Ahmed Abu Artema
Al-Jazeera / July 13, 2021
Banat lived the hardship of the Palestinian people and spoke with their pain, defying constant attempts to silence him.
On June 19, Palestinian activist Nizar Banat published on his Facebook page a video about the latest scandal in the West Bank. A few days earlier, it had been revealed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had agreed to swap a future delivery of Pfizer vaccines for a supply of one million jabs from Israel which were about to expire.
In the video, Banat accused the PA leadership of corruption and called on the Prosecutor General Akram al-Khatib:
“Before you, attorney general, is a crime of the highest level. Show us what you will do if you think your children are equal to other people’s children. However, it seems that you are a partner in this corrupt deal, and have reserved your share of the new vaccinations for yourself and your children,” he said. “You have to serve the public interest. We are not your slaves or Mohammad Shtayyeh’s slaves, or anyone else’s. The Palestinians who were silent [over your corruption] does not deserve any better. But I will not be silent.”
On June 21, Banat released another video, saying:
“The PA leadership in the West Bank have always traded in everything. If we go back in history, they even sold the weapons meant for the Palestinian revolution […] Their whole lives they have been mercenaries and behave in this way.”
Three days later he was dead. Palestinian security forces raided his house, arrested him and brutally beat him to death.
Banat was a well-known critic of the PA and the whole Palestinian political elite for that matter. He regularly posted videos on his Facebook page, commenting on Palestinian affairs and the Israeli occupation. His clips were widely popular, getting tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of views.
The reason why Banat was so popular was not only because he spoke truth to power but also because he was one of the people. He worked as a carpenter to support his wife and five children, and experienced the suffering of ordinary Palestinians. He spoke in their voice and with their pain.
Before he was killed, the Palestinian leadership tried to silence Banat many times. He was threatened, arrested, his house was shot at. But that did not dissuade him from being the voice of Palestinian anger.
He also went further. He announced his candidacy in the Palestinian legislative elections which were supposed to take place in the spring. He was part of the Freedom and Dignity List of independent candidates, who declared their opposition to the PA’s security coordination with Israel and its corruption and their support for resisting the Israeli occupation.
In April, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas postponed the elections indefinitely, citing Israel’s restrictions in occupied East Jerusalem. But Palestinians know the true reason was that he feared losing the elections badly to Hamas, but also to independent revolutionaries like Banat.
Having denied the Palestinian people their right to voice their dissatisfaction with the political elite through the ballot box, the PA faced growing public frustration. The situation only got worse with Ramallah’s complete inaction on the brutal Israeli raids of Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem neighbourhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, and the murderous Israeli assault on Gaza.
It was obvious to all Palestinians that the PA leadership served only its own interest and that of the Israeli occupier. But few dared say it. Banat was one of them. His courage and defiance made him a grave threat to those in power and he paid with his life for it.
Banat’s death tells us that the PA knows it has completely lost legitimacy, but it is still dead set on staying in power at any cost, even at the cost of Palestinian lives.
The aim of this assassination was to scare people into silence, to demonstrate that the price of opposition is death. But it had the opposite effect. Palestinians took to the streets, raging against the PA. Even when the Palestinian security services sent their thugs to attack the protesters, beat them up and take their phones so nothing is documented, Palestinians continued to stream in to the streets. The clampdown on dissent continues, and amid this pandemic, even doctors were not spared from detention for expressing their outrage.
Some people argue that Banat’s murder was an exception. But this is hardly the case. The PA, from the time of its creation, has often resorted to bloody violence to suppress opposition.
The first massacre the PA security forces committed was in Gaza, shortly after they arrived. In November 1994, they opened fire on worshipers at the Palestine Mosque after Friday prayers, killing at least 11 people and wounding more than 120.
Over the past 27 years, PA security forces have also committed a series of assassinations. For example, they have been accused of killing Islamic Jihad members Ammar al-Araj and Ayman al-Razayna in 1994 and Dr Hussein Abu Ajwa, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, in 2006.
Palestinians have also languished and died under torture in PA detention or in its prisons. Among them are Majd al-Barghouti in Ramallah who passed away in 2008; Mohammad al-Haj who died in Jenin in 2009; and Haytham Amr who died in Al-Khalil/Hebron in 2009.
Banat’s assassination sent shockwaves beyond Palestine. While at the grassroots, protesting Palestinians received solidarity and support from many people around the world, at the government level, reactions were disappointing. The United States and the European Union – the main backers of the PA – issued weak statements about being “gravely concerned” and “deeply disturbed”.
But we cannot overlook the role Western governments are playing in enabling PA crimes against the Palestinian people. It is with their blessing that the Palestinian leadership remains in power despite having lost all legitimacy.
After cancelling the elections and during the Israeli attack on Gaza, US President Joe Biden called Abbas to express his support. The PA leadership understood this gesture as tacit approval of its decision to prolong its unelected repressive rule of the Palestinian people indefinitely.
Like many Palestinians, Banat was outraged by the denial of democratic rights to the Palestinian people. He called upon the EU to stop sending funds to the PA, which were being used to oppress the Palestinian people.
After his assassination, the EU – sensing the growing public anger – issued a statement declaring that the EU does not provide any financial or technical support to Palestinian security forces.
But the Palestinian people are not convinced. The Western complicity in PA crimes is clear and it will persist until the US and the EU radically change their approach to the Palestinian leadership, and by extension, Israel.
Banat often used to say that he was speaking up to defend his children’s right to a better life in freedom and dignity. It is heartbreaking to see his children made orphans by the brutality of a self-serving regime. As we grieve, we have to remember Banat’s most important legacy: we need to keep fighting so his children and our children can live in freedom and dignity. The struggle against the PA must continue and must be an indelible part of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
Ahmed Abu Artema is a Palestinian journalist and peace activist; he is one of the founders of the Great Return March; he is a refugee from Al-Ramla village in Palestine who lives in Gaza-City