Palestinian Authority critic dies during arrest by PA

Death in PA custody comes as Amnesty says Israeli police use ‘ruthless excessive force’ against Palestinians during arrests.

Nizar Banat
Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of the PA, speaks to journalists at his home in Hebron in May [Nasser Nasser/AP]

An outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) who intended to run in parliamentary elections before they were cancelled earlier this year died during his arrest in Hebron by PA forces on Thursday.

Nizar Banat, 43, was a harsh critic of the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and called on Western nations to cut off aid to it because of its growing authoritarianism and human rights violations.

In a brief statement, the Hebron governorate said Banat’s “health deteriorated” when Palestinian forces went to arrest him early on Thursday and that he was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

According to his family, Banat was in bed when some two dozen PA officers broke into his home and started beating him. He was dragged away screaming, local media quoted them as saying, and he was beaten on the head with sticks and pieces of metal.

After conducting an autopsy, a Palestinian rights group said Banat took blows to the head, adding the wounds indicated “an unnatural death”.

A PA spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the autopsy findings of the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).

“The autopsy showed injuries represented by bruises and abrasians in many areas of the body, including the head, neck, shoulders, chest, back, and upper and lower extremities, with binding marks on the wrists and rib fractures,” the ICHR said.

“The preliminary autopsy results also indicate … an unnatural death, but determining the principal cause of death, from a clinical point of view, requires waiting for laboratory results from tissue samples,” it added in a statement.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said Banat’s family said he has no known pre-existing health conditions.

“He was very critical of the Palestinian Authority, calling it a subcontractor of Israel, accusing them of corruption,” Dekker said, speaking from the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

The city, which is the seat of the Palestinian Authority, witnessed hundreds of angry Palestinians attempting to march towards Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential compound, demanding his resignation.

“The people want the downfall of the regime,” protesters chanted at Ramallah’s main al-Manara Square. As they were repelled by tear gas fired upon them by dozens of PA forces in riot gear, protesters screamed “traitors, traitors” towards the forces.

In early May, gunmen fired bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Banat’s home, where his wife was inside with their children.

He blamed the attack on President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, which dominates the security forces, saying only they would have access to tear gas and stun grenades.

“The Europeans need to know that they are indirectly funding this organisation,” Banat told The Associated Press in May in an interview at a home where he was hiding out.

“They fire their guns into the air at Fatah celebrations, they fire their guns in the air when Fatah leaders fight each other, and they fire their guns at people who oppose Fatah.”

‘Wave of criticism’

Banat also accused prominent Fatah supporters of waging an incitement campaign against him on social media, in which they accused him of collaborating with Israel – a serious allegation that in the Palestinian territories amounts to treason. He denied the accusation.

Earlier this week, Palestinian security forces also detained a prominent activist and held him overnight after he unleashed a wave of criticism at the PA on Facebook. Issa Amro is an outspoken critic of both Israel and the PA and has been detained by both in the past.

A recent poll showed plummeting support for Abbas, who is facing both his loss of popularity and increasing opposition within his party.

In April, he cancelled elections, the first to be scheduled in 15 years, ostensibly because Israel would not let Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem vote for the new Palestinian leadership. Many have argued though that the true motive was his fear the fractured Fatah party would suffer another humiliating defeat to Hamas, the group that governs Gaza.

Hamas drove out forces loyal to Abbas from the Gaza Strip in 2007, having defeated attempts by Fatah to remove them from power after they were democratically elected in 2006, and the Palestinian Authority president was mostly sidelined during last month’s 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza.

Western nations continue to view Abbas as a key partner in the long-moribund peace process, and the European Union has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in direct aid to the PA over the years.

Earlier this week, the EU signed an agreement to provide $425m in loans to the PA and Palestinian banks to help them cope with an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

‘Ruthless excessive force’

Meanwhile, an Amnesty International report released on Thursday said Israeli police have committed “a catalogue of violations against Palestinians in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem”.

It accused the police of carrying out a discriminatory repressive campaign including “sweeping mass arrests, using unlawful force against peaceful protesters, and subjecting detainees to torture and other ill-treatment”.

The report was based on the testimonies of numerous witnesses and 45 videos and other forms of digital media to document more than 20 cases of Israeli police violations between May 9 and June 12.

The organisation said its findings showed Israeli police also failed to protect Palestinian citizens of Israel from premeditated attacks by groups of armed Jewish nationalists.

Up until June 10, Israeli police had arrested more than 2,150 people – 90 percent of whom were Palestinian citizens of Israel or residents of occupied East Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian human rights group, Mossawa.

Some of the cases the report documented included that of 17-year-old Mohammad Mahmoud Kiwan, who was shot in the head near Umm el-Fahem, northern Israel, on May 12 and died a week later.

It also documented the case of 15-year-old Jana Kiswani, who was shot in the back as she entered her home in Sheikh Jarrah on May 18.

Her father, Muhammad, told Amnesty that her vertebrae were shattered and doctors do not know if she will walk again.

“The evidence gathered by Amnesty International paints a damning picture of discrimination and ruthless excessive force by Israeli police against Palestinians in Israel and in occupied East Jerusalem,” said Saleh Hijazi, Amnesty’s Middle East deputy director.

“This discriminatory crackdown was orchestrated as an act of retaliation and intimidation to crush pro-Palestinian demonstrations and silence those who speak out to condemn Israel’s institutionalised discrimination and systemic oppression of Palestinians.”

Amnesty has called on the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations by Israeli police against Palestinians.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies