A year after the assassination of Nizar Banat, a grieving family and evidence of judicial collusion 

A Nizar Banat memorial on the first anniversary of his violent death (Mamoun Wazwaz - APA Images)

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  July 13, 2022

After a year of battling for justice for her husband, Jihan Banat and her four children have found neither justice nor solace, and the Palestinian public has been left without answers.

On the afternoon of Friday June 24th, Palestinians gathered in the Cemetery of Martyrs in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron to commemorate Nizar Banat, 44, a Palestinian dissident and vocal critic of the Palestinian Authority, who was killed one year ago, on June 24, 2021.

In a final interview before his assassination, Banat told the Turkish network, Anadolu Agency, that the Palestinian Liberation Organization “began to collect money and guns at the expense of the liberation of our lands.” Indeed it would be those security forces with the guns that will bring Banat to his final fate.

Banat was killed when PA special security forces raided his home in the city of Hebron in the middle of the night, and severely beat him with metal clubs and rifles. Security forces then dragged him out of his home, and loaded him into a car. Twenty minutes later he was taken to a hospital in Hebron, where he was pronounced dead.

The brutal killing of Nizar continues to haunt his wife, Jihan Banat, 41, and his four children, who also witnessed the assault on their father’s life.

“I didn’t expect it to be a hammer, and the beatings,” Jihan told Mondoweiss, recalling the violence of her husband’s killing. 

“It was closer to torture. They tortured him then ended his life in asphyxiation. It was done in a way that, frankly, was beyond the human mind’s comprehension,” Jihan said.

Footage of Banat’s lifeless body being carried out of his home by the masked security forces and thrown into a vehicle sparked widespread protests across the occupied Palestinian territory last year, which were violently suppressed by the PA.

Thousands of Palestinians joined Banat’s family in calling for justice and accountability, and for the PA to take responsibility for what was largely regarded by the public as a targeted assassination.

In March 2022, the Palestinian statutory watchdog, the Independent Commission of Human Rights (ICHR), and Palestinian human rights group al-Haq released a joint report that found Banat’s death was caused by excessive use of force by PA security forces.

Still, after almost a year battling for justice for her husband, Jihan and her children have found neither justice nor solace, and the Palestinian public has been left without answers.

Last month, Banat’s family and lawyers dropped the case against the security forces that killed Banat. Recognizing that the PA is responsible for the crime, any legal process to hold the killers accountable was already scant.

The release of the 14 security forces accused of the fatal beating was testament that the family will not receive justice. Banat’s brother, Ghassan, has warned that the PA was intentionally and purposely obstructing any real legal measures against Banat’s killing. “You can see that this entire institution was conspiring against Nizar,” Jihan said. In a breath similar to Ghassan’s she noted, “whether it’s the one that gave the order or those that executed him. They all tried to shut down the case through all means.”

The lead up to the assassination

While Banat’s assassination came as a shock to the Palestinian public, his family said that his killing was the culmination of months of increased threats against him by the PA.

Banat would receive phone calls telling him “it’s only a bullet,” or “it can be a quick car running you over.”

“In the year before Nizar’s killing, attacks and threats on us kept increasing every day,” Jihan said, recalling the day last May when the family’s house came under fire from bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas while Jihan and their children were still inside.

“We realized, that’s it. Death was coming for us, there was no escaping it.”

The threats intensified forcing Banat to leave his home for two months in order to hide out with a friend. Jihan, and their four children were left behind. At the time of writing this article, the friend who housed Banat was imprisoned by the PA.

“He said he didn’t want to come back home because he didn’t want to be killed in front of our children,” Jihan said, remembering Nizar once telling her “If I am killed, I want to be away from [the kids] so they can keep seeing me as the brave Nizar that has a voice.”

Despite multiple arrests and the threats against him, Banat continued to express his criticism of PA leaders and policies, often taking to social media to vocalize his dissent, where he would receive tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of views, likes, comments, and shares on his posts.

Banat would be detained by Palestinian Authorities several times due to his vocal opposition to the PA’s corruption. In 2021, following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ declaration that elections would be held after 15 years of a stalled democratic process, Banat threw his name in the ring, and announced his candidacy for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

He was running on the Freedom and Dignity electoral list of independent candidates, who based their platforms in staunch opposition to Abbas and the PA, and issues like corruption and PA security coordination with Israel.

After Abbas called off the elections, indefinitely postponing them, Banat and his list published a statement calling on European Union courts to order an immediate cessation of financial aid to the PA.

On June 21st, Banat posted a video to his Facebook page criticizing a corrupt vaccination exchange deal between the PA and Israel, accusing PA leaders of corruption and a history of selling out the Palestinian cause for monetary gain. In the video, he called Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh a “puppet.”

Three days later, he was killed.

“They tried all kinds of ways to shut him up. In the end, they did it by killing him,” Jihan said.

The PA’s abdication of justice

In the immediate aftermath of his death, the PA claimed that Banat had died of natural causes, despite CCTV footage showing PA security forces carting his limp body out of his home the night of the attack, and an autopsy commissioned by the family which found that he died after suffering 42 different injuries, inflicted with metal pipes.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh formed an official committee to investigate Banat’s death, but its report was never made public.

The PA went on to charge 14 low-ranking officers over Banat’s death, and sentenced them in a military trial. The move was largely viewed by the public as an attempt to scapegoat the officers for what many believed was a targeted assassination ordered by high-ranking PA officials.

The failure to investigate or question any senior officials, and the refusal to hold the trial in civilian criminal courts, only exacerbated suspicions that the PA was attempting to cover up its crimes, and sweep the incident under the rug.

These fears were compounded by the PA’s attack on activists who participated in protests against Banat’s killing. The protests were met with brutal police and PA security violence, including sexual harassment and assault of female protestors and journalists, and threats sent to activist homes and families.

In the span of a few days, the month of July 2021 witnessed a brutal assault by the Palestinian Authority against civil society, journalists, and politically active youth. The PA had detained almost 30 Palestinian human rights defenders, including former Palestinian political detainee and hunger striker, Khader Adnan.

In May of this year, the Banat family announced it would be boycotting court proceedings, citing concerns over the court granting privileges to the defendants, including allowing them to miss court appearances, and letting them out of prison to visit family without court orders.

“You can see, there is no single actual step forward to hold these criminals accountable for their crimes. We all know where the decision came from to execute. There should be accountability for the one that gave the order to kill Nizar,” Jihan said.

“Whether it’s the one that gave the order or those that executed him, you can see that this entire institution was conspiring against Nizar,” she continued. “We expected this, they killed him so they will naturally shut it down. Didn’t they kill him, how will they give him justice, to punish themselves?”

Two days before the one year anniversary of Banat’s death, all 14 security forces who were accused of killing him-and caught on CCTV cameras-were released by the Palestinian courts, which cited precautionary reasons due to the spread of Covid-19 in PA jails.

“The case of Nizar shows us that the PA is not an institution that prioritizes justice or accountability, but one designed to maintain authoritarian control over the Palestinian people,” Palestinian activist and political organizer Fadi Quran told Mondoweiss.

“A few held out hope that, due to the severity of the case, there would be a fair trial. Now we know that with the current institution and leaders corruption and cronyism will always overcome any semblance of fairness,” he said.

Beyond Nizar: the assassination in the Palestinian context

Shortly after the anniversary of Banat’s killing, Human Rights Watch released a report saying that “Palestinian authorities are systematically mistreating and torturing Palestinians in detention, including critics and opponents.”

“More than a year after beating to death Nizar Banat, the Palestinian Authority continues to arrest and torture critics and opponents,” Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, said. “Systematic abuse by the PA and Hamas forms a critical part of the repression of the Palestinian people.”

The group called on countries to cut assistance to “abusive Palestinian security forces, including the PA police who played a central part in recent repression.” HRW also urged the ICC Prosecutor to “investigate and prosecute people credibly implicated in these grave abuses.”

In recent years the escalation of attacks on Palestinians by the PA and Israeli authorities (sometimes in coordinated assault) expands from Jenin, Nablus, and Hebron in the West Bank. These are also primary areas which face constant Israeli aggressions especially the practice of extra-judicial killings, including Palestinian children.

In February of this year, former hunger striker and civil society icon, Khader Adnan was shot at by unknown assailants north of Nablus. He said that it was an attempt at assassinating him, and warned that there is a continued targeting of Palestinian voices that are political active.

Adnan also asked where the PA is in terms of providing protection against the mass assault by Israeli forces to silence and kill Palestinians. The Palestinian Democratic Union condemned the reported attempt at Adnan’s life.

“For many years, human rights activists have been warning that the Palestinian Authority is going down the path of becoming an authoritarian regime. This is said for a good reason. We’ve seen tortures in prison, we’ve seen arrests of people who are opposed to Abu Mazen,” Palestinian lawyer and political analyst Diana Buttu told Mondoweiss.

“Instead of seeing things getting better, it’s actually getting worse,” Buttu said. “The PA continues to get a lot of money from European countries, because of the fact that they want to keep the lid on the joint effectively. They want to maintain the fiction that somehow there is a so-called peace process and the result is exactly what we see. Nizar Banat was killed by Palestinian security forces and there is zero accountability.”

The ghost of Nizar and the family left with the pieces

In the year since her husband was killed, Jihan not only had to grapple with the corruption of the PA’s courts and legal system, but also the four children she was left to raise alone. The same four children who witnessed the brutal killing of their father, despite his attempts to protect them from such a violent scene.

“It reached a point where we stopped doing many things,” Jihan tells of the changes the killing brought on the family’s intimate life.

“It isn’t easy. When you were dependent on someone in your life and then they’re gone, you are forced to stand on your own with your entire life completely shuffled.”

Jihan can see the longing in her children, Mariam and Khalil, who used to get dropped off at school every-day by their father. She misses seeing Nizar spoil Mariam with books that he would buy every time he went to the library. She misses watching him read to her.

When she sees her older son Kefah drawing, all she remembers is how he used to draw with his father.

“These are the things we miss. Mariam doesn’t have someone to buy her books, Kefah stopped going to carpentry school and is neglecting drawing,” Jihan said, adding that her kids’ emotional wellbeing have been severely impacted, as they are consumed with the reality that their father was killed.

“For me it’s like there is a responsibility tied around my neck,” Jihan described. “Nizar’s case, the kids, Nizar’s reputation. All of this becomes your responsibility in front of the public eye.”

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss