Beit Sahour is a Palestinian city adjoining Bethlehem to the east in the middle region of the country. It is southeast of Jerusalem (15 minutes drive). Most statisticians describe the middle region of the West Bank as being from Beit Sahour in the east to Beit Jala in the West, and from Bethlehem in the south to the Holy City of Jerusalem in the north. Population estimates of the middle region are over 140,000 and in the Beit Sahour community area at 50,000.
Similar to all Palestinian cities, towns, villages and camps, Beit Sahour has been drastically affected by the long years of occupation and the intentional and prolonged neglect to all aspects of any developed society. A tragic reality of the second half of this century is the uprooting and encouraged exodus due to imposed hardships, of many Palestinians from their traditional lands. This is true of Beit Sahour and its people. Many Beit Sahour residents were forced to leave their hometowns and workplaces seeking refuge safety and better living and economic conditions elsewhere. Immigration has led a considerable negative demographic impact on Beit Sahour and has affected its social and political structure.
The Latin Patriarch School
The first Latin School in Beit Sahour wa s built in 1864. It was founded by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on the precept of strengthening the community of Beit Sahour Christians through education and upon principles of social conscientiousness (community-minded citizens). Since then, thousands of Christians and growing numbers of Muslims children have taken, and are continuing to take their pre-school kindergarten, elementary and primary (up to grade nine) school instruction there.
Beit Sahour schools and Latin Church are normally connected. Over the years Beit Sahour School has been renovated and new construction added on to keep space with growth and demand. Beit Sahour with a Day School population today of 300 students has been forced to increase number of students per class to 40. The Latin Patriarchate School and its facilities serve citizens of Beit Sahour, thus constituting the strongest base for community relations, being open and responsive to the needs of the townspeople. From weekly boy and girl scouts meetings, to parent-teacher sessions, the very existence of the facilities continues to promote public access and interchange.
Despite its aging and deteriorating physical structure, the Beit Sahour school due to its performance, high quality education is attracting more and more students every year. More towns people and others from the vicinity are seeking to enroll their children in Beit Sahour School that they might later profit from the advanced, standard education and instruction if offers in an open environment. Satisfying rising enrollments and other emerging needs in the Middle Region requires an expansion of facilities. The construction of “The New Beit Sahour School & Resource Center” is designed to supply the base needed to effectively marshal plans of response to all varied educational, social, and cultural needs not currently being met on the scale warranted.
The absence of a Palestinian National Authority at that time has caused unorganized economic development having minimal benefits to the general population. Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories has had an overwhelming effect on the economy of the Palestinian Territories and the Middle region in specific. Among Beit Sahour’s resources are skilled manpower working in tourism related professions such as handcrafts of mother of pearl, olive woodcarvings. Also in local small scale establishments such as textile factories, plastic factories, black smiths, carpenters and others. While in the past agriculture was the main source of income, now it has little bearing on Beit Sahour’s economic struggle. Trade relation with Israel, a profitable business at certain instances, has been facing a downward trend due to the current political uncertainties associated with the achieving of complete separation between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
The majority of Beit Sahour citizens are skilled laborers. Locally utilized skilled laborers can be found in tourism-related professions and other local professions. On the other hand, the bulk of skilled workers are utilized in the Israeli market in construction related fields. However, these numbers are declining because of the political unrest. A considerable number of skilled men and women work in the nursing and teaching professions. The Beit Sahour Latin Patriarchate School is among the largest steady employers in Beit Sahour, currently with a total of 30 teachers and workers on staff.
The average Beit Sahour family has six members. Average family income is less than $500 per month. Surprisingly, perhaps, most residents are educated and literate, many having received their “Tawjihi” high school graduation certification. This is due to the fact that the Latin Patriarchate has in the past and today continues to wave tuition fees for Beit Sahour poorest families. This de facto has placed an immense pressure on existing educational institutions amongst the Latin Patriarchate Schools, which are renowned for providing quality education since the last century. In this context the Latin Patriarchate began to offer in its limited capacity, adult evening courses to gradually assist in the smooth transition of laborers who lost their jobs in Israel. Through the process of retraining and equipping them with needed skills they will be assisted in finding work.
Beit Sahour is an ideal location for an education based, multi-use facility offering flexible capacity designed on foundational themes of civil and social renewal, social-integration, and civil progress. Its location amid the towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and being the southern connecting point to other cities in the north, gives Beit Sahour a advantage point to assume its role in creating a network among communities and most important to provide services that are essential and needed. A new Combined High School/Resource Center is sure to have powerful, positive, and long lasting impact on the lives of thousands of Palestinians who presently are at a loss and in need of hopeful opportunities in these areas.
Prior during and after the gulf war, many Palestinian families returned to their homelands, seeking a new life after long years in the Diaspora, many other families joined after the Declaration principles and the redeployment of the Palestinian Authorities into part of the still occupied territories. This influx of people has lead to both the reviving of a the town of Beit Sahour and energizing both its social and economic performance, yet has simultaneously led to increased burdens and demands on existing institution in practically all fields and namely education.
The Catholic Church has foreseen this negative shift in socio-economic conditions and began to concentrate on education as the main core of a strong and conscious community. It established schools and a university in Bethlehem to promote and sustain an educated class of the society that can take on the role of leadership. Still, the poor and needy not aware of the importance of education were lured into unskilled jobs in Israel. Now, after the commencement of the peace process and the restricting of many Palestinian laborers from entering Israel, many Palestinians laborers are trying to shift to other professions which necessitates the establishment of retraining centers.