Popular support for the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas has faltered in recent months following the suspension of the first elections in 15 years, the wave of protests in Jerusalem and the escalation of the war in Gaza. Critical voices against the veteran president – 85 years old, the last 16 in office without having returned to the polls – have spread throughout civil society. One of the most active, that of the dissident Nizar Banat, was turned off on Thursday forever after being arrested at dawn, allegedly accused of airing his dissent on social networks.
Banat, 43, affiliated with the nationalist Fatah party of President Abbas, had run on an independent list from the ruling party in the legislative elections scheduled for May, before they were postponed without a certain date. His critical messages against the autocratic functioning of the Government, the corruption of the Administration and, in particular, last week’s failed agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel to exchange one million Pfizer vaccines, penetrated deeply among his more than 100,000 followers. on Facebook. In his messages and videos, he called “mercenaries” the senior officials who accepted the transfer of doses about to expire, an operation that ended in a fiasco. His invectives displeased the authorities, and it was not the first time that his arrest had been ordered.
More than 20 agents of the Preventive Security Corps, the mujabarat or Palestinian intelligence, broke into his home in Hebron (West Bank) early in the morning. His relatives told Reuters that the agents beat him for several minutes with the same iron bars that they had used to fracture doors and windows of the house.
When he was being transferred to a detention center, “his health deteriorated,” the governor of Hebron, Jibrin al Bakri, told the Palestinian press. “He was immediately taken to the public hospital in Hebron, where after being examined by the doctors his death was certified,” added the governor, without specifying the accusations against Banat, presented by the Palestinian attorney general.
The representation of the European Union in Palestine He immediately expressed his “shock” at the death of the dissident and demanded “an independent investigation” into the events. A month ago, the European delegation had already expressed its concern after a police search at his house and appealed to “guarantee freedom of expression.” The EU financially supports the Palestinian Authority, for which on Tuesday it approved an urgent loan of about 360 million euros, as the only internationally recognized Palestinian entity.
In Ramallah, the administrative seat of the Government, Prime Minister Mohamed Stayyeh was quick to announce the establishment of a commission of inquiry to clarify the death of Banat after his arrest. The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights described the events as “very serious”. “It is a black day for the history of the Palestinian people,” said Farid al Atrach, a representative of the Commission, as quoted by France Presse. “The preliminary autopsy has confirmed the presence of injuries in many parts of the body, including the head, with several fractured ribs,” the Independent Commission reported at night, waiting for laboratory tests to confirm the causes of a “death unnatural”.
In an unusual spontaneous popular demonstration, hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the early afternoon around the Muqata, Ramallah’s complex of government buildings, holding signs bearing the image of the deceased dissident and chanting shouts such as: “Abbas, get out! ! ”,“ We are all Banat! ” and “The people are not afraid!” A large deployment of riot control forces, firing tear gas and firing stun grenades, prevented them from approaching the headquarters of the Palestinian Presidency.
Climate of corruption
A poll released last week by the Palestinian Center for Political Research and Polling It reflected that 85% of citizens believe that the Palestinian Authority is installed in a climate of corruption. Only 14% of those consulted support the Fatah government, which partially controls the West Bank, while 56% is in favor of Hamas Islamists, who have ruled de facto in Gaza since 2007, who take over.
Banat has not been the only critical voice harassed by the Palestinian authorities. Activist Issa Amro, 40, was arrested in Hebron on Monday after being summoned to a police station for explanations on recent Facebook posts criticizing the corruption of the Abbas government. On Tuesday he was released with a summons to appear in court.
Amro, who leads an anti-occupation movement and advocates non-violence, has suffered persecution from Palestinian and Israeli security forces. A military court convicted him in January for “demonstrating without permission” against settlers in Hebron, his hometown.