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A tale of multiple realities - the death of PA critic Nizar Banat

Maurice Hirsch, Adv.  |
  • On the one hand, the PA has promised a thorough investigation of the incident; on the other, it is trying to buy the silence of the Banat family.

  • While the PA is expressing regret for the incident, this is not the first time Banat suffered violence at the hands of the PA security apparatus.

  • Demonstrations against the PA as a result of the death of Banat and frustration and unhappiness with the leadership in general, are being presented by the PA as if they are demonstrations on behalf of Hamas and other parties seeking to undermine and even over-throw the PA   

As part of the efforts of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party to quash internal decent, on June 24, 2021, PA Security Forces arrested and allegedly beat and killed the vocal PA critic Nizar Banat. Banat’s death sparked widespread demonstrations and counter demonstrations, and a plethora of accusations. While feigning regret and empathy, the PA and Fatah are now using Banat’s death as a means to invent a conspiracy theory about a "Hamas coup".

Days after the death of Banat, his brother, Ghassan Banat, said that Abbas’ Advisor on District Affairs Ismail Jabr and other figures in the PA had made the family a generous proposal:  

“The proposal includes having [the family] come to [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas’ office in order to recognize Nizar as a Martyr, asking for the amount that we want, and the payment of a Martyr’s salary to his family.’”

[Shehab, independent Palestinian news agency, June 28, 2021]

According to the report, the family not only rejected the proposal, but also expressed its “opposition to the investigative committee that the PA established, because the parties who are members of it are part of the PA.”

While expressing “condolences to Banat’s family”, Fatah in the West Bank responded to the demonstrations by announcing, as if they wield legitimate authority, that they “will oppose all the attempts to harm” the PA security establishment and “will strike with an iron fist anyone who is tempted to disparage the members of our security establishment.”

“The northern branches of the Fatah Movement (i.e., Fatah in the West Bank) announced that the Palestinian [PA] security establishment will not be alone in the battle of defending our people, its rights, and its cause. They added that we will oppose all the attempts to harm it, to harm its image, and to exploit this event (i.e., the death Nizar Banat) in order to spread venom, and that we will strike with an iron fist anyone who is tempted to disparage the members of our security establishment.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, June 27, 2021]

While Fatah is merely meant to be a political faction, Fatah Revolutionary Council member, Abdallah Atteereh warned “against the attempts to exploit the case of Nizar Banat in order to drag the Palestinian scene into anarchy and to harm the national project.” He also espoused the idea that the Fatah party holds some kind of legitimate authority to wield force and defend the PA security forces to prevent a Hamas coup:

“Fatah and the national factions will be on the ground and will not allow the harming of the Palestinian [PA] Security Forces, attacks on their headquarters, and the reenactment of the coup that was carried out in 2007 (refers to Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip; see note below -Ed.).”

[WAFA, official PA news agency, June 27, 2021]

Similarly questioning the bona fide nature of the demonstrations, Abdallah Kmeil, also a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, argued that the demonstrations were an engineered attempt by Hamas to carry out a coup against the PLO and incite against the PA:  

“The Hamas Movement is attempting to cheaply exploit the death of activist Nizar Banat in order to carry out a coup against the PLO, to take control of it, and to incite the Palestinian street against the PA.”

 [WAFA, official PA news agency, June 27, 2021]

The Jenin District Governor, Akram Rajoub, also negated the legitimacy of the demonstrations, parroting the claim about a Hamas coup, and claiming that they were designed to sow unrest in the PA:

“The cursing and provoking of [PA] Security [Force] members by a group of demonstrators yesterday [June 26, 2021] in Ramallah were a deliberate and intentional act whose goal is to stir up strife in the Palestinian street … there is confirmed information, recordings, and footage of a number of suspicious movements and figures, which prove that they have a plan to undermine the security and harm the [PA] security establishment in order to reenact the coup that took place in 2007 in the Gaza Strip (refers to Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip; see note below -Ed.).”

[WAFA, official PA news agency, June 27, 2021]

In contrast to the claims of Fatah, Palestinian NGOs expressed concern about the growing wave of PA suppression:

 “The [Palestinian] Human Rights and Democracy Media Center SHAMS condemned in the strongest terms the barbaric assaults by the [PA] Security Forces members, plainclothes security personnel, and civilians who are not part of the security establishment against peaceful demonstrators who went out to protest the death of political activist… Nizar Banat, and against male and female journalists…

The SHAMS center is monitoring with great concern the growing wave of suppression, which has been continuing since [PA] President [Mahmoud Abbas’] decision to postpone the [PA] general elections to an unknown date, including the arrests of a number of citizens just for expressing an opinion or for political affiliation, torture, and awful treatment against a number of detainees, suppression of quiet gatherings, and also summonses [to interrogation] and threats.”

[Ma’an, independent Palestinian news agency, June 27, 2021]

Focusing on the PA violence against journalists, another NGO added:

“The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms MADA condemned the assaults that the Palestinian [PA] Security Forces committed in recent days against civilians and male and female journalists while they covered the quiet demonstrations that broke out in different areas in the West Bank in protest over the crime of the murder of the political activist Nizar Banat …

In recent days at least five journalists have been assaulted by the Security Forces. The assaults included arrests, as happened to journalist Ahmed Al-Sarafandi on Thursday evening [June 24, 2021], the confiscation of equipment, and also physical assaults, as happened to female reporter of the Quds news network Najla Zeitoun, who was beaten.”

[Ma’an, independent Palestinian news agency, June 26, 2021]

The skepticism of the Banat family regarding the nature of the PA investigation was based on the PA affiliations of the investigative committee. According to the General Commissioner and Spokesman of the PA Security Forces Maj. Gen. Talal Dweikat the investigative committee includes PA Minister of Justice brother Muhammad Shalaldeh, a representative of an unnamed human rights organization, and a major general from the PA military intelligence. After discussing the identity of the committee members Dweikat added: 

“We are completely acting in the most positive way with the responses, but regarding this, allow me to warn against a number of figures who are attempting to exploit the death of Nizar Banat in order to realize goals, objectives, and agendas that are relevant to them.”

[Official PA TV News, June 26, 2021]

This was not the first time Banat had fallen victim to the violence of the PA security forces. In November 2020, Banat was arrested by the PA security forces, allegedly for criticizing Fatah Central Committee member and Head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs in the PA Hussein Al-Sheikh’s description of the “restoration of the connections with Israel as a ‘victory’” [Arab 48, Israeli Arab website, Nov. 20, 2020]. Condemning the extension of Banat’s remand, Lawyers for Justice, a Palestinian NGO, said:

“[The extension is] a clear violation of Palestinian basic law, the law of freedom of opinion and expression. The extension of the arrest of the activist, Banat, due to this charge, legitimizes the arbitrary arrests that the [PA] Security Forces are carrying out against political activists. This is tantamount to a relinquishment of the authorities of the public prosecutor’s office and its role as the representative of the public right, whose role is to oppose any blow or legal violation harming the freedoms of the individual, which are ensured by virtue of the Palestinian basic law.”

[Facebook page of Lawyers for Justice, Nov. 21, 2020]

Banat’s November 2020 arrest

[Arab 48, Israeli Arab website, Nov. 20, 2020]

PA critic and activist Nizar Banat died after being violently beaten and arrested by PA Security Forces in Hebron on June 24, 2021.

2007 Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip - Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah won the 2005 Palestinian Authority Presidential election. However, Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with a majority of 74 out of 132 seats, to Fatah's 45 seats. Fatah's rule of the PA Presidency and Hamas' rule of the PA government led to friction and eventually armed conflict between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas defeated Fatah militarily in the Gaza Strip in 2007, and since then Hamas rules in Gaza while the PA continues to rule the West Bank under Fatah.