Nizar Banat extrajudicial killing is just the tip of Palestinian Authority corruption

A girl stands behind posters depicting late Palestinian human rights activist Nizar Banat (Mohammed Abed - AFP)

Samer Jaber

Mondoweiss  /  December 29, 2021

The Palestinian Authority will only be forced to respect the rule of law if Palestinians demand it, and the international community cuts off funding until it does.

In January of this year a group of individuals including myself who applied to work at Local Aid Co-ordination Secretariat (LACS), part of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister’s office, met with Dr. Mohamad Shtayyeh, the Prime Minister. Dr Shtayyeh, who likes to show that he is close to people, utilized this opportunity to assure us that the process of hiring is transparent, with no nepotism and no corruption. He also assured us that his government abides by the rule of law. The PA, he affirmed, should match its national agenda priorities with donor communities and conditions in order to be able to get donors’ community support.  Then he asked us to introduce ourselves and to give each one perspective about aid.

By the end of this meeting Dr Shtayyeh raised a question: Do you think the Palestinian legislative consul elections will take place? All the group said yes, except me who said no. He asked individuals why they said yes, and they replied because the PA President Abbas said so. Then the PM asked me directly why I didn’t think so. I replied by saying that the internal balance and power struggle within Fatah is a major impediment to overcome and that Fatah is not ready for this.

Later on, as a consultant with an international donor agency, I had a meeting at the LACS office. By that time they had already hired their staff. I was surprised because usually if a person reached the interview level the hiring agency sends an apologizing email to the candidates who were not hired. I was also surprised because I had studied at some of the best American schools; Brandeis, Harvard and MIT and have rich experience in international development but had no opportunity with this vacancy.  However, what surprised me even more was the LACS. Their faces were not familiar and it appears that many of the individuals hired to the position did not even attend the interview meeting. 

In late April, the PA president Abbas announced that he was going to postpone the imminent PA legislative council elections without any arrangement for a new date. He did this without consulting with the other 37 running lists. It was widely understood that he did this because Fatah was facing an internal power struggle and fragmentation which would lead to certain defeat. 

My friend Nizar Banat, who was the head of the Freedom and Dignity List and a civil rights activist, criticized the PA decision to postpone the elections. He called on European countries and international donors to stop funding the PA until the PA executive branch abided by the people’s demand for the holding of legislative elections. A few weeks later Banat was abducted and extrajudicially killed by PA security apparatus personnel. 

The attack on Banat that ended with his extrajudicial assassination was not committed because Banat criticized the corruption of the PA alone, but because he and his election list asked the PA donors to freeze their funding until the elections were held. This was the tipping point because the PA is heavily indebted and suffers from shortages of funds. The international fund is the ventilator machine that keeps the  PA alive since its establishment. 

Banat was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian Popular Hirak (civil based movement). He represented peoples’ voices in criticizing the corrupt and undemocratic policy enacted by the PA. Therefore, people took to the streets to protest his killing and demanded that the perpetrators face trial. The PA took a few weeks, as it first resorted to denial that it was a premeditated political crime, to hold the perpetrators accountable. 

Civil society organizations along with Banat’s family demanded that the PA take responsibility and apologize for the killing. This is because the PA prime minister, who also serves as interior minister, is responsible for the Palestinian security apparatus. However, the PA resorted to the quelling of the people’s protest and sit-ins. Ironically representatives of the PA were willing to apologize for the killing of Banat when they gave interviews to European news outlets as they wanted to show that the PA is willing to take responsibility but it never apologized to the Palestinian people in Arabic openly and directly. This let people see the PA leader as paying lip-service to the rule of law but in practice they run the PA business as usual by balancing the nepotism with political support. 

For the European and even the Americans, it is a matter of embarrassment. They have been funding directly or indirectly democratic and human rights programs and have provided training to the security apparatus in respecting human rights and the rule of law. While the Europeans only expressed their shock and sadness in their statement and the Americans said they were deeply disturbed by the death of Banat they can do more. They can tie funding to respect for human rights.

However, Europeans and Americans will not be compelled to pressure the PA as long as this corruption does not affect the viability of the coordination between Israel and the PA in terms of delivering both calm and the delusion of the possible political settlement of the conflict. Also, as long as this corruption and these human rights violations stay beneath the surface and do not contribute to social unrest, which would lead to political instability. 

The silence of the international community encouraged the PA government to eliminate freedom of expression from the Palestinian Code of Conduct for the Civil Service by expunging Article 22 of Cabinet Resolution No 4 of 2020; the very thing civil society organizations including political factions condemned.  These attacks on the freedom of speech go beyond the PA’s institutions to institutions controlled by PA supporters, including those in academia who follow in the footsteps of their leaders. What happened to me recently is an example. 

During the 2021 academic year I was teaching democracy and human rights courses in the summer at Al-Quds University as an adjunct instructor. In one of the lectures I asked the students about extrajudicial killing as a violation of human rights and wondered if the Nizar Banat case came under this category.

The lecture was via zoom. Two days later I found that I could not stream my lectures and the course was stopped without me being informed. I inquired about the issue and was told that I was talking politics in my lectures. So I took to Twitter to protest this. Under pressure from public opinion which was against  this action and the students’ demand to be able to complete this course, the university decided to let me finish the course by giving the students the final exam. The university also decided that they will not contact me in the future and thus I will not be able teach for there again. 

The Nizar Banat extrajudicial killing is just the tip of the iceberg of corruption. Under the current circumstances two things can pressure the PA to respect the rule of law. Nationally, Palestinian civil society along with ordinary citizens can raise their voice and protest the existing situation of corruption and muzzling people voices. The second thing is the role of the donor community which usually tie its funds to political conditions but this time they could tie the funds to the PA respecting human rights and the rule of law.

  Samer Jaber is a political activist and researcher