…the recent launch of an animated film recalling the events of the first intifada, some twenty-five years ago, manages magically to highlight these events. Amer Shomali’s documentary film The Wanted 18, released in October 2014 in Jerusalem and Ramallah as part of the Qalandiya International Festival, is a nostalgic trip to a recent past, a mere three decades ago. Yet viewers felt that its events took place a century ago. Shomali narrates the story of Bayt Sahur, the town that developed a model of resistance during a period when the technology of communication did not include the cell phone or the Internet. Nor did activists have access to Twitter, Facebook, and the like. The ordinary people of Bayt Sahur decided to rebel in an extraordinary manner. Forty-one years after the Nakba, and twenty-two years after the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, they decided, collectively, to become self-sufficient. They were following, it seems, the dictum of Gibran Khalil Gibran: “Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress.” The Sahuris were thus challenging their own nation, which drank and ate from those who had colonized its destiny.
The people of Bayt Sahur, who in 1989 did not exceed few thousand in number, decided to boycott the Israeli civil administration of the West Bank. At the time, the civil administration was collecting taxes, regulating permits for work and travel, and controlling health care, education, and public works. All features of daily life were under its control: the granting of work permits, car registrations, driving licenses, and trade permits. . . . The Israeli establishment panicked, seeing in Bayt Sahur the beginning of a loss of political control over the entire civilian population in the West Bank and Gaza.
Bayt Sahur became the vanguard of the Palestinian rebellion. It surpassed the national movement in other regions, developing a new language of resistance.
One element of this resistance was the boycott of Israeli food products, including Tnuva brand milk and dairy products. Shomali’s documentary film, The Wanted 18, uses this story to recall a crucial landmark of Palestinian resistance in the twentieth century. In order to maintain their boycott of Israeli dairy products, the residents of Bayt Sahur organized their own dairy, comprising eighteen cows. In an attempt to break the boycott, the Israelis declared Bayt Sahur’s independent dairy a threat to national security. When Israelis came to confiscate the cows, however, they were unable to find them. The Sahuris had secreted the “fugitive” cows to different locations around the town, offering them refuge from the Israeli military. The army and the state of colonial occupation became a laughing stock as soldiers, fully equipped with their tanks, jeeps, and guns, were seen chasing after the cows brought by the town to ensure the supply of milk for children. . . .
Let us salute Amer Shomali and the people of Bayt Sahur, who have reminded the world – Palestinians included – of a model of insurrection that has deservedly become a legend.
The above is an abridged version of “Letter from Jerusalem: Yara and the Wanted Eighteen,” by Khalid Farraj published in Jerusalem Quarterly, a publication of the Institute for Palestine Studies.
By Khelil Bouarrouj.