Prominent Palestinian political activist and a fierce critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Nizar Banat, died on Thursday, June 24, after a violent night raid at his home by a large contingent of Palestinian security and intelligence forces in the town of Dura in Hebron district of the occupied West Bank, as per multiple news sources. His family has accused the security forces of beating him to death while he was in their custody and withholding his body several hours after his death.
43-year-old Banat was a vocal opponent and critic of the Palestinian Authority government and president Mahmoud Abbas, and had regularly highlighted the widespread corruption and internal repression carried out by the Palestinian administration against its own citizens. He also planned to run in May as a candidate in the now postponed Palestinian legislative elections under the Freedom and Dignity electoral list.
According to statements by Banat’s family members, close to 25 Palestinian security forces and intelligence personnel showed up at his home at around 3:30 am on Thursday without any warning or advance notice and blew up the doors and windows. They then beat him with wooden and metal batons and sprayed pepper spray on his face, mouth and nose. He was subsequently stripped naked and forcibly dragged away to a military vehicle. The security forces did not provide any reasons for the late night arrest. Later, the governor of Hebron, Jibreen Al-Bakri, in a statement said that Banat’s health had “deteriorated” as a result of which he was “transferred to the Hebron Governmental Hospital. Subsequently, doctors examined him and declared the citizen dead.” The government has ordered an investigation into his death.
Banat’s cousin Ammar told news outlets that the activist had been targeted several times previously, most recently in May when two unidentified attackers shot multiple rounds of ammunition along with stun grenades and tear gas at their home in an attempt to assassinate him. He had also been arrested multiple times by PA’s security forces. Banat’s family has demanded that the authorities disclose the full facts surrounding the circumstances of his death. They said in a statement, “we demand the formation of an international investigation committee headed by a doctor from the family and a doctor from the Human Rights Commission, and people chosen by the family, and that the autopsy not take place in the institutes affiliated with the authority, but in the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv. We want to take our right by law, and our son’s blood will not be shed in vain… We will know who took the decision to assassinate him and who carried out the assassination. And both of them we want to be punished.”
After news of his death at the hands of the Palestinian security forces spread, thousands of Palestinian protesters took part in demonstrations in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Several protesters carried Banat’s photograph and raised slogans like “The arrests do not scare us”, “Leave, leave Abbas” and “The people want the downfall of the regime”. Palestinian security forces cracked down on the protesters and used metal batons and tear gas to disperse them.
Palestinian political parties and human rights organizations strongly condemned Banat’s death and called for a swift, impartial and independent investigation to find and punish those guilty. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), in a statement strongly criticizing PA’s repression, said that “The arrest and then the assassination of Nizar again raises questions on the nature of the role and function of the PA and its security services, and its violation of the democratic rights of citizens through the policy of silence, prosecution, arrest and murder.”
Sami Abu Zuhri, political bureau member of Gaza-based Palestinian resistance group Hamas, said in a statement, “We consider that [PA] Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh bears the primary responsibility for the murder of activist and parliamentary candidate Nizar Banat, and we call for the killers to be prosecuted.”
Human rights organizations such as the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights and the Palestinian NGO Network also called for an independent investigation. NGO Network expressed concern about the continuing repression by the PA against its opposition and critics, saying that “it had the potential to turn into a police state governed by a system of repression and a disregard for people’s lives and their dignity in the reality of the occupation.”
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor also condemned Banat’s killing and called for a diligent and independent investigation. It also called upon the PA to release all other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who are still being illegally detained. The European human rights group estimated that around 150 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem have either been arrested or have had summons issued against them. It described the situation as a “dangerous and remarkable escalation” in the crackdowns carried out by Palestinian security services to curb freedom of speech and expression, political opposition, and any form of dissent in the occupied territories.