The Electronic Intifada / June 28, 2021
The Palestinian Authority has removed its mask.
The death of prominent Palestinian activist Nizar Banat in PA custody last week and the PA’s subsequent attacks on demonstrators protesting his killing have exposed more than ever the purpose of the PA’s existence.
Palestinian Authority forces are Israel’s foot soldiers.
They suppress Palestinian opposition and resistance to help Israel maintain its occupation in the West Bank while promoting the illusion of Palestinian autonomy and representation.
On cue, PA forces in uniform and civilian clothing on Saturday attacked protesters demonstrating against Banat’s death, as well as journalists covering the events, human rights group Al-Haq stated.
Using batons and stones, PA personnel injured some people in the head and dragged others on the ground and beat them.
Al-Haq said PA forces used tear gas on protesters even when children and elderly people were standing by.
Individuals in civilian clothing attacked journalists, forcing several to leave the area. Some journalists had equipment and phones seized.
Died in custody
Nizar Khalil Banat, 44, died shortly after he was arrested by Palestinian Authority forces early Thursday in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
He was an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority and had been a candidate in the legislative elections that were scheduled for May but canceled by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Human rights organizations, political parties, local and international groups have urged an investigation into Banat’s death.
According to Hussein Banat, a relative who said he witnessed the arrest, around 25 security officers stormed the home at around 3:30 am.
“They started severely beating Nizar while he was sleeping,” Hussein Banat said. “They beat him with a baton on his head.”
Hussein Banat said “they stripped him of all his clothes with brutal force and beat him continuously for eight minutes.” He added that they attacked him with tear gas while he was sleeping.
Jibreen al-Bakri, governor of Hebron, issued a statement just before 6 am saying that Banat died during arrest without mentioning a cause of death.
“A security force unit arrested him at dawn, during which his health deteriorated and he was transferred to the Hebron public hospital,” al-Bakri said.
“Upon examination by the doctors, it appeared that he was dead,” al-Bakri added.
Banat’s family called his death “a full-fledged murder” planned and executed with premeditation.
While the exact cause of Banat’s death remains undisclosed, he died in the custody of Palestinian Authority forces whom evidence indicates subjected him to extreme violence.
Shawan Jabarin, the director of Al-Haq, said that Banat was severely beaten with a metal baton and was already dead by the time he arrived at the hospital.
In response to a media question about who bears responsibility for her husband’s death, Banat’s wife replied that “the security forces detained him, and so they hold [that responsibility].”
She added: “the security forces are responsible for the blood of my husband.” She said he was in “excellent” health before his arrest.
Two Palestinian rights groups formed an independent committee to investigate Banat’s death.
The Independent Commission for Human Rights and Al-Haq appointed forensic pathologist Dr. Samir Abu Zaarour to attend the autopsy last week along with a second doctor representing Banat’s family.
The committee said that Banat “did not die a natural death.”
Dr. Abu Zaarour told a press conference last week that Banat had several bruises and injuries on his head, neck, chest, shoulders, and other parts of his body.
The pathologist said there was no sign that Banat had a heart attack or stroke, adding that the effects on his body indicated he died less than an hour after his arrest.
Coordination and collaboration
Israel divided Hebron into two zones – H1 and H2 – following the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian men and boys by an American Jewish settler in the city’s Ibrahimi mosque.
Around 80 percent of the city is designated as H1 and under the nominal control of the Palestinian Authority in coordination with Israel.
The remaining 20 percent, H2, is under the full control of the Israeli military.
The Jawhar mosque area where Banat was arrested is located in H2.
This means that the PA security forces would have had to coordinate their entry into the area with the Israeli occupation forces, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council.
The Palestinian Authority has since its creation in the mid-1990s maintained close cooperation with Israeli occupation forces under the banner of “security coordination.”
“The PA security police have been a major Israeli success,” Columbia University professor Joseph Massad writes in Middle East Eye. The PA’s role as an auxiliary force for Israel is built into the 1993 Oslo accords under which it was created.
Establishing the PA spared Israel many of the direct costs and consequences of occupation, including bad publicity and danger to its own soldiers.
The PA’s creation “replicated, and was perhaps inspired by, the South African apartheid state’s use of the Black police to suppress Black resistance before 1994, an arrangement that reduced the danger to the lives of white policemen,” Massad adds.
In the areas where the PA has nominal control, Palestinian forces are only allowed to arrest other Palestinians. They cannot touch Israeli soldiers or settlers who attack Palestinians.
This means in practice that the PA exists to protect Israel and its settlers, and to police Palestinians on Israel’s behalf.
The PA’s key role in suppressing Palestinian protest and resistance to Israel’s military occupation is why the US and European states fund it.
Banat’s killing and the PA’s subsequent brutal suppression of protesters are just the latest fruits of this collaboration.
Calls for accountability
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said there may be “criminal suspicion” in Banat’s death in view of “the excessive and unjustified force used by security forces” against him during his arrest.
The group added that Banat was “a political activist” and that he was “not armed or wanted for justice.”
Tor Wennesland, the UN Middle East peace envoy, called for a “swift, independent and transparent” investigation into Nizar Banat’s death, saying “perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
Wennesland’s office is more hesitant to call for “justice” in cases where Israelis are suspected of perpetrating crimes against Palestinians.
The European Union’s office in the occupied West Bank declared itself “shocked and saddened” by Banat’s death and also called for a “full, independent and transparent investigation.”
The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor also called for an investigation and “accountability for all those involved in killing [Banat].”
Palestinian resistance factions across the political spectrum condemned Banat’s killing.
Hamas denounced what it called Banat’s “assassination.”
“This premeditated and organized crime reflects the intentions of Abbas’ authority and its security apparatus toward our people, opposition activists and his political opponents,” Hamas stated.
The leftist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also held the PA fully responsible for the “assassination” of Banat.
Banat was a fierce critic of the PA, corruption amongst the Palestinian political elite and so-called security coordination – collaboration – with Israel.
Banat had more than 120,000 followers on Facebook, where he shared posts and videos criticizing the PA and its leaders.
In his last video posted on Wednesday, Banat discussed the recent uprising in Beita as well as the history of the West Bank village going back to the first intifada.
Palestinians have been resisting a new Israeli colonial outpost built on land belonging to the Nablus-area villages of Qabalan, Yatma and Beita.
“Security coordination is the main and desired function of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization,” Banat said in a video he posted on Twitter a year ago.
The PA arrested Banat multiple times previously, most recently in November 2020 when he spoke out against its decision to resume its security coordination with Israel.
On 2 May, Banat’s house was attacked with shots and stun grenades, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
If that had been intended to intimidate him into silence, it did not work.
Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada