A well-known Palestinian critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has died in police custody in Hebron, sparking angry condemnation from leading figures in the West Bank and beyond.
The family of Nizar Banat said 20 armed Palestinian soldiers stormed the family home in Hebron at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, “brutally beating him and arresting him.”
In a statement, the PA governor of Hebron confirmed Banat had died during an operation to arrest him. “During the arrest his health deteriorated, and he was immediately taken to Hebron hospital and after doctors checked on him, it appeared the citizen was already dead,” Jibrin Al Bakri said.
Banat, 45, a carpenter by trade, had been an outspoken opponent of the PA for many years, accusing it repeatedly of corruption. In his most recent Facebook post he slammed PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh over the botched swap agreement with Israel that would have seen at least one million Pfizer vaccines transferred to the PA.
Last November, Banat spent several days in PA detention after he posted a video on social media expressing sharp criticism of PA leaders. He had been arrested under the PA’s cybercrimes law, passed in 2017, which human rights groups say places severe restrictions on freedom of expression online.
Issa Amro, like Banat a high-profile Palestinian critic of the PA, and also from Hebron, told CNN, “We are afraid of being killed by the lawless Palestinian security forces. It is clear there is a decision to get rid of the opposition and activists at any price.”
Amro, who recently met with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Ramallah, was himself arrested two days ago by PA forces after he criticized PA leaders on social media.
Former Palestine Liberation Organization National Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi called Banat’s death a “dangerous development,” and warned of growing threats to Palestinian civil society. “The deterioration of conditions has gone unchecked for some time …. Accountability is imperative,” Ashrawi wrote on Twitter.
The European Union’s representative office to the Palestinians said it was “shocked and saddened” by news of Banat’s death and called for the immediate conducting of a “full independent and transparent investigation.”
Earlier this year, Banat had formed the Freedom and Dignity party to contest PA parliamentary elections, due to be held last month before they were canceled by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.