The death of well-known Palestinian dissident Nizar Banat while in police custody last Thursday has sparked protests in the occupied West Bank. The demonstrations have been met with severe police repression. Protesters are demanding that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas resign immediately.
Nizar Banat was an activist and blogger who ran as an opposition candidate in the May legislative elections before they were postponed by the Abbas government, ostensibly due to Israel’s refusal to allow the elections to be held in East Jerusalem. Banat died Thursday in police custody after being arrested and subject to interrogation. His family, with the support of social justice and human rights organizations, have declared his death an assassination.
Cries of “Abbas out!” and “The people demand the fall of the regime!” could be heard throughout the streets of the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday as marchers took to the streets to demand answers from the government. The demonstration in Ramallah ended in several injuries at the hands of the police, who fired tear gas canisters and pepper spray at protesters. The police repression has sparked new calls for resistance in the city and protesters have since gathered in demonstrations each night in the town center. Calls for Abbas’s resignation could be heard again this Friday during Banat’s funeral.
"الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام".. هتافات غاضبة في جنازة الناشط نزار بنات في الخليل pic.twitter.com/TZ2UxFEbmv— وكالة شهاب للأنباء (@ShehabAgency) June 25, 2021
Journalist and activist Mohammed El-Kurd took to Twitter to voice the distrust many Palestianians feel toward the Palestinian Authority, Abbas, and the police: “Palestinians chanting ‘your blood won’t be in vain,’ during Nizar Banat’s funeral in occupied Hebron. Calls for the PA to conduct ‘a thorough investigation’ on itself are futile. There is no enigma in how or why Nizar was assassinated. Abbas must resign.”
Palestinians chanting “your blood won’t be in vain,” during Nizar Banat’s funeral in occupied Hebron.— Mohammed El-Kurd (@m7mdkurd) June 25, 2021
Calls for the PA to conduct “a thorough investigation” on itself are futile. There is no enigma in how or why Nizar was assassinated. Abbas must resign. pic.twitter.com/4A9kPvCcMF
According to several eyewitnesses, the arrest took place after more than a dozen officers entered Banat’s house on Wednesday night and beat him with steel batons for several minutes before taking him away.
Later, the governor of Hebron, the province in which Banat was arrested, confirmed Banat’s death. Outrage quickly spread across Palestine over his murder and the police crackdown against activists in recent years. Community representatives referred to reports reflecting an increase in apparently politically motivated arrests over the past few months in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory.
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Banat was a harsh critic of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which rules parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and had previously called for the suspension of international aid to the Palestinian leadership for its increasing authoritarianism and human rights violations.
Banat, who had been detained by authorities before, had long been the target of threats and attacks. In early May, unidentified gunmen fired bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas into Banat’s home while his wife and children were present. The activist directly blamed the attack on police — who Banat alleged are the only ones with access to tear gas and stun grenades — acting on the orders of President Abbas’s Fatah party, which currently controls the PNA.
Earlier this week, Palestinian security forces also detained another prominent activist who has harshly criticized both the PNA and Israel, Issa Amro. Authorities held Amro overnight after he unleashed a wave of outrage on social media.
The PA police: an internationally-funded, US-trained arm of Israeli colonial violence that suppresses and kills Palestinians without ever daring to lay a finger on an Israeli soldier or settler. pic.twitter.com/oU6dIU4Q3F— Mohammed El-Kurd (@m7mdkurd) June 24, 2021
Banat’s assassination comes in the midst of a deep crisis for the PNA and particularly for President Abbas as a result of his permanent policy of conciliation with the State of Israel and its occupation of the West Bank. Many Palestinians have grown disillusioned with his leadership over the years; this has only increased with his government’s handling of the latest attacks on Palestine by the Zionist state of Israel and the brutal bombardment of Gaza. Abbas was further discredited by his postponement of the May legislative elections, which many speculated was actually motivated by the fact that Fatah was expected to lose.
The legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority is being called into question as the result of the government’s inaction during the Israeli attacks at the same time that a new generation of Palestinians — young and old activists alike — emerged in the West Bank, the “mixed” cities of Israel, and in the Gaza Strip to stand up against Israeli occupation and oppression. This wave of Palestinian resistance even went so far as to carry out a national day of strike, which — though not without its limitations — expressed a national unity of the Palestinian cause that has not been seen since the intifadas.
With a policy of permanent collaboration with the racist and colonialist State of Israel, there is no going back from the crisis in which the Palestinian Authority now finds itself.
Originally published in Spanish on June 25 in La Izquierda Diario.
Translated by Madeleine Freeman