A growing tide of Palestinian nationalism swept through the Israeli-occupied West Bank today as the military government appeared to have unwittingly elevated Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka from obscurity to the position of folk hero and martyr by imprisoning him and ordering his deportation.
With heavily armed military patrols standing by, more than 500 West Bank Arabs rallied at the municipal building -- in open defiance of bans against such demonstrations -- and chanted, "Palestine is Arab, down with Zionism," and "If you want fedayeen [guerrillas], we are ready."
Throughout the West Bank there were expressions of rebellion over what has become known as the Shaka Affair, with general strikes in Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, and a partial strike and scattered demonstrations in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.
In the midst of the continued tumult, the Israeli government announced today that it will implement an earlier decision to construct 19 new settlements in the West Bank and convert 12 military outposts into civilian settlements. Up to 15,000 new housing units would be built in the 31 outposts in the next year, the ministerial settlements committee said.
The announcement provoked bitter complaints at the Nablus rally attended by many of the 26 mayors who resigned yesterday and who appeared clearly intent on maintaining a spotlight on the unrest.
Vowing to continue fighting for Shaka's release, the mayors announced today that they will stage a hunger strike, Shaka has said he will fast in the Ramle prison, near Tel Aviv, until he is released.
[In Washington, the State Department reproved Israel for seeking to deport Shaka and expressed "concern" that the action would impede a Palestinian settlement.]
"We will never kneel. We will never bow and we will never give up one grain of our soil," Halhoul Mayor Mohammed Milhem declared, reading from a communique approved by all the mayors.
The municipal hall thundered with cheers and nationalistic chants as hundreds of other Nablus residents listening outside to loudspeakers responded in kind.
"They think they will stop the flow of nationalism, but our people have been very quick to respond. We are standing as one man. We are all Bassam Shaka," Milhem declared to more cheering.
The rhetoric was less extraordinary than the circumstances under which it was uttered, given the vastly increased Israeli military presence throughout the West Bank since Shaka's arrest and the lingering threat that the absence of any civil administration in the occupied territories could be filled by the military government any day.
On Sunday, the Israeli government said it would deport Shaka on the basis of alleged statements he made in support of a 1978 terrorist attack near Tel Aviv, in which 34 persons died. The statements purportedly were made in a private conversation Shaka had with Maj. Gen. Danny Matt, Israel's top official in the occupied territories.
However, when a sensationalized account leaked to the Israeli press turned out to be inaccurate and after an officaial transcript showed that Shaka did not justify the massacre -- but said such violence was to be expected as a result of Israel's occupation policies -- the government announced that the thrust of its case against the mayor would be a long string of pro-Palestine Liberation Organization activities, and not just the conversation with Matt.
Israel's High Court of Justice, meanwhile is scheduled to conduct a hearing next week on the temporary restraining order that so far has prevented Shaka's deportation.
Israel's settlement policy was the object of bitter complaints during the Nablus rally today, with mayors calling it "a hostile plan. . . to expropriate wide stretches of land in Arab territory." (The Israeli Cabinet has said no private land will be taken for the settlements, but that only state land, or land in public domain will be used.)
"They have been intentionally expanding their settlements . . . in order to achieve judeaization of Arab land," Milhem, the mayor of Halhoul, declared at the rally.
The mayors adopted four resolutions declaring the PLO representative of the Palestinian people, demanding an independent state "on the soil of Palestine," rejecting the Camp David accords and proposed autonomy, and insisting on Shaka's release.