“The West Bank: A new breed of leadership”

July 13, 1980


Jerusalem (UPI) — Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka returned in triumph to the occupied West Bank, baring the bandaged stumps of his blown-off legs to establish himself as a living symbol of the irrepressible nature of local Palestinian opposition to Israeli rule.

“They tried to kill me but they failed,” he told the frenzied throngs who turned out to greet him on return from treatment in a Jordanian hospital. “They can cut off my legs but not my struggle.”

The implication for the local foot soldiers in the fight against the Israelis and for Palestinian rights was clear. But what form that continuing struggle will take, given the events of the past two months, was an open question. The Israelis seemed bent on blunting its potential impact.

On May 3, Israel summarily expelled Mayors Mohammed Milhem of Halhoul and Fahd Kawasme of Hebron for allegedly creating the atmosphere in which the hallmark Palestinian ambush attack on Jewish worshippers in Hebron took place. One month later, Shaka and Ramallah Mayor Karim Khalaf were maimed for life in separate, almost simultaneous, car bomb blasts.

The four mayors are the most prominent members of a new breed of Palestinian leadership in the West Bank — dynamic, outspoken and strongly nationalistic. They are Palestinians first, Arabs second.

The four “martyr mayors” as they have come to be known, were the leading figures in the Palestinian National Guidance Committee, a collegium of like-thinking Palestinian notables in the disputed zone. It was formed to crystallize opposition to the Camp David accords and their limited autonomy plan for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Perhaps more significantly, the guidance committee embodied a departure from the traditional Islamic, pro-Jordanian and family-based leadership in the territory Israel captured from Jordan in 1967.

By contrast, the guidance committee members are, on the whole, educated, urbane and uncompromising, in their stance toward nothing less than full Palestinian statehood.

Since Camp David, the guidance committee had been steadily gaining stature in the region, in part because of Israel’s de facto decision to let it continue operating.


It had become influential enough to challenge the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut on matters concerning West bank affairs — but always in the manner of a wife challenging her husband in the framework of a healthy marriage, its members insist.

No one on the West Bank will say other than the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians, a role formalized at the Rabat Arab Summit in 1974.

Even before the May 2 ambush in Hebron, the Israeli military government was taking the guidance committee seriously enough as a growing force of organized protest in the West bank to strongly consider banning it outright.

Through the network of organizations, associations and other bodies represented by its 20-odd members, it was able to quickly convey ideas and resolutions to the West Bank populus, effectively calling for street demonstrations, mayoral resignations and other disruptive protests in response to events.

But the organized protests virtually have stopped. The West Bank, a boiling cauldron of resistance to the Israelis and the autonomy plan now under negotiation with Egypt and the United States, has been on simmer since the June 2 assassination attempts against Shaka and Khalaf — widely blamed on extremist Jews though there is as yet no proof.

The Israelis, unable to quell the growing nationalistic fervor on the West Bank — given major symbolic impetus by the creation of four new homegrown martyrs — is going to lengths in efforts to at least maintain order.

As a first indication of the military government’s response to the latest developments, West Bankers from other towns were forbidden to travel to Nblus for Shaka’s welcome home.

But the Palestinians have shown themselves a people not easily put down.

“Even if all the Palestinians were killed except one woman” were Shakah’s words of exhortation to his nearly 1,000 welcomers. “Her children would carry on the fight.”

The young men cheered wildly. Some of the women silently wept.

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Upcoming events: Nov. 20: Brookhaven League of Women Voters. March 4: Westchester County League of Women VotersMarch 10: Keynote, Joint Journalism & Communications Historians Conference, New York City. April 15: Nassau County and Farmingdale-Bethpage historical societies at the Farmingdale Public Library.

The Suffragents in the news: The New York Times, The New York Daiy News,  Smithsonian VIP, Kirkus FeaturesKirkus Reviews,  The American ScholarTabletmag.com, Town & Country, the East Hampton Star, the Gotham Center for New York City History: articles 1, 2, and 3, the Schuster Institute for Investigative Reporting, Foreword ReviewsHudson River Valley Review NYU FeaturesWomen’s Media CenterSuffrage and the Media Futurity, Non-Fiction FansHeforShe.org’s The ScoopOpzij magazine (NL), Good Men Project.

Podcasts: Unorthodox  . . .  AmericasDemocrats . . . Top of Mind with Julie Rose .  . . NYU Center for the Humanities 

Event Video: NY Society Library, Facebook Live of the Tom Twomey Lecture in Local History, and of the Porter Square Books event in Cambridge.

Parting shots (my “summer camp newsletter” event posts): Book launch events with tons of photos of Sept. 1 Sept. 11  and Sept. 14   . . .  comment about the Sept. 28 joint appearance with Angela P. Dodson at the NY Society Library  . . . and about the NY Genealogical & Biographical Society Fall Luncheon Oct. 10  . . . and the  Oct. 14 panel at the AJHA Convention, Little Rock, Ark with Jane Marcellus, Tracy Lucht, and . . . and  a panel I hosted for the annual East Hampton Library’s Tom Twomey Lecture in Local History Oct. 19 with moderator Judith Hope and presenters Antonia Petrash and Arlene Hinkemeyer.  . . . Here’s  my post about Oct. 22 at the Woodlawn Cemetery & Conservancy . . . and  I posted about an Oct. 26 “talk back” at special performance at the NYU Black Box Theater  for Nancy Smithner’s “Hear Them Roar: The Fight for Women’s Rights”  . . .  Here’s a post about the weekend of Nov. 4-5 signing books in the Hudson Valley and in Albany for the 2020: Commitment to the Vision Conference and opening of the New York State Museum Suffrage Exhibition . . . On Nov. 6, the actual anniversary of the vote for suffrage in New York State, I spoke at the Brentwood Public Library. I also posted about the Nov. 7  NYU Center for the Humanities panel with Gail Collins and Christoph Irmscher, “When Modern Men Became Feminists”  . . .  and about the Nov. 10 panel for the Gotham Center for New York City at the CUNY Grad Center, with Susan Goodier, Dawn Scibilia, and Lauren Santangelo, hosted by Peter-Christian Aigner . . . Here’s one about my Nov. 16 appearance in the Book & Bottle series of the Suffolk County Historical Society & Museum . . .  and another one about our Nov. 17 panel at the Researching New York conference in Albany with Bruce Dearstyne and Robert Sink, moderated by Rob Snyder.