Former Palestinian Authority Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Al-Din Al-Shaer was the target of a failed assassination attempt when unknown gunmen shot him several times as he drove his car on Friday in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
Shaer, who is affiliated with Hamas and is widely respected among Palestinians, and who is known for his call for national unity, was wounded last month during a PA security crackdown on student dissidents at An-Najah National University in Nablus, where he teaches.
The plainclothes security officers violently attacked students protesting the university’s decision to expel a group of Hamas-affiliated students, using pepper gas to disperse them during a rally on campus.
Following the violent incident, a group of armed masked men issued a statement blaming Hamas for the violence inside the university campus and pointing a finger at Shaer, vowing to “stop anything that will enshrine divisions.”
The attempt on Shaer’s life highlights a growing feeling among Palestinians of a loss of security, and a rising sense of the absence of law and order in areas under the control of PA security forces.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas strongly condemned the assassination attempt, calling on his security services to immediately investigate the incident, arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
Despite Abbas’ condemnation of the failed attack, many are blaming the violence on Abbas loyalists.
This is a prelude to what we may see in the future. Perhaps what is happening indicates the decline and weakness of the PA in the presence of a toxic atmosphere.
Esmat Mansour, a Ramallah-based political analyst, told The Media Line that what is happening is very worrying for the Palestinian population.
“This is a prelude to what we may see in the future,” Mansour said. “Perhaps what is happening indicates the decline and weakness of the PA in the presence of a toxic atmosphere.”
He added that: “Political liquidations and assassinations are very rare in Palestine, but what can be noted is that the level of incitement is very high, especially on social media. There is also hostile and hate speech along with the weakness of the PA and its gradual loss of control and the presence of different currents.”
Mansour says this internal divide provides fodder and creates the environment for marginalized groups that deviate from the familiar context that Palestinians are accustomed to. Abbas is 87 years old and his health is deteriorating, and the lack of a clear successor – many Palestinians say – feeds chaos.
“I think that what happened gives us a microcosm of what things could be like if there was no smooth transition of power, and what could happen to them if the authority did not deal with it seriously,” Mansour said.
“We really see the tendency to violence, and that the state of rejection of the other is increasing, and this is offset by the loosening on the grip of power and the emergence of different currents, militias and groups that act independently,” he added.
Palestinian political and social activist Issa Amro told The Media Line that the PA security service bears full responsibility for the attempt to assassinate Shaer, and for the state of security instability in areas under its control in the West Bank.
“They are responsible for maintaining order and protecting everyone. This is the chaos that we have been warning of for years,” Amro said.
He says that those behind these attacks feel threatened by activists.
“It is clear that anyone calling for national unity and an end to division and against corruption is targeted. Of course, this is not new, as more than one activist was shot more than once. Whether on their property, their cars or directly threatening them,” Amro said.
Some officers fomenting the violence are being brought to justice. Fourteen Palestinian Authority security officers will be charged in the death of PA critic Nizar Banat. Banat was arrested in June 2021 in Hebron in the West Bank; his family members said at the time that he was severely beaten during the arrest and was dragged away screaming.
Amro has a warning to those behind such violence: “This fire will eventually torch you; you are not immune to it.”
He accuses the Palestinian and Israeli security services of working together to protect those behind the chaos.
The cowardly assassination attempt is a blatant abuse of people’s blood and a return to the square of security chaos and the beginning of a new era of chaos
Abbas and other top PA officials such as Majed Faraj, head of the PA General Intelligence Service, have pledged to form a commission to investigate the failed assassination attempt, but not everyone is impressed. Activist Ahmad Abdel Haq told The Media Line that inquiry commissions are meant to bury the truth, and absorb the anger of the people.
“The investigative committees formed by the government aim to buy time to escape accountability. Through this innovation (investigation committees) the government has succeeded in evading responsibility and punishment.”
Abdel Haq says the shooting of Shaer is a “tragic crime, targeted against us all, and it is an attack on our unity, our humanity, the principle of law and its sovereignty,” warning that the increased lawlessness will harm everyone.
“The cowardly assassination attempt is a blatant abuse of people’s blood and a return to the square of security chaos and the beginning of a new era of chaos,” he said.