Latin Patriarchate school “BIRZEIT”


       Summarisation of Key Facts:

  1. BIR ZEIT: Location is approximately 22 kilometres north of Jerusalem
  2. POPULATION: The village has about 2,500 people
  3. RELIGION: The town is about 60% Christian, 40% Muslim.
  4. EDUCATION CENTER: The best university in Palestine is in the town.
  5. ECONOMY: Majority of the people are unskilled labourers.
  6. EMPLOYMENT: Unemployment is about 43% across the West Bank.


       The town of Bir Zeit is located 15 miles (25 kilometers) north of Jerusalem’s Center. It is a traditional Christian village whose ruins date back to the Byzantine era and beyond. Some inhabitants look at a long family history that predates even the Byzantine age. An influx of Christians from the east migrated into the area about four hundred years ago to escape persecution and stayed on in an area where they could enjoy more freedom to exercise their religious beliefs. The town is part of the historically Christian region north of Jerusalem.


      The whole area was once self-sustaining The simple farming and pastoral life style of the people was destroyed after 1948. A massive refugee camp was set up on church owned property to accommodate people fleeing death or forcibly evacuated from their homes by the conquering army. That refugee camp, Jalazon, now is home for almost 10,000 people and is located a few miles from the town. The land in a short time could no longer support the expanded population.

        In 1967, even more people were displaced across the country. The Muslim newcomers came to purchase land and settle since they realized they could not return home after the wars. The demographics of the town began to change as Christians opted to emigrate to the West seeking economic opportunities and political and social freedom.

       C. ECONOMY

       As Israel expanded and grew it was in need of cheap manual labor to build Israeli owned homes and businesses for the enormous surge of immigrants who replaced the Arab population. West Bankers and refugees desperately in need of income were compelled by necessity to work inside Israel during the day and forcibly returned home each night. The local economy was restrained from natural growth by restrictive measures designed to keep the West Bank as a non-competitive market for products produced inside Israel.


       The people of Bir Zeit have suffered considerably during the past decade of political upheaval resulting in border closures, strikes, curfews and violence. Businesses suffered and many closed their doors permanently. The stagnation of the economy and the violence during the past has had its effects on the social and economic well being of the family. Consequently, the strong, close family structure that controlled social behavior in the past has broken down. Furthermore, living near and working with Israelis has created unreasonably high expectations of living standards. More than half of the people of the town has emigrated and that too has had many negative effects on the town. Years of military control, frustrated expectations of life and near poverty conditions have created a society that is unstable and open to wide swings in political stability. The instability itself creates insecurity and resultant fears that contribute further to social deterioration.


       In 1991, Israel faced the problem of providing for thousands of Russians coming to the country. Over 200,000 workers from the West Bank and Gaza were dismissed from their jobs. Indeed, Palestinians were after that time forbidden to enter Jerusalem or Israel without permission from the military government. The people found themselves without jobs and without means to create them.

       Even though Bir Zeit is noted for its fine university, the villagers are too poor to attend. Some of the people do work as support staff at the nearby Bir Zeit University. The town boasts a small pharmaceutical factory that also provides employment. There are some shops to provide basic necessities, but most people travel to Ramallah for purchases and services. The town is too small to provide income for very many of its residents. An expanded economy could become more of a reality if the settlers and government of Israel relinquish control of all the land surrounding Bir Zeit and allows residents access to the underground water table on their own land.

       F. EXODUS

       A tragic reality of the second half of this century is the uprooting and encouraged exodus due to imposed hardships and dispossession of many Palestinians from their traditional lands. This is true of Bir Zeit and its people. Sadly, many Bir Zeit residents leave their homes after finishing their schooling for better continuing education and life opportunities in the Gulf Region and the Western countries. It is estimated that more that 5,000 Bir Zeitis live outside the country. Many of these exiles would like to return home, but shifting politics have yet to improve existing conditions to a point where former residents inside and outside of Palestine feel confident that they can come home again and live in peace and with freedom.


       The town of Biz Zeit is noted for its university, which is the best in Palestine. The university was funded by the Nasser family supported by friendly governments who wanted to help provide the education necessary for economic survival in today’s competitive world. The university has about 3,500 students and is growing. Overall the university remains separate from the town. Many of the students live in the town, and this compounds the feelings of hopelessness of the local young people who did not finish their education. In fact, few young people in Bir Zeit can afford to attend the university in their hometown. In the past they opted to take on manual work inside Israel to help with family expenses. Today, they do not have access to those jobs since they can no longer enter Jerusalem or Israel.


       Construction of The Bir Zeit High School by the Latin Patriarchate will respond to one of the most crucial needs of the area, that being the high drop out rate of students because they cannot afford to travel to Ramallah and pay the high tuition of schools there. The new high school initiative coupled with the educational and community development success of the Latin Patriarchate in Bir Seito over the last three years will be one of the most innovative modes of development by a single institution in the Palestinian sector. A host of projects and programs have changed the lives of the people in the town and surrounding villages. (See Appendix: III Activities and Achievements of the Latin School and Living Stones Development Committee).