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West Bank Protests Continue Following Death of Abbas Critic (with VIDEO)
Demonstrators gather in Ramallah for the fourth straight day to protest the death of one of the PA’s most prominent critics, Nizar Banat, who died while in custody, June 27, 2021. (Courtesy)

West Bank Protests Continue Following Death of Abbas Critic (with VIDEO)

PA security forces crackdown on demonstrators, arresting journalists

Palestinian Authority security forces attacked protesters and journalists in the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Hebron, and Bethlehem, as well as the Dheisheh refugee camp just south of Bethlehem on Sunday, as demonstrations continued over the death of one of the PA’s most prominent critics, Nizar Banat, who died while in custody.

It was the fourth consecutive day of large-scale demonstrations sparked by the death of Banat, a 44-year-old from Dura, near Hebron, last Thursday.

Thousands of Palestinians gathered in the middle of Ramallah, the seat of the PA government, for what was overwhelmingly a peace protest, chanting, “Go away, go away, [President Mahmoud] Abbas” and a mainstay of the Arab Spring protests, “The people want to topple the regime.”

Protesters call for the overthrow of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah, on the West Bank, June 27, 2021. (Courtesy)

The response from the PA was immediate and brutal: With the help of armed plainclothes officers, security forces in riot gear used fists, batons and clubs to beat and arrest members of the crowd. The atmosphere in the streets is chaotic; the PA’s senior leadership seems absent, protesters are seething in anger, and some predict that the situation could end Abbas’ rule and devolve into civil war.

Security personnel also assaulted a number of reporters and broke the cameras of photojournalists.

A journalist’s camera damaged by the PA security forces, in Ramallah, on the West Bank, June 27, 2021. (Courtesy)

In addition to the large anti-PA protests, small groups of armed Fatah members marched in Ramallah and a number of towns and refugee camps, chanting slogans in support of Abbas and Fatah.

Armed Fatah members march through the streets of Ramallah, June 27, 2021. (Courtesy)

Palestinians have no doubt PA security personnel killed Banat because of his harsh criticism of the PA and his activities exposing corruption, nepotism and PA human rights violations and accusing the PA of being a “subcontractor” for Israel’s security efforts.

His death sparked outrage among Palestinians, who have been calling on the international community to conduct an inquiry.

Banat repeatedly urged Western nations to cut off financial aid to the PA because of its authoritarianism and human rights violations. After reports leaked in April that Abbas might cancel scheduled elections, Banat told The Media Line it was not in the Americans’ interest that “their allies, and those who are ready to implement their agendas, lose in the elections or become an ineffective bloc” in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Weeks after Abbas announced the postponement of the elections, unidentified gunmen sprayed bullets at Banat’s home in Dura. He accused PA security forces of being behind the attack.

In May, Banat told The Media Line that his wife and newborn baby girl were in the house at the time of the attack.

He added that rampant corruption and nepotism in the PA must be stopped.

Banat and the Freedom and Dignity independent legislative candidates list he led sent a letter to the European Union after the election delay, calling on the EU to stop financial aid to the PA.

“There is waste of public money, corruption and repression [conducted] with European money. We haven’t had elections for 15 years and the EU should use the money to pressure Abbas,” the letter read in part.

Banat consistently said that aid and funding the PA’s apparatus is tantamount to blackmailing the Palestinians into accepting a political program that serves Israel.

After the way the PA dealt with the protest in Ramallah on Sunday, Jihad Harb, an expert in Palestinian affairs, wrote that the PA is writing “the beginning of the end of the legitimacy of the Palestinian political system, which relied on repression against the citizens who demanded their dignity and the dignity of their children.”

After the killing of Banat, every Palestinian who speaks, writes and criticizes the PA is a target, Harb told The Media Line.

“If some influential official doesn’t like being critiqued by an activist or an opposition figure, it may lead to murder. If he does not comply with their demands, he exposes himself to death. Now no Palestinian is safe.”

This is “political assassination of those fighting using words; that’s the frightening thing,” Harb says

The brutal killing of Banat last Thursday sparked widespread condemnation domestically and internationally.

Both the US and the EU issued statements calling for an investigation into the death, and the State Department sent condolences to Banat’s family.

The PA did not.

“What is frightening is that the Authority is not yet convinced of the need to take measures to reassure the Palestinian citizens,” says Harb.

Supporters of Abbas are circling the wagons and fiercely defending him, Fatah and the Authority, describing those who take to the streets as a few outlaws who represent foreign agendas.

Several PA and Fatah officials came out attacking the protesters, calling them “agents” working for foreign entities, or on behalf of Hamas or Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan, aiming to destabilize the PA.

“This [accusation] is false, because those on the street are unarmed and have no intention of a coup. They demand accountability and reform,” Harb says.

Many are accusing the Authority of hiding its head in the sand and ignoring the people’s demands for immediate reforms and elections, saying it will lead to an escalation and increase in tensions in light of popular demands to take to the streets in the coming days to demonstrate in Ramallah and Hebron.

Demonstrators gather in Ramallah for the fourth straight day to protest the death of one of the PA’s most prominent critics, Nizar Banat, who died while in custody, June 27, 2021. (Courtesy)

“Continued repression by the security forces increases frustration and anger among people,” says Harb. “The greater the repression, the greater the demands. This is what those in power do not understand. Unfortunately, the Authority is drawn toward repressive measures. The employment of thugs is contrary to the traditions of the Palestinian people and contrary to human rights.”

Fatah is at a critical junction, and the current events will weaken it further. Harb says that it is still powerful and that the movement’s “wise elders” should quickly intervene to save what can be saved and to remedy matters.

“Many of the leaders of the PA are from the Fatah movement, and the party with the most influence on the Authority is the Fatah movement. They have a responsibility to discourage the PA [from pursuing its current path] and to reverse its repressive policy,” says Harb.

Dr. Issam Abdeen, a Ramallah-based expert on human rights law, told The Media Line that Banat’s death was the “assassination of a full-fledged political opponent.”

Abdeen, himself a critic of the PA for its marginalization of the judiciary system and the torture of detainees, says the Authority wants to discredit and silence people like him.

“I was accused of selling my land to the Jews and that I’m on the run. This is incitement against me. This means that they want to kill me.”

The PA wants to convey a message to its critics that what happened to Banat “is the fate reserved for anyone who opens his mouth to criticize the Authority. It is a clear message that the opposition will be liquidated,” Abdeen says.

The way the security forces dealt with the peaceful demonstrations is proof of this, he says.

“They are saying: ‘Abbas is the head of PA, and whoever says otherwise, we will break his hand,’” Abdeen continues.

He also criticizes the White House’s and the EU’s policies toward the PA.

“The role of the international community is a delicate one. It played a role in reaching this dangerous impasse, because there were calls and a warning that the [PA] judiciary is collapsing. I think that the Europeans and the Americans are partners in this because they do not intervene as needed and their statements are weak, and they still send money to the PA to finance these violations and repression,” Abdeen says.

Nadia Harhash, a lawyer and human rights activist, told The Media Line the PA has violated every human right.

“The repression, dragging and beating of the demonstrators by the security services of the Authority in Ramallah yesterday answers the question of whether the murder of Nizar Banat was an accident or a premeditated one,” she says.

Like many Palestinians, Harhash questions the rationale for the US and EU backing the PA, saying it will lead to more chaos.

“When the Israelis, Americans and Europeans think that their need for this Authority is related to the sacred security coordination,” says Harhash, this gives the “emperors” of the PA “the green light to repress these people under the pretext of protecting Israel’s security. They must understand that the people know when to rise up, and who and how to fight.”

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