TEL AVIV (Aug. 5)
An economic strike by West Bank merchants who closed their shops in protest against Israel’s new value added tax (VAT) has been turned into a political demonstration by youngsters who have taken to the streets, burning tires and stoning passing vehicles and threatening shopkeepers who reopened their shops. The West Bank Chambers of Commerce officially ended the strike yesterday, three days after VAT went into effect, but stores in Nablus and Jenin remained closed today.
Meanwhile, West Bank mayors in an attempt to have the shops reopened said they would deal with the problem on a political level. Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij, who is head of the Judaean Chamber of Commerce, has already asked for a meeting with Defense Minister Shimon Peres. A curfew imposed on Nablus yesterday after violent demonstrations at the local customs house which will collect the tax, was reimposed this morning after youngsters threw rocks at passing vehicles.
VAT was introduced in Israel July 1 but was postponed on the West Bank for one month after the local Chambers of Commerce argued that West Bank merchants should not have to pay the tax. Merchants who reopened their shops said they would neither pay nor collect the tax. Israeli sources commented that the integration of the economy of the West Bank with that of Israel was such that there could be no implementation of the new tax in Israel proper without application of the tax in the administered areas.