Activist Nizar Banat’s Death “Unnatural” Says Palestinian Authority

Forty-two-year-old human rights activist Nizar Banat was announced dead in the occupied West Bank on 24 June, after being arrested by Palestinian Authority (PA). They are controlled by the Fatah party, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, who govern the unoccupied sections of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Banat openly criticized the PA, Fatah party, and President Mahmoud Abbas’s regime. He used social media and his position as a candidate on the Freedom and Dignity electoral list to advocate for Palestinian citizens’ rights and expose oppressive rule under President Abbas. On the night of his death, Banat’s family said Palestinian security raided the activist’s home at 3:00 a.m., then assaulted and arrested him for defamation. The governor of Hebron released a statement claiming Banat’s death resulted from “health deterioration during the arrest.” However, his family, along with hundreds of other Palestinians speculate otherwise. 

Following Banat’s death, a series of investigations were conducted through medical reports, eyewitness statements, and records detailing the events of his arrest. Al Jazeera stated that Justice Minister Muhammed al-Shlaldeh believes the death is “unnatural,” and that Banat was physically abused beforehand. The Independent Community of Human Rights (ICHR) concluded the autopsy presented “injuries represented in the form of bruises and abrasions in many areas of the body, including the head, neck, shoulders, chest, back, upper and lower limbs, with cuffing marks on the wrists and rib fractures.”

Banat’s family, who witnessed the arrest, stated that PA security forces executed him. Banat’s cousin, Mohammed Banat said, “they did not identify themselves and we did not recognize them. They arrested Nizar and disappeared.” According to the Jerusalem Post, Nizar’s father stated “[T]hey killed my son while he was sleeping… they beat him to death with iron bars.” Following initial investigations, Palestinians took to the streets of the West Bank, protesting against the PA’s treatment of Banat, and chanting for freedom from President Abbas’s dictatorial rule.

Nizar Banat’s death also concerned other countries as posing a threat to democracy. The United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), and the United States Department of State have demanded further investigation. UN Human Rights experts observed that Banat’s death “has all the makings of a criminal act… Initial reports indicate that he was badly beaten with steel batons during his arrest.” The EU also said it “is of serious concern and takes place against the backdrop of an increasingly persistent practice by Palestinian security forces of detention.”

Earlier this year, Banat called for terminating Western aid to the PA, due to government corruption, and their excessive use of unwarranted physical force. He used social media to disclose corruption in President Abba’s administration and called for investigating his suspicious ties with Israel’s military. Attacks orchestrated by the PA on political activists are not new to Palestinians; many journalists similar to Banat have received multiple threats, were beaten, and arrested. In fact, this was not his first arrest. He has been accused of anti-government sentiment, public slander, and defaming the PA.

In May, shortly after news broke of his candidacy in the next Palestinian elections, Banat’s home was attacked by stun grenades and tear gas. At the time, he blamed the attack on President Abbas. According to Al Jazeera, he claimed only the Fatah party would have access to such weapons. While the ICHR urged the government “to stop pursuing Banat and provide him with protection,” he continued to receive threats from the PA. Following the May attack, Banat told The Associated Press that “the Europeans need to know that they are indirectly funding this organization,” and his criticism did not stop there. Weeks before his death, Banat took to social media to attack President Abbas for the cancellation of the COVID-19 vaccine deal between Palestine and Israel. 

While evidence substantiates Palestinian speculations of government misconduct in Banat’s death, the PA is not yet found to be conclusively accountable. Unfortunately, Nizar Banat’s death is merely a microcosm of the oppressive nature of the PA. Palestinian’s have the right to express their opinion, but journalists live in fear of exercising this freedom. Even in the past week, Palestinians feared protesting in Banat’s name, as security forces responded violently. It is only when citizens are able to openly criticize leaders in their society, that they may exist without oppression. Until then, Banat will remain one of the many oppressed.