NOTIzar Banat knew he was going to die. As he emboldened to denounce corrupt members of Fatah, the party that controls the Palestinian Authority, death threats have increased. In May, her home near Hebron was attacked by masked gunmen on motorcycles in an incident that traumatized her children.
After that, the political activist decided that it was not safe to stay home. “He went to his cousin’s in H2 [an area of Hebron city controlled by the Israeli military] because he hoped that Fatah and the PA couldn’t reach him there, but he knew they were coming for him, ”said Jihan, Banat’s widow, as she hugged their tightest. young son in the family reception hall in the village of Dura. The front of the house is still riddled with bullets. “He said to me, ‘I don’t want to be killed in front of the children.’ “
It was early in the morning of June 24 when Jihan received the dreaded news. According to his two cousins, who witnessed the kidnapping, Nizar had been severely beaten but was still alive when he was dragged out of the house by 14 men from the Palestinian security forces who received Israeli permission to do so. ‘enter the H2. There was no arrest warrant.
Twenty minutes later, the vehicle arrived at a nearby hospital – but Banat was already dead. According to an autopsy ordered by his family, the activist died from 42 wounds inflicted with metal pipes.
Distracted by the latest war in Gaza and a new government, Banat’s murder was barely noticed by Israel or the rest of the world. But for the Palestinians, it turned out to be a major turning point, exposing both the complicity of authority in the Israeli occupation and the increasingly autocratic efforts of Mahmoud Abbas, the aging and deeply unpopular leader. of Fatah, is ready to go to crush dissent.
Representatives of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority did not respond to repeated requests for additional information on the circumstances surrounding Banat’s death. They also did not comment on the escalation of brutality, including sexual violence, used by official forces and Fatah worshipers in civilian clothes to quell protests and strikes that erupted in the West Bank in the wake of his arrest. assassination, according to the Palestinian Journalists Union and Human Rights. groups.
“Other people criticize the Palestinian Authority, but no one was like Nizar. It was clear: he could put things together in a way that others could not, dismantle the PA lies with the truth, ”said Fadi Koran, a prominent human rights activist who has been arrested several times. both by Israeli and Palestinian forces.
“The fact that he himself was a member of Fatah also made him a threat. He was not speaking only to the opposition, but directly to his base, ”he said over coffee during a rally of activists in a café in Ramallah.
“He was their biggest weakness,” added Fares Bader, a young man also at the forefront of the new wave of protests against power. “The Palestinian Authority wants to dissuade and distract us, to stop the popular momentum that has built up against it. But instead, killing Nizar became a catalyst. “
Coming from a working-class family, Banat studied at university in Jordan before returning to the West Bank, where he trained as a lawyer and met Jihan, with whom he had five children. He ended up teaching Arabic, while Jihan worked at USAid until she lost her job when the Trump administration cut funding.
Wildly intelligent, Banat, 43, was, according to his friends and family, a storyteller who for many years was more interested in philosophy than politics, and wrote a book on the history of the Palestinian struggle.
But as the nature of Palestinian politics and governance changed, so too. The authority was formed in 1994 as part of the Oslo peace accords with Israel as a five-year interim body designed to administer parts of the West Bank and coordinate with Israel on security matters. Its final status was never agreed, however, as the talks broke down and the second intifada or uprising broke out. Abbas was elected to a four-year term in 2005 and has remained in power since.
Under his leadership, a corrupt, repressive and ineffective ruling class has emerged – a class that is increasingly concerned with internal power struggles over who will succeed the 85-year-old president. Yet Abbas’s regime still enjoys strong support from Israel and Western donors who see authority as a better option than Hamas, the militant group controlling the Gaza Strip, and fear a power vacuum if the organ in the West Bank was collapsing.
“Honestly, it’s got to a point where my colleagues in Ramallah have more problems than we do,” said a human rights activist in Gaza City, who asked not to be named. “Right now people are much more afraid to criticize Fatah than Hamas. “
Banat was not one of them. Furious at an elite he saw as selling off the Palestinian cause for personal gain, in recent years he has gained more than 100,000 Facebook subscribers for videos in which he denounced the illegality of the actions and policies of the Palestinian Authority. the Palestinian establishment.
The activist has been repeatedly arrested under the Cybercrime Authority’s draconian laws and charged with offenses such as treason and incitement. Always proud and with a sharp tongue, in a video, Banat said he would only accept the decision of a judge who managed to beat his own 94% bar exam score.
Like so many others, in early 2021, the Banat dared to hope for meaningful change when, in an effort to win the favor of the Biden administration, the authority announced the first election in 15 years. He planned to run for the head of the new Freedom and Dignity list in the parliamentary poll scheduled for May.
“Nizar represented the hopes of a whole generation. We knew that the elections would not solve everything, but it would be a start in restoring the legitimacy of the political system, ”said Issa Khatib, another young activist from Ramallah. “Fatah miscalculated. When they realized they were going to lose to Hamas, they canceled [the elections]. That’s when it all went up a notch.
Banat was the loudest voice criticizing the decision. The attack on her home by unidentified gunmen while her children were sleeping came a few nights later in early May.
“I have always been there to help him. I warned him to lower his tone. I experienced the same… targeting your family, death threats, ”said Issa Amro, a well-known activist and longtime friend of Banat who lives in H2, the Israeli-administered Hebron area.
Instead of going into hiding, Banat has increased the pace and frequency of his attacks, calling on the EU to impose sanctions on the authority for calling off the elections and criticizing the botched handling of a Covid vaccination deal. 19 with Israel.
“In H2, he should have been safer. But the Palestinian Authority has coordinated with Israel so that its forces can enter, ”Amro said. “His death clearly shows that the Palestinians have two oppressors: Israel and the Palestinian Authority. PAs are puppets… authority without authority. But even that is difficult for us to say it out loud, because it means the Israelis can turn around and say ‘Look, we don’t have real partners for peace.’ “
The authority finally apologized for Banat’s death and promised an internal investigation. In the past two months, however, peaceful protests in Ramallah calling for an independent investigation have met with exasperating violence from officials as well as plainclothes Fatah supporters wielding sticks and iron bars. .
Last weekend, around 30 civil society figures – including activist Fadi Coran, trade unionists, former political prisoners, journalists, poets and teachers – were arrested. Some have been accused of participating in an illegal gathering, despite the fact that organizers must give advance notice of any planned demonstration. The detainees spoke of conditions of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and humiliation.
“Getting shot, arrested and beaten by Israelis does not hurt as much as being attacked by your own people,” said a lawyer who was allegedly sexually assaulted by six police officers in Ramallah when she was arrested during the incident. of a protest in July and did not want his name published. At the station, she said she had to prevent officers from trying to remove the young women from the main holding cell.
“They turn men on before they drop them on us, tell them we’re whores, steal pictures from our phones. Everyone is a target, but they want women to be too scared to go out.
Public anger over the many failures of authority is mounting. But rather than acknowledging any wrongdoing, authority and Fatah appear to be doubling down on their usual tactics of repression and intimidation.
In some ways, authority has never been so weak, giving hope to its opponents – but it comes at a cost, the Quran has said.
“It’s a high price that Nizar paid. More of us will have to pay for it in the future, ”he said. “We are prepared for this. “