Thousands of protestors have gathered in the Palestinian city of Ramallah following the death of popular activist Nizar Banat on Thursday. Banat, an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and President Mahmoud Abbas, died shortly after his home was raided in the early hours of the morning last Thursday by at least twenty-five officers.
Calling for the resignation of Abbas, protestors have clashed with security forces in riot gear, resulting in injuries from tear gas canisters and stone-throwing. Hebron and al-Bireh have also witnessed similar protests.
The Ramallah-based Independent Commission for Human Rights has revealed that Banat’s initial autopsy indicated that he was severely beaten, as bruises and fractures were visible across his body. The U.S. Department of State has weighed in on the matter stating that “we are deeply disturbed by the death of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat and the information that has been reported regarding the circumstances of his death.” The European Union’s delegation to Palestine has also called for an independent investigation, but the PA has yet to release an official statement on Banat’s death and has continued to refrain from answering questions on the matter.
Since the protests over Banat’s death began, the PA’s security response has been extreme. PA forces are accused of intentionally targeting the media. Five journalists have sustained injuries, including the Middle East Eye’s reporter Shatha Hammad, who was hospitalised following a direct hit to the face with a tear gas canister. Plainclothes Abbas loyalists and security officers alike have been seen lining the streets firing tear gas canisters, brutally attacking the protestors with fists and clubs, and sexually harassing female demonstrators. Official figures on the number of wounded or arrested are yet to surface.
“It is clear that we live under a corrupt system that is waging war against anyone who criticizes it,” said Ammar Banat, cousin of Nizar, in a report with the New York Times. “Suffice it to say that we are not only living under an Israeli occupation but a Palestinian one, too.” The end of the PA may well be in sight. Palestinians across the Bank are growing increasingly frustrated by the government’s violent and repressive attempts to quell political freedom. Since the recent conflict in Gaza with Israel and Hamas, the number of activist arrests in the West Bank has risen. PA leadership in Ramallah is losing support, and Hamas is gaining popularity.
The death of Nizar Banat has further exacerbated these existing frustrations. Banat had intended to run in the parliamentary elections before they were indefinitely postponed by President Abbas earlier this year over a dispute of voting rights in East Jerusalem. The PA controls the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank and stand accused of corruption, human rights abuses, and authoritarian tendencies. Further, Palestinian protestors have criticised the PA’s security coordination with the Israeli military and accused it of being a subcontractor to the Bank’s occupation. Protestors are calling for an end to Abbas’ sixteen-year rule due to mounting frustrations over the relentless persecution of critics.
According to Reuters, the protestors “want a total political reform that will truly reflect the interests of the people,” – but this will not come without international support. Abbas still retains strong support from Israel and Western donors that regard the PA as a better alternative to Hamas. There is little chance that Abbas will go quietly, but if he resigns, Palestinians in the West Bank may have a chance at greater democratic representation.
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