“There Were No Guns in Palestine”

by Barbara Taft

“There were no guns in Palestine.”  During the bombardment of Gaza by Israel in October/November of 2023, those words came back to me. 

I was sitting in the dining room of a small Palestinian home in East Jerusalem.  It was the summer of 1985.  My host, a Palestinian attorney, who had just uttered these words, had invited me to a lunch of homemade malfoof (small cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef).  He paused for a moment after speaking, to let the words sink in.

He went on to tell me that his home was typical of Palestinian homes.  His statement about guns actually wasn’t 100% true, he said.  He thought there might be an old rifle somewhere in his house.  He didn’t even know where it was.  In the 1940s, when he was a child, he recalled that his father had used it to shoot rabbits for the family’s dinner.  To his knowledge, he continued, most Palestinian families were like his:  No guns.

From my own experience, having made four other visits to the Holy Land by then, what he said was largely true at that time.  My! How things have changed!

I was in Jerusalem then researching a biography that I hoped to write and publish, of my late friend, Karim Khalaf, the former mayor of Ramallah, a largely Christian city in the West Bank, a few kilometers north of Jerusalem.  Karim had been the victim of a car bombing on June 2, 1980, by members of the Israeli Terror Underground, which referred to itself as “Terror Against Terror” or TNT.  They had targeted three West Bank mayors, planting bombs in the cars of Mayor Khalaf and Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus, and a third bomb on the garage door of Mayor Ibrahim Tawil of El Bireh.

At that time, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had been under military occupation by Israel for about 13 years.  The occupation was harsh, with many restrictions on movement, including checkpoints armed by soldiers preventing people from getting to doctor appointments, shopping, or homes of relatives for a visit.  These checkpoints also prevented school children from easily reaching their schools.  The earliest responses to this occupation took the form of protests, including letters to the Israeli authorities, newspaper articles, and public speeches, often at impromptu rallies.  The Israeli response was to make the restrictions tighter.

Finally, in an attempt to placate the Palestinians’ desires for self-determination, Israel allowed municipal elections.  They soon regretted having done so, as some of the mayors elected were Palestinian nationalists and were strong proponents of self-determination.  Their election gave them a platform from which to advocate for the things their people wanted most. 

The bombings of the three mayors were not meant to kill, but to maim, to cause sufficient physical damage to deter the Palestinian leadership from speaking out.  The Jewish perpetrators of these crimes were never tried.  Some of them bragged, when they were later captured and accused of other crimes, about what they had done to the mayors.  Although this amounted to a confession, no trials ever occurred for the bombings.

Meanwhile, Israel’s harsh crackdown continued to fall upon the Palestinian people.  The mayors suffered, but not in silence.  Mayor Bassam Shaka, whose legs had to be amputated below the knee, was placed under house arrest.  He protested loudly, saying that he had every right to speak out.  Additional harassment was the price he paid for speaking out.  Karim Khalaf was exiled to the family’s second home, in Jericho, where he was placed under town arrest.  His injuries were less severe than those of Mayor Shaka, as his car was larger and afforded him some protection.  He lost a portion of one foot and had severe burns on his legs.  He spoke out, but not the same way that Bassam Shaka did.  He often said, “When peace comes, believe me, it will be peace for everyone, not just peace for the Arabs or peace for the Jews.  It will be peace for everyone.” He died of a heart attack five years after the bombings. 

It is ironic that this Israeli terrorist group viewed the outspokenness of the Palestinian mayors as “terror”.  It is significant to note that it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that some Palestinians began to carry out true acts of terror, such as bus bombings, as well as suicide bombings in crowded areas.  For the most part, Palestinians have used their voices to plead for their nationalism and their self-determination.  Even when their leadership, in the form of the Palestine Liberation Organization (the PLO), was living in exile, not allowed to return to the land of Palestine, they sought to find diplomatic means to achieve their goals.  When those means proved unsuccessful, and the world seemed not to be listening to their pleas, they resorted to more dramatic means of making their voices heard, such as the bombings listed above, as well as hijackings of planes and other modes of transport.

Meanwhile, Israel, with the help of the Western powers, most notably the U.S., which has provided $3.8 billion in aid annually (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2018), has built up one of the strongest military forces in the world.

Continue reading at the web site of Disarmament Times.

Barbara Taft visited the Middle East ten times from 1967 to 2009, staying there about two years total.  Most visits were with peace delegation/study tour groups, interviewing Arab, Jewish and international experts.  She holds a Master’s degree in Political Science, and Bachelor’s in Journalism and Penology.  She has taught adult international students, and university courses on English and the Middle East.  She owns a private school specializing in Accent Improvement for foreign-born professionals.  Barbara is also a poet.  A Middle East peace activist since the 1960s, she serves on the Leadership Team of US Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s Middle East Peace and Justice Action Committee.  She has traveled to more than 60 countries.  Barbara Taft can be contacted at beejayssite@yahoo.com

Leave a Reply