West Bank Protests Reignite Over Death of Activist While in PA Custody

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A fire burns between a formation of Palestinian police officers and demonstrators during a protest over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah, Saturday.
A fire burns between a formation of Palestinian police officers and demonstrators during a protest over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah, Saturday.Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered Saturday night in Ramallah as protests renewed against the death of Nizar Banat, a former Fatah member critical of the Palestinian Authority, in PA custody on Thursday morning.

Palestinian security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowds, and arrested several people. The protesters, who held up photos of Banat and waved Palestinian flags, marched toward PA government buildings shouting “the people want to bring down the regime” – a rallying cry during the Arab Spring.

Banat died early Thursday morning, shortly after he was arrested by the PA. Banat’s family says he was severely beaten during his arrest.

Earlier Saturday, thousands of people gathered to protest Banat’s death. In one march in Hebron and another in Ramallah, protesters praised Banat and denigrated the PA and its security forces. Protests were held throughout the West Bank on Friday as well.

Banat, a former member of the Fatah movement, has been repeatedly arrested by the Palestinian Authority for his sharp criticism of its leadership in Facebook posts and videos. He accused them of corruption, as well as abandoning and profiteering off of Palestinian national interests in return for personal benefit and wealth.

Palestinian plain-clothes police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah, Saturyda. Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

Human rights groups and Banat's family said that the autopsy showed that he suffocated from blood in his lungs after being beaten by security forces. One of the doctors who took part in the autopsy also revealed that Banat suffered injuries to all parts of his body, including his head and limps. The doctor said the circumstances raised suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.

Banat’s family released a statement on Saturday afternoon accusing the commander of the Preventive Security Force in Hebron, Maher Abu Halawa, of direct responsibility for Banat’s death, because he had issued the warrant for Banat’s arrest. The family also demanded the resignation of the governor of the Hebron district, Jibrin al-Bakri, who is responsible for the Palestinian security sources, and said that the two senior officials should present themselves for questioning.

Banat’s family demanded an investigation be launched against 27 other security officials who were involved in Banat’s arrest, and that they be brought to trial.

The family said it would not make do with the announcement by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh that a government investigation would be launched, headed by Palestinian Justice Ministry Mohammed al-Shalaldeh. The family has demanded that an investigative panel be established consisting of the heads of the clans in Hebron, as well as representatives of all the Palestinian factions and human rights groups. The family demanded that the circumstances of Banat’s death be probed independently, because it has no faith in the panel the government has established.

The family also threatened violence if its demands are not met, and asked human rights groups to compile a file to be submitted to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, because the Palestinian Authority is a signatory to international treaties on such matters.

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