A prominent critic of the Palestinian Authority died early on Thursday morning after what his family charged was a violent arrest by PA security forces.
Nizar Banat, 44, a resident of Dura, near Hebron, was well-known for his caustically sarcastic videos tearing into the PA leadership for alleged corruption and fraud. His Facebook page had over 100,000 followers.
In a statement confirming Banat’s death, Hebron Governor Jibril al-Bakri said that a unit of PA security forces had entered Banat’s home in the morning with a warrant for his arrest.
“During [his arrest], his medical condition deteriorated, and he was immediately referred to the Hebron public hospital for treatment. Doctors at the scene who examined him found he was dead,” al-Bakri said.
According to al-Bakri, the PA public prosecutor’s office had already opened an investigation into Banat’s death.
Banat’s family, who say they were with him during the arrest, accused PA security forces of violently beating him. According to his relatives, the arrest took place around 3:30 a.m., and the officers first began hitting Nizar with clubs when he was asleep.
“They beat him for about eight straight minutes. Are you coming to kill him or what?” his cousin Mohammad told Palestinian reporters outside the Banat home in Dura.
— Mo Mahfouz (@MoMahfouz5) June 24, 2021
The European Union, the Palestinian Authority’s largest supporter, said it was “shocked and saddened” by Banat’s death.
“Our thoughts go to his family and loved ones.[A] full, independent, and transparent investigation should be conducted immediately,” the EU said in a statement.
The social media activist had already been detained multiple times by Palestinian security forces under the PA’s controversial cybercrimes law, which allows individuals to be arrested for “slandering” government institutions online. Human rights groups allege that the PA has abused the practice to arbitrarily arrest opponents for political purposes.
In December, Banat was arrested by PA security forces, who held him in defiance of a court order for more than a day before releasing him without explanation.
Banat was also a member of an independent parliamentary slate in the recently canceled Palestinian elections. In January, Abbas announced the first Palestinian elections in 15 years, prompting a flurry of long-awaited political organizing among Palestinians.
But in late April, Abbas canceled the elections just a month before they were scheduled to be held, saying that Israel was refusing to allow the vote to take place in East Jerusalem. Critics, including Banat, accused Abbas of fearing a loss to his rivals both in Fatah and in the Hamas terror group.
After the cancellation, Banat called for the immediate cessation of aid by the European Union to Abbas, sparking condemnations from the PA leadership. A few days later, unidentified gunmen fired at his house.
Banat’s death sparked widespread outrage on Palestinian social media.
“The Palestinian Authority kills Nizar Banat, a human rights activist, a critic of Mahmoud Abbas, and a parliament candidate in the recently canceled elections. The only reason they killed him is his outspoken criticism of the PA’s corruption,” tweeted anti-corruption activist and Abbas critic Fadi Elsalameen.
The West Bank has seen an uptick in the arrests of activists opposed to the Palestinian Authority since the recent 11-day battle between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The fighting saw the widely disliked PA leadership in Ramllah lose still more support, as its Hamas rivals rose in popularity.
On Tuesday, PA security forces arrested Issa Amro, another prominent activist from Hebron, for statements accusing the West Bank leadership of corruption. Amro was released pending a hearing on his case with the PA public prosecutor.
According to the Palestinian legal advocacy group Lawyers for Justice, at least 23 West Bank Palestinians were arrested by the PA for “political reasons” between May 2020 and May 2021. Another 20 were arrested for “exercising their right to freedom of speech,” the rights group said.