Resignations Threaten Occupation Government
GAZA CITY, Occupied West Bank (AP) _ Arab tax collectors resigned this week, giving impetus to a campaign by leaders of the Palestinian uprising to cripple Israel’s occupation government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials have fought to keep the resignations from taking place, warning those who quit they won’t get severence pay and telling community leaders they may lose basic services.
The resignations threaten to add to the financial burden of occupation and deprive Israel of a potent symbol of cooperation and coexistence.
″You can’t go against 600,000 people in Gaza,″ said Eid Akram Sharif, former head of the income tax department who led all 40 employes in a mass resignation.
Sharif, a plump, well-dressed man who nervously twirled his car keys as he spoke, drew nods of agreement from a half-dozen other ex-taxmen.
They sat on chairs in a semi-circle on a dirt street in the relatively well-to-do Ramali quarter. Children on the corner erected a barricade. Graffiti on a wall nearby declared the taxmen to be ″honorable brothers.″
″Before we were collaborators. Now, we are nationalists,″ said Sharif.
But the taxmen were less than enthusiastic about their new roles as heroes of the three-month uprising. They felt trapped between the threats of Arab militants and the pressure from Israeli authorities who refused to accept the resignations.
One of the resigned taxmen said Israeli authorities warned him not to speak with the press or Palestinian activists, saying they could get up to six months in jail for inciting violence.
Hafez Al Borno, a gray-haired man in his mid-40s, later drove a reporter downtown to point out a wall where graffiti demanded the tax department’s resignation on Palestinian Flag Day.
″Arab employes of the income tax and value-added tax department must resign otherwise we will -″ said the graffiti, which ominously left unsaid what the punishment would be.
As part of their three-month strike, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have refused to pay taxes. Israeli authorities decline to give figures on the non-payment.
Israel imposed new rules last month on the occupied territories as a way to pressure the Palestinians to end the activism. They require Palestinians to prove they paid their taxes before they can travel abroad or import or export goods. They must also register when they bring $1,000 or more into the country. The previous limit was $5,000.
″The striking groups will have no mercy on anyone paying taxes. This money funds the occupation and is a tool of oppression,″ said a leaflet circulating in the West Bank last week.
New graffiti targeted police officers as the next to be called on to abandon their posts. ″Yes to the resignation of police,″ one said.
In a chilling warning this week in the West Bank city of Jericho, an Arab policeman suspected of collaborating was stabbed to death. His body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag and left on his mother’s doorstep.
In response to the PLO campaign, a group of West Bank police officers issued a statement stressing they were not involved in suppressing the riots.
Lt. Mustafa Adawi, spokesman for the group, was quoted by the daily Al Quds newspaper as saying before the killing that police limited their jobs to fighting ordinary crime and directing traffic.
″It is not their business to arrest protesters, prevent demonstration or inform on those who participate,″ he said. ″Policemen are an integral part of the Palestinian people and share their political aspirations for the future.″
Palestinians claim that more than 20 of the estimated 300 police in Gaza already have resigned.
Shmuel Goren, government coordinator for the occupied territories, said the civil administration had 18,000 employes, about 11,000 of them teachers who were exempted from the strike call.
″We are today witnessing brutal PLO threats against public officials and notables in the territories,″ Goren was quoted a saying by the daily Al Hamishmar.
A Goren aide warned that life would only become more difficult for the 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if Israel had to assume the whole burden of administering the areas.
″Public services will be damaged if they are to resign, and the only ones to suffer from these resignations, if they occur, will be the Palestinians themselves,″ he said.
The government provides electricity, water, road maintenance, garbage collection, health care and education.
Countering Palestinian claims that Israel profited financially from the occupation, a former military administrator said $160 million was in taxes was collected from the West Bank last year and all of it was poured back into services for the 850,000 Arab residents. Figures for Gaza were not available.
The ex-official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said another $24 million in income and sales taxes was collected from the 110,000 Palestinians working in Israel and went to Israel’s treasury.
Leaflets last week called for collaborators to go to mosques and declare their repentence and for employees of Israeli-appointed municipal councils to resign.
In an apparent effort to win good will, the municipal authorities in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Al Bireh took out advertisements in newspapers to announce a 25 percent reduction for 1988-89 in property taxes and Al Bireh said it was eliminating city fees.