Nizar Banat: Palestinians protest at Al-Aqsa over custody death of Abbas critic

Mourners attending the funeral of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat chanted against the PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Reuters)

The National  /  June 25, 2001

Banat died hours after being arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces on Thursday.

Hundreds of Palestinians protested against President Mahmoud Abbas after Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem a day after an outspoken critic died in the custody of Palestinian security forces.

Nizar Banat accused the Palestinian Authority of corruption and misrule in a series of Facebook videos. His family says security forces raided the home where he was staying early on Thursday and beat him before dragging him away.

The PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights said Banat suffered blows to the head, after conducting a post-mortem at the request of the family.

Palestinians also chanted against the PA at Banat’s funeral in Al-Khalil/Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as masked gunmen fired shots into the air. Thousands of people accompanied the body through the streets of the city, many of them chanting “the people want the fall of the regime” and “leave, leave Abbas”.

Calls had circulated for protests across the territory. Late on Thursday, demonstrators burned tyres, blocked roads and clashed with riot police in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the PA is headquartered.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank under agreements reached with Israel in the 1990s, faces a major crisis of legitimacy after Mr Abbas called off the first elections in 15 years in April. He was sidelined during last month’s war between Israel and militants in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, and his popularity has plummeted as support for Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers has grown.

PA forces co-ordinate security with Israeli troops, targeting Hamas and other armed groups that threaten both. The policy is deeply unpopular with Palestinians, many of whom view it as collaboration with an occupying power.

“From the police to the president, the whole authority are collaborators,” a crowd of about 250 protesters chanted at Al-Aqsa after Friday prayers, as thousands of worshippers looked on. The hilltop compound is the third holiest site in Islam and a potent symbol of the Palestinian cause that has long been the scene of Israeli-Palestinian violence, including in the run-up to the Gaza war.

The United States, European Union and the United Nations have called for an investigation into Banat’s death and expressed concerns about the PA’s restrictions on freedom of expression and harassment of activists.

The PA said it had formed a high-level committee to investigate Banat’s death.

The EU has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority over the years, and the US and other nations have trained and equipped its security forces. The PA is seen internationally as a key partner in efforts to revive the Middle East peace process, which ground to a halt more than a decade ago.