“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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The Suffragents won the Gold Medal in US History in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was a finalist for the 2018 Sally and Morris Lasky Prize, presented by the Center for Political History.  See Summer Camp Newsletters” and Facebook posts from book-related appearances. Reviews, notices, and articles about my books are under their titles here. My articles are here.

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