Palestinian Authority muzzles call for reform, elections – shuts down activist meeting in West Bank

Ramallah - a protest after the violent death of Nizar Banat (Nasser Nasser - AP)

Omar Shakir

Human Rights Watch  /  November 28, 2022

Israeli and Palestinian authorities restrict the rights of Palestinians to free assembly, expression, and association. But only one governing body tried to shut down a recent conference aimed at reforming and reinvigorating the Palestinian national movement, including calling for elections: the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.

On November 5, Palestinian activists held a conference called “14 Million: Palestinian Popular Conference,” which Palestinians from across Palestine, Israel, and the diaspora joined in different cities and connected via Zoom.

One of the activists involved in organizing the Popular Conference, who requested anonymity, told Human Rights Watch that organizers brought together Palestinians across geographic lines around one core demand: democratization of the Palestinian political system.

But the PA, which manages affairs in parts of the West Bank, refused to allow the meeting to be held in the West Bank.

Activists there had planned a gathering in Ramallah to participate in the Popular Conference at the offices of the political movement, the Popular Alliance for Change. But the Palestinian Authority raided Popular Alliance’s office, detained and questioned two activists at a police station for several hours, and confiscated the phone of a third activist, according to the Palestinian rights group Lawyers for Justice.

On November 8, Popular Alliance sought to hold a press conference decrying Palestinian Authority repression, but PA security forces shut it down, an intervention that journalists captured on video. Two days later, PA forces blocked Popular Alliance activists from entering their own office, saying, according to the activists, that they had orders to shut it.

These restrictions reflect the Palestinian Authority’s systematic efforts to muzzle dissent, including by arbitrarily arresting critics and opponents, as Human Rights Watch has documented. The United Nations Committee Against Torture in July 2022 raised concern about arbitrary arrests, intimidation, and harassment by Palestinians officials of “journalists, bloggers, political opponents and government critics,” among other abuses.

Impunity remains the norm for these abuses. In the summer of 2021, PA forces beat to death prominent activist and critic Nizar Banat while he was in custody, and then violently dispersed people demanding justice for his death – including rounding up scores of peaceful protesters. No one has been held to account

The Palestinian Authority last held presidential elections in 2005 and legislative elections in 2006. Leaders who have been in power for more than 16 years without elections should at the very least listen to criticism, not muzzle it.

Omar Shakir – Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director, Middle East and North Africa Division