Thousands Protest in West Bank After Death of Dissident in Palestinian Authority Custody

The family of Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority, say that he was severely beaten after his arrest by Palestinian security forces

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 Nizar Banat.
Nizar Banat.Credit: Facebook screenshot

A Palestinian man who was a relentless critic of the Palestinian Authority and its leaders died Thursday morning after being arrested in his home before dawn by Palestinian security forces. Thousands came out to protest in the Hebron and Ramallah areas.

The family of Nizar Banat, originally from the southern West Bank town of Dura, says that he was severely beaten by the Palestinian forces during his arrest. Rumors emerged on Thursday early morning that he had been evacuated to a hospital, and the Hebron District Bureau announced Banat's death a short while later. On Palestinian social media, he is being declared a "shahid," or martyr.

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Protesters in Hebron and Ramallah accused the PA of carrying out a political assassination, while some clashed with Palestinian police in Ramallah. Protesters also called on President Abbas and the PA to be "overthrown."

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.

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.

A protest in Hebron in the wake of Banat's death Credit: Jack Khoury

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced the Palestinian Authority would initiate a commission of inquiry into the circumstances of Banat's death, but demonstrations still sprung up in Hebron and the Ramallah area. Posters circulating on social media compared Banat to Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in 2018 in the country's Turkish consulate.

On their part, Hamas responded to the incident by encouraging mass participation in Banat's funeral, and calling on the Palestinian public to "change the dangerous reality dictated by the Palestinian Authority and security coordination in the West Bank."

According to Palestinian activists, Banat's home is located in the area of Hebron city that is under Israeli security control, so Palestinian forces must receive permission from Israel to enter the area and carry out arrests.

He has also castigated Mohammed Dahlan – a rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – and his supporters, many of whom are former members of the Palestinian security establishment.

One of the last videos he posted on Facebook was about the Israel-PA vaccine agreement, in which Israel was to provide the Palestinians with Pfizer coronavirus vaccines that are set to expire soon in exchange for doses that Pfizer will send to Israel next year. Many members of the Palestinian public, which already has a high rate of vaccine skepticism, were convinced that the PA was intentionally hiding the particulars of the deal.

Banat claimed in his video that if Palestinians were to have died from receiving expired vaccine doses, Israel would have been accused of mass extermination – "an accusation it could not have tolerated," which is why the deal was leaked.

Banat was a candidate for the Liberation and Dignity party, which planned to run in the Palestinian parliamentary elections that were originally scheduled for May 22, but were canceled by Abbas.

Palestinian activists who criticize the PA report that its security apparatuses are exerting more pressure against them in an attempt to silence them, and that many have been arrested or called into meetings to be rebuked in past weeks. Earlier this week, Issa Amro, an activist and resident of Hebron, was also arrested by the PA after writing a critical social media post; he was released the next day.

The commission of inquiry announced by the Palestinian Authority will be led by the Justice Minister Mohammed al-Shalaldeh, alongside an independent human rights professional, a doctor representing the family, and a representative from Palestinian intelligence. Prime Minister Shtayyeh said that the inquiry will be given access to the autopsy, testimonies from family and other relevant parties, and that all relevant information.

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