Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces conducted a series of arrests of human rights activists and rights lawyers on Sunday, July 4. The arrests were conducted reportedly in relation to their participation in protests that have been taking place following the custodial death of well known anti-PA activist, Nizar Banat, last month. The protesters have been demanding the resignation of president Mahmoud Abbas and urging the PA to end its security and intelligence coordination with Israel.
Those arrested were lawyers Farid al-Atrash and Muhannad Karajah, and activists Jihad Abdo, Salem Qatash and Izzeddine Zaoul.
According to reports, al-Atrash was arrested on Sunday at the Israeli al-Container checkpoint near Jerusalem while he was returning to Bethlehem after taking part in an anti-PA protest in Ramallah. Al-Atrash works with the Independent Commission of Human Rights (ICHR). The ICHR, in its statement, said that “Farid’s health deteriorated significantly during the process of his arrest, which necessitated his transfer to Hadassah Hospital for treatment.” His friend and fellow Palestinian activist, Issa Amro, stated that after being released from the hospital, al-Atrash was questioned by Israeli authorities.
The same day, Muhannad Karajah, along with Jihad Abdo, Salem Qatash and Izzeddine Zaoul, were detained. Karajah, the director of legal aid group Lawyers for Justice, was arrested just as he entered the court building to represent another arrested activist, Ghassan Al-Saadi. Meanwhile, Abdo, Qatash and Zaoul were detained moments before a scheduled sit-in demonstration against the arrests outside the Ramallah court building. Security forces also reportedly ordered journalists present at the location to leave the premises before the protest began.
Karajah is also the lawyer of the slain activist, Nizar Banat. He represented Banat when he was detained by the PA in December last year and was not released despite a court order.
Lawyers for Justice member Thafer al-Saaydah said Karajah was held without an arrest warrant. He was taken into custody as soon as he entered the court premises and taken to a police station, instead of being produced before a public prosecutor to hear the charges.
Al-Saaydah also said that PA authorities had been intensifying the persecution of the group for their legal aid work.
The Palestinian Bar Association strongly condemned the arrests and demanded the unconditional release of Karajah.
Daoud Darawi, a member of the bar association, said that it would escalate protests against the PA if he was no released soon
Despite the ongoing crackdown on dissent by the PA, more protests were held over the last two days, with thousands of protesters chanting slogans such as “Abbas, leave,” “the people want the fall of the regime,” and “Abbas, dissolve the PA, and get out of our way!” Saturday’s protest was also attended by Nizar Banat’s mother, who held up a photo of her deceased son while marching with the others.