The Death of Nizar Banat


by Hugh Fitzgerald

Mahmoud Abbas is now in the sixteenth year of his four-year term as President-For-Life of the Palestinian Authority. Famously corrupt, he has managed while in office to amass, with his two sons Yasser and Tareq, a fortune of $400 million. Earlier this year he decided to call for Presidential and Parliamentary elections, under the misapprehension that he might actually win. Soon enough, public opinion polls revealed that any of Abbas’ opponents, whether Marwan Barghouti, or Mohammed Dahlan, or a candidate put up by Hamas, would win 60% of the vote in a contest with Abbas. Abbas then decided that elections were a bad idea, and he cancelled them, on the pretext that Israel would not allow Palestinian Arabs in East Jerusalem to take part in the vote. It was a specious charge: Israel had already said the Palestinian Arabs could take part in such an election, as long as they cast their ballots in one of the villages just outside East Jerusalem, and not in East Jerusalem itself.

Abbas’ excuse did not mollify his Palestinian critics; they realized that yet again he was going to refuse to put himself to the electoral test, in order to continue his long reign of mismanagement and corruption. More and more Palestinians in the West Bank have become critics of Abbas, spreading the word on social media about his corruption and despotic ways. The beating to death of Nizar Banat of Hebron, one of the most outspoken of those critics, now has the opposition up in arms. The story of Nizar Banat’s grisly end is told here: “Prominent Abbas critic dies in PA custody after ‘vicious beating’ by officers,” by Aaron Boxerman, Times of Israel, June 24, 2021:

A prominent critic of the Palestinian Authority died early on Thursday morning after what his family charged was a violent arrest by PA security forces.

Nizar Banat, 44, a resident of Dura, near Hebron, was well-known for his caustically sarcastic videos tearing into the PA leadership for alleged corruption and fraud. His Facebook page had over 100,000 followers.

Abbas’ goons in the PA security forces have frequently rounded up and detained on trumped-up charges critics of his regime. Some of them die while in custody, from various “mysterious ailments” that remain vague and un-investigated. But Banat’s death is the first that has taken place in the presence of family members, who witnessed the fatal beating administered to him in his own home, in the middle of the night.

In a statement confirming Banat’s death, Hebron Governor Jibrin al-Bakri said that a unit of PA security forces had entered a house where Banat was hiding in the morning with a warrant for his arrest.

“During [his arrest], his medical condition deteriorated, and he was immediately referred to the Hebron public hospital for treatment. Doctors at the scene who examined him found he was dead,” al-Bakri said.

He was beaten to death by 20 men, wielding iron bars, right at his own house, which is where “doctors at the scene” examined him.

According to al-Bakri, the PA public prosecutor’s office had already opened an investigation into Banat’s death.

Banat’s family, who say they were with him during the arrest, accused over 20 PA officers of violently beating him. According to his relatives, the arrest took place around 3:30 a.m. The officers first began hitting Nizar with iron bars when he was asleep before stripping him naked and continuing to beat him.

In the middle of the night 20 men entered his house, beat him with iron bars, stripped him naked and then continued to beat him ferociously until he was dead. What is there for the PA’s office of the public prosecutor going to investigate? Won’t its task be to distance Mahmoud Abbas from any conceivable link to the murderers?

They beat him for about eight straight minutes. Are you coming to kill him or what?” his cousin Mohammad told Palestinian reporters outside the Banat home in Dura.

PA security services spokesperson Talal Dweikat said that Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh had ordered the formation of a committee to investigate Banat’s death.

Yes, as it has always done in the past, the PA promises to set up a “committee” to investigate Banat’s death. What needs to be investigated? Twenty members of the PA police were sent to administer a savage beating to Banat; they did as ordered, using metal bars, and as one might have predicted, Nizar Banat died. All this talk about appointing a “committee to investigate Banat’s death” is simply to mollify the public, to pretend that the beating was not ordered from the very top, but undertaken by “rogue” officers who were not authorized to behave as they did. There may still be some Palestinians who will accept this explanation, but their numbers decrease with every violent attack on, or imprisonment of ,prominent opposition figures.

According to Dweikat, the committee will be composed of PA Justice Minister Mohammad Shalaldeh, a representative from a prominent Palestinian rights group, a doctor to be named by Banat’s family and a member of the PA military intelligence force.

Two members of the four-man investigative committee – the PA Justice Minister and a member of the PA military intelligence force — will defend the innocence of the government, claiming such an attack was never ordered, and that the police had been told to arrest Banat, but “not to do him any harm.” In other words, a “rogue operation” for which neither the PA itself, nor Mahmoud Abbas, should be deemed guilty. Will the representative of a “prominent Palestinian rights group” or the “doctor named by Banat’s famlly” dare to stand up for the truth, when they will be under all sorts of pressure to find in favor of the regime’s innocence? The doctor, after all, could have his license lifted or practice shut down, on one bureaucratic pretext or another, if he dares to link Abbas to the crimes; the Palestinian NGO can also be shut down by Abbas’ men if the rights group proves insufficiently submissive to the regime’s demands. The full weight of the PA will be used to fashion an investigative committee’s report that will exculpate Abbas, pointing instead to (choose one): a pre-existing heart condition that caused Nizar Banat to die even from the mildest of blows; a rogue operation undertaken by a handful of Palestinian police who had been told not to use force., and failed to follow orders.

The European Union, the Palestinian Authority’s largest financial backer, said it was “shocked and saddened” by Banat’s death. On Tuesday, the EU backed a $425 million aid package to the Palestinian private sector, at least $200 million of which would be channeled through PA institutions.

Our thoughts go to his family and loved ones. [A] full, independent, and transparent investigation should be conducted immediately,” the EU said in a statement.

Apparently it occurred to no one at the EU that after the beating death of Nizar Banat, the EU should express its disapproval with something more than the usual off-the-rack expressions of fellow-feeling — “we are shocked and saddened” and “our thoughts go to his family and loved ones.” Instead it should do the only thing it can to modify the PA’s murderous ruthlessness, which would be to call a halt to the $425 million aid package that had just been announced two days before the attack on Nizar Banat. That ending of promised aid would get the PA’s attention. It might even force Abbas to put his own security men on trial, have them sentenced to prison, and only after a suitable interval he could quietly release them a year or two later, when the EU’s attention was focussed on other things.

The social media activist had already been detained multiple times by Palestinian security forces under the PA’s controversial cybercrimes law, which allows individuals to be arrested for “slandering” government institutions online. Human rights groups allege that the PA has abused the practice to arbitrarily arrest opponents for political purposes.

The ”slander” in Nizar Banat’s case is that he dared to comment on the lavish lives of Abbas and his two sons, as well as other corrupt cronies in the government. Banat had acquired quite a following for his barbed comments and videos, and he was undermining faith in the state. And he had been repeatedly detained, but when released he went right back to his insubmissive ways. Last December, Banat had been arrested by PA security forces, who held him in defiance of a court order for more than a day before releasing him without explanation.

Banat was also a member of an independent parliamentary slate in the recently canceled Palestinian elections. In January, Abbas announced the first Palestinian elections in 15 years, prompting a flurry of long-awaited political organizing among Palestinians.

But in late April, Abbas canceled the elections just a month before they were scheduled to be held, saying that Israel was refusing to allow the vote to take place in East Jerusalem. Critics, including Banat, accused Abbas of fearing a loss to his rivals both in Fatah and in the Hamas terror group.

After the cancellation, 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….

In calling for the EU to cease giving aid to the PA, Banat cut to the quick: Abbas and his crooked cronies would have a much smaller pot of aid from which to steal were the EU to follow his suggestion. From then on, Banat was a marked man. He had dared to discourage donors from contributing to the PA leaders’ enrichment.

The Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, condemned Banat’s death as an “assassination.”

“This premeditated crime reflects the intentions and behavior of the Abbas Authority and his security services toward our people, opposition activists and his political opponents,” said Hamas, which has been at odds with Abbas’s Fatah movement since a 2007 civil war between the two sides for control of Gaza.

Exiled Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan called for “a wide popular and legal response to hold the killers accountable.”

“There are no words to describe the killing of the prominent national activist, the martyr, Nizar Banat,” tweeted Dahlan, who leads a Fatah breakaway faction known as the Democratic Reform Current.

The increase in arrests between May 2020 and May 2021 of nearly four dozen political activists opposed to the PA bespeaks a growing defiance of Mahmoud Abbas; the killing of Nizar Banat demonstrates the level of fear in the regime, that has caused it to engage in extreme violence in order to hold onto power. Nizar Banat now becomes, as Mohammad Dahlan says, a “martyr” who gave his life for Palestine, by daring to attack the corrupt PA regime that had long ago lost any interest in improving the lives of the ordinary Palestinians living in the West Bank. The death of Nizar Banat could become like the death by self-immolation of Jan Palach in Czechoslovakia in 1969, by setting of a firestorm of opposition that Abbas will be unable to quell. At long last he may be forced to announce his “retirement.” For the long-suffering “Palestinians” in the West Bank, the removal of Mahmoud Abbas from the political scene can’t come soon enough.

First published in Jihad Watch.

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