JERUSALEM – An outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority, who ran in the general election earlier this year, died after Palestinian security forces arrested him and beat him with batons on Thursday, his family said.
Nizar Banat was a harsh critic of the PA, which ruled parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and had called on Western nations to stop aid because of their authoritarianism and human rights violations. Earlier this week, another prominent activist was arrested by the PA and held overnight after criticizing him on Facebook.
The crackdown on dissent comes as the internationally-backed PA faces a growing backlash from Palestinians who it see as corrupt and increasingly autocratic, a manifestation of a three-decade peace process that is far from achieving Palestinian independence. Hundreds took to the streets in protest after news of Banat’s death spread.
The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, elected for four years in 2005, has little to show after more than a decade of close security coordination with Israel. The 85-year-old leader was powerless to stop Jewish settlement expansion, house demolitions, evictions in Jerusalem and deadly Israeli military attacks and was largely ignored during the recent riots in Jerusalem and the 11-day Gaza War.
Western nations, however, see the PA as an important partner in rebuilding the Gaza Strip, ruled by the militant Hamas group, and ultimately in reviving the dying peace process.
Mohammed Banat, a cousin who witnessed the arrest, said a group of men, some wearing masks, stormed into the house where Nizar lived and sprayed them all with pepper spray.
“They hit Nizar in the head and body with batons,” he told the Associated Press. “You didn’t identify yourself and we didn’t recognize you. You arrested Nizar and disappeared.”
In a brief statement, Hebron Governorate said Nizar’s “health was deteriorating” when Palestinian forces arrested him early Thursday. He was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Representatives of the European Union and the United Nations called for an independent investigation, and the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced the formation of a committee of inquiry. He said a doctor chosen by the family would attend the autopsy and the family would be invited to testify.
In early May, armed men fired bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Nizar Banat’s home near the city of Hebron on the West Bank, where his wife was staying with their children. He blamed Abbas’ Fatah party, which dominates the security forces, for the attack.
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“Europeans need to know that they are indirectly funding this organization,” he told the Associated Press in May in an interview in a house where he was hiding. “They fire their weapons in the air at Fatah celebrations, they shoot their weapons in the air when Fatah leaders fight each other, and they shoot their weapons at people who oppose Fatah.”
A recent poll showed falling support for Abbas, who canceled the first election in 15 years in April when it looked like his broken Fatah party would suffer another humiliating defeat to Hamas, Gaza from Abbas forces captured in 2007.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Abbas when he visited the region after the Gaza War last month, and the Biden administration is working to strengthen the PA after relations fell to all-time lows under President Donald Trump.