanian code enacted in 1963 in areas formerly administered by that country, including Beit Sahour.[12] During the Intifada, they used that authority to impose taxes on Palestinians as collective punishment measures to discourage the Intifada, for instance “the glass tax (for broken windows), the stones tax (for damage done by stones), the missile tax (for Gulf War damage), and a general intifada tax, among others.”[17]

The United Nations Security Council considered a resolution demanding that Israel return the property it confiscated during the Beit Sahour tax resistance. The United States vetoed the resolution, which was supported by the other eleven council members.[18]

Development projects[edit]

‘Ush Ghurab, a hill occupied by a military base until 2006, is now the site of a development project. A restaurant, a climbing tower, a football field and a park are being built on the hillside. The municipality of Beit Sahour also has plans for a hospital and a sports center.[19]

Municipal government[edit]

In the 2005 municipal election, two lists gained seats in the municipal council. Eight seats went to 'United Beit Sahour' and five to 'Sons of Beit Sahour'. The most popular vote was for Hani Naji Atallah Abdel Masieh of United Beit Sahour with 2,690 votes, followed by Elen Michael Saliba Qsais of Sons of Bethlehem with 2,280 votes.[20]

See also[edit]

Notable residents[edit]


  1. ^ Bethlehem University
  2. ^ 2007 PCBS Census Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. p.117.
  3. ^ History, Economy, and Tourism Beit Sahour Municipality.
  4. ^ a b c Sharon, 1997, p.154.
  5. ^ Sharon, 1997, p.155.
  6. ^ Charles Clermont-Ganneau (1899). Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the years 1873–1874 1. London: Palestine Exploration Fund. p. 435. 
  7. ^ Wolf-Dieter Hütteroth and Kamal Abdulfattah (1977). Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late 16th Century. Erlanger Geographische Arbeiten, Sonderband 5. Erlangen, Germany: Vorstand der Fränkischen Geographischen Gesellschaft. pp. 115, 119. 
  8. ^ Wolfe, Jennifer (7 August 2014). "Seven NFB Films to Screen at TIFF 2014". Animation World Network. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  9. ^ PCR annual report
  10. ^ Beit Sahour municipality council members biographical details
  11. ^ Joint Advocacy Initiative Alternative Tourism group Olive Picking Program 2008
  12. ^ a b
    • Local Government in the West Bank and Gaza (says parenthetically that the property tax “rate and base” were “unchanged since 1963”)
    • Baxendale, Sidney J. “Taxation of Income in Israel and the West Bank: A Comparative Study” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Spring, 1989), pp. 134-141 "it retained the Jordanian tax law"
  13. ^ Gradstein, Linda “Palestinians Claim Tax is Unjust, Many Don’t Pay” [Ft. Lauderdale] Sun-Sentinel 8 October 1989, p. 12A
  14. ^ Sosebee, Stephen J. “The Passing of Yitzhak Rabin, Whose ‘Iron Fist’ Fueled the Intifada” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. 31 October 1990. Vol. IX #5, pg. 9
  15. ^
    • Grace, Anne “The Tax Resistance at Bayt Sahur” Journal of Palestine Studies 1990
    • New York Times Lewis, Anthony “It Can Happen There” 29 October 1989, p. E23
    • Curtius, Mary “Palestinian Villagers are Defiant After Israeli Troops End Tax Siege” Boston Globe 2 November 1989, p. 2
    • Williams, Daniel “Israeli troops withdraw after failing to stop tax revolt” Austin American Statesman. 1 November 1989, p. A6
    • “Israel abandons attempt to crush town's tax revolt” The Ottawa Citizen 1 November 1989, p. A10
    • “Food to West Bank Town Blocked” The Washington Post 28 October 1989, p. A18
    • “Israelis stop bishops from helping besieged town” The Ottawa Citizen 28 October 1989, p. A10
    • Sela, Michal “Elias Rashmawi’s ‘Tea Party’” Jerusalem Post 29 September 1989, p. 9
    • Williams, Daniel “Anti-Israel Boycott: Tax Man Cometh, but an Arab Town Resists” Los Angeles Times 9 October 1989, p. 10
  16. ^
    • “Envoys turned back on road to Beit Sahour” The [Toronto] Globe and Mail 7 October 1989, p. A9
    • “Israeli Troops Bar Western Envoys” Los Angeles Times 6 October 1989, p. 1
  17. ^ “A Matter of Justice: Tax Resistance in Beit Sahour” Nonviolent Sanctions Albert Einstein Institution, Spring/Summer 1992
  18. ^ “U.S. vetoes UN resolution that Israel return property seized in tax revolt” The [Montreal] Gazette. 8 November 1989, p. A14
  19. ^ Middle East Report Online Bypassing Bethlehem’s Eastern Reaches
  20. ^ West Bank Local Elections ( Round two)- Successful candidates by local authority, gender and No. of votes obtained, Beit Sahour p 24

External links[edit]