Police Seeking Motive for Murder of West Bank Political Moderate

The police have not yet determined whether the murder of Aziz Shehade, a prominent Palestinian lawyer and political moderate, outside his home in Ramallah last night was an act of terror intended to warn all moderates in the West Bank or a criminal assault motivated by one of Shehade’s intricate, far-flung and often mysterious business deals.

The 73-year-old lawyer, described by some as a multi-millionaire, was killed by a knife slash across the left side of his neck after parking his car in his garage. He died instantly. The weapon was found 50 meters from Shehade’s home.

The police deduce from the nature of the wound that at least two assailants were involved, one to hold the victim while the other wielded the knife. But there are no clues and so far no arrests. Police said today that for the moment they were giving equal weight to political or criminal motivation.

Shehade was considered one of the leading Palestinian moderates in the West Bank. Though he advocated a Palestinian state which he saw living in peace side-by-side with Israel, he favored dialogue over violence. In 1968, he was the first West Bank lawyer to break a strike called by Palestinian lawyers to protest Israel’s occupation of the territory after the Six-Day War.

In 1977, before President Anwar Sadat of Egypt visited Israel, Shehade was one of a group of Palestinians who met with U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and presented him with a position paper outlining a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Shehade was known to have close contacts with senior Israeli officials which, alone, would make him a likely target of Palestinian extremists. But in recent years he has shied away from politics, devoting himself full time to his law practice and business which he conducted with both Jews and Arabs. For that reason, many observers doubt the murder was politically inspired.

West Bank moderates have been badly shaken and see the killing of Shehade as a threat to those Palestinians who speak out for a negotiated settlement with Israel. According to Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem, it was a warning which will make most of the moderates in the West Bank more cautious.

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