Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus returned home to a triumphant welcome today and vowed that the bombing that cost him his legs will not deter his fight against Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
"They wanted to kill me, but I lived even though they didn't want me to live. I live in the name of God and in the name of Palestine." Shaka told hundreds of rejoicing Nablus residents who pressed around him.
"The blood of my nation is stronger than their goal. Our national will is stronger than the attempt at occupation. I give you, oh my people, my life, my blood, my love."
Shaka, one of the most influential and anti-Israel leaders in the West Bank, was driven to this city of 80,000 across the Allenby Bridge from Amman, Jordan, where he has been undergoing treatment for injuries received in the June 2 car bombing that severed both his legs at the knee. In interviews with reporters after the boisterous welcome ceremony in the garden of his home, he repeated charges that "the Israeli authorities planned my assassination."
His commands and the cries of his townspeople that "Palestine is Arab" underlined the political overtones attached to Shaka's return as a symbol of Palestinian resistance to the 13-year Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Shaka, 49, was driven in a gray ambulance into the driveway of his home just before noon. As youths struggled to carry him in their arms through the pushing crowd, a sheep was slaughtered atop the ambulance and women ululated in traditional Arab signs of celebration. Blood poured down the ambulance windshield and splattered onto bystanders when the sheep's throat was cut.
Shaka looked ashen and seemed to be in pain as he was jostled by his townspeople on the way to a brown velvet love seat prepared for him under a tent set up in the garden. For nearly 10 minutes, Nablus City Council members fought to set up a microphone while young supporters of Shaka pushed and shoved for a chance to see their leader up close or bend down and kiss him.
"We offer ourselves to you, in blood and in spirit, oh Bassam," they chanted using the verb for "offer" related to fedoyeen, the name of Palestinian guerrillas in Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization.
Relations between West Bank residents and the Israeli military government have been particularly tense since Shaka and Mayor Karim Khalaf of Ramallah were seriously injured by the bombs planted in their cars.
A third bomb set in the garage of Mayor Ibrahim Tawil of El Bira the same day exploded in the face of an Israeli demolitions expert sent to check after the first two bombings.
Israeli authorities have denied official participation in the bombings. Their investigations have produced no revelations so far but are reported to be focusing on extremist Israeli nationalists determined to make the West Bank part of Israel and settle it with a Jewish population.
Whoever is guilty, the assassination attempts, combined with earlier deportations of Mayors Fahd Kawasme of Hebron and Mohammed Milhem of Halhoul, have drawn increased attention to Israel's role as a military occupation force and generated belief among many Palestinians here and in Beirut that Israeli authorities played a role in them.
"We in Nablus believe the assassination of Shaka was planned by [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin," said one young Nablus resident waiting for the mayor's return.
The increased suspicions and resentment among Palestinians on the West Bank is viewed with particular concern by Israeli authorities because of the possibility that Kawasme and Milhem may also be allowed to return, providing two more focal points for opposition.
The Israeli Supreme Court is due to rule soon, perhaps Friday, on a complaint that the Army violated Israeli legal procedure by expelling the two, along with Hebron Moslem leader Sheik Rajab Tamimi, without right of appeal following a terrorist attack on Israelis in Hebron that left six dead and 16 wounded.
Israeli authorities, aware of Shaka's potential as a focus for opposition, set up roadblocks around Nablus and barred most nonresidents from entering the city and most residents from leaving it. Deputy Mayor Zafer Masri said Nablus military headquarters had told the council that no large celebrations would be allowed in the streets and only a small one at Shaka's home.
Shaka's daughter Hanna, 18, said she and other members of the family had been refused permission to meet Shaka as he crossed the Jordan River from Amman with his wife this morning. West Bank notables from other towns said they also had been told they could not meet Shaka at the Allenby Bridge when they crossed.
Although an Army spokesman was quoted as saying Shaka would be barred from making statements on his return, he received reporters sitting in his brown bathrobe and light green pajamas on a cushion on the floor at his home. A garland of red and white carnations was draped around his neck.
Asked about the occupation authorities' measures to limit the welcome ceremonies, he said only: "The welcome was my honest feeling for my people, and their feeling for me."
Also in response to reporters' questions, he repeated the accusations of official Israeli complicity in the bombing.
Israeli soldiers wearing riot helmets patrolled the town in jeeps fitted with machine guns, as they often do. One jeep was seen parked near Shaka's house but kept its distance during the welcome. Order was maintained by unarmed Arab municipal policemen and local youths.There was no violence and no instances of confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis were seen.
In response to orders from the Israeli Army, the ambulance carrying Shaka from Amman did not step in Nablus' main streets as it passed through on the way to his hillside home. At several points along the way crowds formed, but the ambulance pushed slowly through.
Shaka's family said he plans to remain about a month in Nablus, the first three days at home and then divide his time between his family and municipal duties. Special ramps have been installed to allow him access to his second-floor office at the town hall in a wheelchair.
After that, his daughter Hanna said, Shaka plans to travel to Britain or France for more treatment and rehabilitation with artificial limbs. Khalaf, who lost his left foot, was treated first at a local hospital and since then has traveled to the United States for surgery and fitting with an artificial foot.