With Death of Rashad A-shawwa, Gazans Lose a Moderate Voice
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With Death of Rashad A-shawwa, Gazans Lose a Moderate Voice

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Rashad a-Shawwa, a controversial Palestinian leader whom the Israeli authorities twice appointed and twice deposed as mayor of Gaza, died Tuesday at his home in Gaza of a heart attack. He was 79.

Thousands of Palestinians came to his home Wednesday to pay condolences to the family. President Chaim Herzog of Israel and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin sent telegrams.

Ezer Weizman, a former defense minister who knew Shawwa personally, expressed regret that his leadership never achieved its potential and suggested it was probably “because he belonged to another era.”

For Palestinians, Shawwa’s death meant the loss of one of their more moderate leaders. He was a key figure of the pro-Jordanian camp in the administered territories and refused to blindly follow the guidelines of the Palestine Liberation Organization. While he was fiercely opposed to the Israeli administration of the territories, unlike most other Palestinian leaders he was publicly critical of terrorist organizations. That led to several attempts on his life and sabotage of his property.

Shawwa deeply resented the humiliation of living under military occupation. “We just cannot take it any longer,” he would say.

But he cautioned against hasty solutions. He always stressed the need to end the Israeli administration of the territories before a Palestinian state could be established.


Two years ago he proposed that Egypt take over administration of the Gaza Strip as an interim measure before Palestinian statehood.

He was as surprised as the Israelis by the ferocity and magnitude of the Palestinian uprising, which began in the Gaza Strip last Dec. 9 and spread swiftly to the West Bank.

“The youths are taking over,” he said in a recent interview. He called the uprising a “white revolution” in which the young generation “pushed aside” the traditional leadership.

He believed, however, that when the time came for negotiations, the old timers like himself would be summoned to do the job.

Shawwa’s life spanned three eras in the modern history of Palestine. He was born in 1909, when the Ottoman Turks ruled the country, to one of the wealthiest Gazan families. He went to school in Jerusalem and graduated from the American University in Cairo with a degree in political science in 1934.

That was the period of the British Mandate. He returned to Gaza to become a civil servant in the British administration and eventually became governor of Haifa.

He was fired in 1937 for anti-British activities.


The end of the 1950s, the first decade of the state of Israel, found Shawwa in charge of the Egyptian administrative office for the Gaza region. Israel captured the territory in 1967 and appointed Shawwa mayor of Gaza, its largest city, in 1971.

But he was removed from office a year later for Palestinian nationalist activities. He was reappointed in 1976 but ousted again in 1982, because he opposed the newly established Israeli civil administration in the territory.

Nevertheless, Shawwa continued to be Gaza’s most prominent spokesman. He adopted a moderate pro-Jordanian line shared by Israelis, such as Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who believe the route to a peace settlement with the Palestinians lies through Jordan.

Shawwa also set up a charitable society that served as a de facto Jordanian Mission in Gaza, issuing travel documents to the local population.

According to Weizman, who is a Labor minister without portfolio in the Cabinet, “Shawwa’s death symbolizes the death of the veteran Palestinian leadership.

“I hope that a new, younger leadership will take its place soon, and will realize that they much reach an understanding with us,” Weizman said.

Shawwa is survived by his wife and four children.

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