Nizar Banat, a leading Palestinian activist and critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA), died early on Thursday, June 24, after a raid by PA security forces on his home in Dura in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron. Banat, 44, had for months been posting videos on Facebook, in which he lambasted PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior PA and Fatah officials.
Earlier this week, Banat posted a video in which he strongly criticized the PA over its now defunct vaccine exchange with Israel. Banat, a former Fatah activist, was also a member of an independent parliamentary slate, “Freedom and Honor,” in the recently called off Palestinian elections. In January, Abbas announced the first Palestinian elections in 15 years, prompting a flurry of long-awaited political organizing among Palestinians. Critics, including Banat, accused Abbas of fearing a loss to his rivals both in Fatah and in Hamas.
After the cancellation of the elections, ostensibly because of Israel’s prohibition of holding them in occupied East Jerusalem, Banat called for the immediate cessation of aid by the European Union to Abbas, sparking condemnations from Fatah officials, who accused him of collaborating with Israel. A few days later, unidentified gunmen fired at his house.
A cousin of Banat speaking on behalf of the family, told journalists that about 25 officers and a member of the preventive security and general intelligence stormed the house around 3:30 am on Thursday after blowing open the entrances with explosive charges. He added that officers stormed the room in which Nizar was sleeping and immediately sprayed his mouth and nose with pepper spray. The cousin said the PA security forces beat Banat severely with iron and wooden batons. In a semi-conscious state, Nizar was dragged away by security forces, stripped of his clothes, and taken away in a military vehicle, according to the family spokesperson.
The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) and the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) released a joint statement in which they blamed the PA responsible for Banat’s death. “The arrest and subsequent assassination of Nizar again raise questions on the nature of the role and function of the PA and its security services, and its violation of the democratic rights of civilians through the policy of silence, prosecution, arrest and murder. Hadash and CPI demanded the opening of a serious, urgent and independent investigation into the case, since all the circumstances point to a deliberate “process of liquidation” to suppress a voice strongly opposed to the policies of the PA.
PA officials announced on Thursday that Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh had ordered an investigation committee into Banat’s death led by Minister of Justice Mohammad Shalaldeh and including a physician appointed by the Banat family, a human rights official, and a security official.
Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in Ramallah on Thursday afternoon, shouting “Leave, leave Abbas” and “The people want the downfall of the regime,” with security forces beating protesters with batons and firing tear gas.